Surrey condo owner fined $800 for smoking, must pay $13,000 for strata legal fees

A Surrey condo owner who fought against $800 in fines for smoking cigarettes and marijuana in his unit has to pay more than $13,000 to cover the strata’s legal fees.
The strata at a complex on 68th Avenue with 55 units took owner James Graham to the B.C. Civil Resolution Tribunal to get him to stop smoking in his unit after there were complaints, according to a recently-posted decision.
A neighbour reported there were 260 times, over a period of about a year and two months ending in late March 2022, when the smell and smoke from cigarette and marijuana emanated from drain openings and plug outlets in her unit, which is next to Graham’s condo.
Her complaints said “there were days the smell was so bad that she could not work from her home office, take baths in the upstairs bathroom, or make breakfast in the kitchen.”
Council members confirmed “the heavy smell of marijuana coming through electrical outlets” on two occasions in 2021 and that they were coming from Graham’s unit and not the unit on the other side.

Graham denied smoking in his condo and countered that the strata did not prove he was doing so.

But the strata pointed out that in several emails in early 2021, Graham provided a doctor’s note saying he need to smoke pot for medical reasons to treat depression, anxiety, gastrointestinal disorder and pain. Later, when the strata required Graham to seal his unit and make it airtight, he replied he would not be making any repairs and that he would only smoke off the property.

Based on these emails, the tribunal determined that Graham acknowledged he was smoking in his unit.

It disagreed with Graham’s claim that the strata didn’t do “reasonable investigations” before issuing four fines, amounting to a total of $800, around mid- and late-2021.

It said the strata gave Graham the opportunity to be heard and address the allegations against him.

A new strata bylaw at the Surrey complex that was set in September 2021 prohibits smoking or vaping tobacco, marijuana or any similar organic substance in any interior or exterior common or limited common property as well as in the units. There is an exception for anyone with a valid marijuana license or note from a medical doctor confirming the need to use marijuana at home for medical reasons, but stipulates that anyone under this allowance must not allow smoke to escape such that it can be smelled by another resident.

It was established as more strata corporations in B.C. have been implementing non-smoking bylaws, but also struggling to juggle the concerns of non-smokers versus the personal freedoms of other residents.

In January 2021, a Richmond condo owner won $500 in damages from the strata after complaining to the CRT about her neighbour’s second-hand smoke and aromatherapy scents.

In March 2021, a frustrated condo-dweller in Burnaby sued the strata and a neighbour claiming that second-hand cigarette smoke was causing her health issues. In that case, the strata spent more than $20,000 in legal fees, which it didn’t get back. The tribunal didn’t rule on where the smoke was coming from, but awarded the owner $400 in damages because the strata stopped investigating.

Graham did not claim he has a valid medical marijuana license or need to consume marijuana for medical reasons, according to the tribunal.

The strata relied on a bylaw to claim its legal expenses in the amount of $13,948.74.

It said that “legal counsel’s involvement was necessary due to (Graham’s) continued disregard for the strata’s enforcement measures and repeated bylaw breaches.”

In the end, the decision ordered that Graham pay the strata $13,336.83, which includes the $800 in unpaid fines, legal expenses before and during the tribunal process, interest and fees for the CRT.

jlee-young@postmedia.com

( note from TNL….how can you pass people in the hall after such a fight? I would want to move.

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