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Burnaby owner dodges $13,500 in fines for renting unit without strata permission

A Burnaby townhouse owner who rented out her unit in violation of her strata’s bylaws has won a partial victory over her strata council.
strata dispute
The strata at Deerfield on Cumberland Street tried to fine the owner of a townhouse there for $19,500 for renting her unit without the council's permission. - Google Street View

A Burnaby townhouse owner who rented out her unit in violation of her strata’s bylaws has won a partial victory over her strata council.

Chuhui Shen owns a three-storey townhouse at Deerfield at 7501 Cumberland Street in East Burnaby, according to a recent Civil Resolution Tribunal ruling.

She signed a one-year tenancy agreement with a renter on June 1, 2019, the ruling said, without getting permission from the strata council or having the tenant fill out a necessary form.

The strata council sent its first warning letter to Shen about the unauthorized rental on Nov. 29, 2019.

The strata’s bylaws allow the council to impose fines of $500 a week against owners who fail to get its permission to rent, and the council eventually slapped Shen with a $19,500 fine in April 2020, demanding she pay “as soon as possible,” according to the ruling.

A letter from the council explained the fine was for 39 weeks from June 1, 2019 until March 1, with March 1 being used as an "end date” because of Residential Tenancy Act changes and the COVID-19 pandemic.

Shen had already told the council she couldn’t end the tenancy before May 31 because it was a fixed-term tenancy and her renters didn’t agree to end it early.

At the Civil Resolution Tribunal, Shen, who was represented by her fiancé, Shane Lehal, who is not a lawyer, applied to have the strata fine cancelled or reduced

She argued the strata’s bylaws were unclear on the issue of partial rentals, like to roommates, which she claimed applied to her situation, according to the ruling.

Shen further claimed government letters and news articles had led her to believe she’d be fined if her home was empty.

She also accused the strata council of discrimination and unfairness, for not allowing her representative to speak to the strata on her behalf even though the council knew that she did not speak English well.

“Having admitted to the bylaw contravention, she then argued the strata should provide some leniency because of her unfamiliarity with the law,” stated the Aug. 26 tribunal ruling by vice-chair J. Garth Cambrey. “However, Ms. Shen’s unfamiliarity or poor understanding of the strata and municipal bylaws is not a legal defence, even if her English is poor. She is expected to know what the law requires her to do.”

Cambrey dismissed Shen’s claim of discrimination, saying that was a matter for the B.C. Human Rights Tribunal.

But he ordered the strata to reduce Shen’s fine to $6,000 – an initial fine of $500 on Nov. 29, 2019, when the strata first notified Shen of the bylaw violation, and another $500 every week until Feb. 20, the day the tribunal issued the dispute notice in the case.

Follow Cornelia Naylor on Twitter @CorNaylor