Review of CRT Decision re Fuel Spill

In April 2018 a fuel spill occurred in an exterior parking stall assigned to an owner’s strata lot and used by his tenant.  The next day, the owner’s tenants contacted the strata council apologizing for the spill and stating that they would put some absorption pads on the spill and would be in further contact with council to discuss a more thorough clean-up.

The strata council proceeded with a further clean-up of the spill by way of hiring a contractor to attend the site to “steam and vacuum up waste hydrocarbons”.  The cost for this service was invoiced at $2,099.21.

The contractor’s invoice was forwarded by council to the owner for payment.  There was no indication in the decision records of exactly when this was done. The owner contacted the strata in May with questions about the clean-up. On the same day, the strata paid the contractor’s invoice, citing they did not want to incur late penalties.

On August 9th, the owner requested a hearing to discuss the matter with council. A letter dated September 25th advised the owner that he could choose the timing of the hearing. By this time, however, the owner had commenced with the CRT process.

The owner admits to the fuel spill in the strata lot’s assigned parking stall which resulted from a stolen fuel storage tank from his tenants’ vehicle. He claims that the strata failed to comply with the Strata Property Act with respect to the clean-up and holding him responsible for costs, that the strata failed to hold a meeting to discuss the matter, that the strata did not contact either him or his tenants prior to performing the clean-up, that the strata failed to obtain quotes, and that the scope of work was beyond what was required to clean up the spill. The owner requested orders that he not be responsible for the amount of the contractor’s invoice, that the strata provide notice and minutes for strata council meetings, that the strata follow the Act, and that the strata stop harassing him and his tenants.

The strata council countered that the liquid from the spill was being tracked into the building and that their maintenance contractor advised that it was too big to be cleaned in the same manner as other spills. The strata’s position is that the owner should be responsible for the expense and asked that the owner’s claims be dismissed.

The tribunal noted there was no dispute of the spill.

In addition, the tribunal was satisfied that the spill created nuisance and damage in excess of normal wear and tear, contravening the owner and tenant responsibilities for maintenance of common property.

The tribunal also acknowledged and supported the conclusion of the owner that the strata acted to penalize the owner and his tenants.  However, they did not find evidence that the equipment used was not appropriate to the size and type of clean-up.

Section 133 of the Act was cited which provides that the strata may do what is reasonably necessary to remedy a contravention of its bylaws or rules.  The section also states that the strata may require that the reasonable costs for such remedy be paid by the person who may be fined by the contravention. Under the strata bylaws, the owner and his tenants are responsible for the spill and bylaw contravention.

However, the tribunal found that the strata did not appropriately follow the Act in seeking payment of the associated costs. Section 135 of the Act states that a strata must not impose a fine against a person, require a person to pay the costs of remedying a contravention, or deny a person the use of a recreational facility for a contravention of a rule or bylaw unless the strata has received a complaint, in writing, and given an owner reasonable opportunity to respond, including a hearing if requested.  The strata must give notice of the complaint to the person’s landlord or owner.

The owner claimed that he became aware of the spill by way of an email from another owner on April 11th which the council was copied on.  The strata alternatively claimed that they had issued written notice to the owner but did not provide proof. The tribunal found that the email message did not amount to notification from the strata as outlined in Section 135 of the Act.

The tribunal ruled that the owner is not responsible for the contractor’s invoice in the amount of $2,099.21 and any chargeback of this amount against the strata lot must be removed. In addition, within 30 days of the decision date, the strata must pay $225.00 to the owner for reimbursement of tribunal fees plus post-judgment interest as applicable. The remainder of the owner’s claims were dismissed.

February 20, 2020

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