An Abbotsford woman who was gifted her mom’s strata unit has been ordered to pay more than $13,000 in fines after a judge ruled she had been living in the suite contrary to the complex’s age-restriction bylaws.
Coralee Stevens, now 48, became sole owner of the unit – located in Central Heights Manor on King Road in Abbotsford – when her mother passed away in March 2015. The strata bylaws require occupants to be at least 55 years old.
According to court documents, Stevens wrote a letter to the strata council, requesting permission to live there after her mother died. She said it was her mom’s wish that she have somewhere to live for the rest of her life.
“I am a person with a disability on a lifetime government pension. I currently live in an apartment in Abbotsford that, after my rent is paid, I have very little left over,” Stevens wrote.
The documents state that she asked the council to take into account that she was a single person with no children or pets, and that she would continue to live quietly.
According to the documents, Stevens was informed in April 2015 that the strata council had denied her request to live in the condo, and she was later warned that she could be fined if she breached any bylaws.
The owner and occupant of the unit next to the one owned by Stevens testified in court that he saw Stevens moving into the unit in January 2016. He testified that a moving van was there, and items were unloaded into the suite.
“He was concerned about what appeared to be a clear violation of the age restriction bylaw that all of the strata owners were subject to, and he lodged a complaint with the strata council,” Judge Kenneth Skilnick wrote in his recent ruling in small claims court.
Stevens was then issued another letter, indicating she could be subject to a $200 fine every seven days if she was indeed living in the unit.
According to the court documents, Stevens wrote back, admitting that she had moved into the suite on Jan. 1 because she had nowhere to go and would otherwise be homeless.
“The defendant explained that her only source of income was a government disability pension and that she would have been cut off of that if she owned a home that she was not living in,” the judge’s ruling states.
A vote on allowing Stevens to stay was taken at the council’s annual general meeting on Jan. 20, 2016, but it was defeated 40-9.
The council claimed that Stevens continued to live in the suite. She received a letter in April 2016 that, because she had failed to comply with the bylaws, she was being fined for the time she had been living there and was told she owed $3,990.
The fines were not paid, and the strata council filed a lawsuit against Stevens in July 2016.
The first case was held in BC Supreme Court in July 2017, at which time Stevens said she did not reside on the premises and was sleeping in her off-site trailer.
But the judge said Stevens was using the suite daily to cook her meals, bathe, and do laundry, and was sleeping there at least two days a week, as well as keeping many of her personal items there.
He said these behaviours constituted her residing in the unit, and she was in breach of the bylaws from Jan. 4, 2016 to July 13, 2017.
The matter then proceeded to small claims court in Abbotsford, where Stevens argued that the earlier court decision was wrong and maintained that she had not been living in the suite during the time the fines had been levied.
Skilnick sided with the judge in the first case and ordered last month that Stevens pay the accrued fines of $13,400.
He acknowledged that Stevens’s “unwillingness to respect the outcome of the (strata council) vote” stemmed from emotion after losing her mother, her personal health issues and fear about her finances.
But he said the strata owners were “not unreasonable” when they voted against allowing Stevens to stay because she was under the age of 55.
“This is what they paid for when they bought their units, and it must seem unfair to them that one person could unilaterally deny them this right,” Skilnick said.
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