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The House of Representatives suspended the conclusion of debate on the Bill to amend the Registration (Strata Titles) Act until its next sitting, when it sat Tuesday (October 20).
The decision to suspend the debate was taken, during the Committee stage of the proceedings, after issues arose on the provisions of section 7, which deals with the procedure to be followed when a proprietor fails, neglects or refuses to pay contributions to the Strata Corporation.
The Bill also allows for the power of sale to be exercised by the Strata Corporation for non-payment, as well as for the application of the proceeds of such sale.
Prior to dissolving itself into a Committee of the Whole House to discuss the Bill clause by clause, Prime Minister the Hon. Bruce Golding, who has cabinet responsibility for property ownership, closed the debate, which he opened in July but which was suspended on October six, after several Opposition MPs cautioned against passage until some issues were resolved.
Closing the debate on Tuesday, Mr. Golding noted that several amendments were made in the interim to address the concerns, which included the composition of the Commission of Strata Corporations, which is to be established to register and monitor the corporations.
Responding to the point that there was no representative of the strata owners, and that the Commission would be heavily skewed towards the developers of strata, rather than persons who actually own the properties or live there, the Prime Minister said that it was his Government’s view that legislation “that is overly prescriptive in terms of the composition of statutory boards and authorities” was not good, from the point of view of lawmaking.
However, he admitted that, in this case, an important constituency of interest had been excluded.
“What we are proposing is to amend the Bill, firstly, to change the composition of the Commission to resemble what exists in the Real Estate Board, which is that the appointment will be made by the Minister, from (among) persons who represent a broad range of interests,” he explained.
He said that, as the responsible Minister, he would have some discretion to ensure that there is representation on the Commission from persons who own strata properties.
Mr. Golding also addressed the concerns raised about the extent of the power of the Commission to demolish or sell properties.
“We have proposed amendments which would stipulate that, before you can demolish, notice would have to be served, and in this case, the notice that is being proposed is 30 days for demolition of unlawful structures, and in the case of removal of animals, seven days notice,” he said.
A monetary limit on salaries payable to members of the Commission, as was suggested, has also been included in the amendments. Explicit provisions will also be made to enable the Commission to conduct investigations into the accounts of a strata corporation.
“While corporations are complaining that they are short-changed and abused by owners who don’t pay the relevant maintenance fees, we also have a duty to ensure that when you collect the people’s money, you manage it properly. So the commission will now have the power to inspect, (and) audit the accounts of any corporation, to satisfy itself that the funds of the corporation are being properly spent,” he outlined.
Responding to a concern expressed by Member of Parliament for North West St. Catherine, Robert Pickersgill, about the mandatory full-value insurance requirement in the Bill, Mr. Golding suggested that the existing provisions in the Act be retained.
He said that it would be unfair to a strata owner, if he has to allow time for a resolution among the strata owners, then a hurricane comes and takes off the roof and everybody has to stand the cost of replacement when, as an owner, he wanted full value insurance and was prepared to pay but was overruled.
Mr. Golding noted that a change was also proposed for the fee arrangement for strata corporations. Currently the fees that are paid by a strata corporation are paid upon submission of their accounts, which means that if accounts are not submitted, fees would not be required.
“Yet, if you don’t submit accounts, there is a burden on the Commission to go in and find out what is happening. So, the Commission is expending resources to carry out its mandate, when the fees that it needs to support that work would not have come forward,” he argued.
Two separate fees are, therefore, being proposed: an annual fee that all corporations are required to pay; and a fee for the filing of the account.
“The intention being that the cost of carrying out these functions are not to be a cost to the budget and, therefore, the fees can be set modestly and if the compliance rate is good, and if the enforcement mechanisms are effective, then the fees can be manageable and affordable, without putting the commission at risk, in terms of its financial sustainability,” Mr. Golding said.
He responded to another point raised by Mr. Pickersgill, on the matter of joint liability of the mortgager and the mortgagee in non-compliance.
“We have agreed to take that out. We felt that it would be an unreasonable imposition on the mortgage lender to be so required, and therefore, we are proposing to delete that provision,” Mr. Golding said.
The rapid increase in strata ownership and its attendant problems, has led to the Government’s decision to amend the Registration (Strata Titles) Act to, primarily, establish a Commission of Strata Corporations, and to specify the duties of that commission.
The Government’s decision was also influenced by representation by owners of strata lots, especially on matters relating to delinquency in the payment of maintenance contributions, insurance coverage and the application of requirements for decisions by unanimous resolutions.
The House of Representatives adjourned for a date to be named. In the meantime, the Bill will be sent back to the Chief Parliamentary Counsel for minor adjustments to section 7.

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