This post is about a Social Networking Experiment which may end up laying the foundations for something more. This Web Site, Facebook Page, and corresponding Facebook Group, have been created as an experiment in order to see if Social Media can play a role in improving strata living for owners. I would like to see if by bringing other strata owners together, openly and democratically discussing how strata’s are run, how they can be improved and ways in which we can increase strata owner involvement, that strata life can become an enjoyable, peaceful and happy experience filled with a sense of “community spirit” and cooperation.  A peaceful, respectful and enjoyable experience where owners feel a sense of security, contentment and community along with confidence and trust in those who are making decisions on their behalf. A place where they feel that they have clear and open lines of communication with strata council and the rest of the owners, and that decisions are always being made by strata council where the owner’s best interests always come first. Given the experiences of most strata owners, this may sound like an unrealistic vision, a fantasy for strata living. I would prefer to think that we, as owners, have the collective power and influence, as well as legal obligation, to change things for the better. If you don’t think that the collective voices of a concerned community can wrestle control away from those who are not serving your best interests, just take a look at what has happened in Tunisia, Egypt and hopefully soon, Libya. I believe that Social Media and other forms of open and collaborative dialog can bring strata owners together in order to effect not only change in their own strata, but to effect change regarding the need for improved or new legislation, as well as increased accountability, starting with the Strata Property Act.

Whoever fights with monsters should see to it that in the process they do not themselves become monsters.” (Nietszche)

Strata owners have the right to expect their concerns to be heard and respected. They also have the right to live in a community where those who are afforded the responsibility of making decisions on their behalf, do so openly, democratically, responsibly and ALWAYS in the best interests of ALL owners.  Strata council members also have the right to these things along with being acknowledged when they are doing a good job, respected for their often unrecognized efforts and to have owner support, input and respect (when it has been earned ) so they can do their jobs effectively. I believe that if we can achieve even some of these goals, and fulfill some of these owner “rights”, there would be a significant improvement in the overall “strata living experience” for many owners. With these goals accomplished, and “rights” ensured, owners would be happier, content and feel more like they are participating in, and contributing to, their strata community. A state of living I would like to call “Strata Zen”.

My partner and I have been owners of a condominium in a strata complex called Marina Estates, since 2004. Although you would think that a small “community” of people living together and sharing in the collective legal responsibility of managing their strata would bring owners together, we have not experienced this in our strata. Owning a strata unit is like becoming a partner in a corporation. Each owner becomes a member of the Strata Corporation and becomes LEGALLY responsible for the fiscal, structural and mechanical integrity of the entire complex and NOT just your own unit/home. Unfortunately for many strata owners, once they buy their units they perceive their “home” as somewhat isolated from everyone else, similar to owning and living in a detached home. Most owners do not get involved with the management of their strata, nor do they attend strata meetings or make an effort to remain informed, or to get involved in any way with their strata council. Unfortunately this isolation of strata council often leads to mismanagement, negligence, prejudice, wasteful spending, Strata Property Act violations and in the worst cases, owners losing their homes. Most strata owners don’t get involved in any “strata business” until something hits the fan, or an issue has become so serious that it will hit their wallets. In most cases this is TOO LATE to do anything effective other than to vent at strata council, pay your levies and hope for the best. This is no way to live and it is self-defeating to the purpose of owning a home where you should be able to ensure that decisions are always made in YOUR best interest in order to protect your financial and emotional investment as well as encouraging a pleasant, respectful and enjoyable “community”.

You cannot expect to buy into a collectively managed entity such as a Strata Corporation, and NOT be affected when those who you have left in charge make decisions which damage the financial, structural or community integrity of the entire complex. Since decisions that strata council make effects ALL owners, and most owners allow strata council to run the place as they see fit with little or no oversight, mistakes are often made, laws are broken, Acts are ignored and these effect ALL owners, both emotionally and financially.  What makes these unfortunate strata experiences so unnecessary,  surprising, even shocking, is that there are laws, Acts, regulations and even simplified guidelines for running a strata which are readily available to all strata council’s. All it takes to lay the foundations for an effectively and responsibly managed strata corporation is a basic command of the English language and a willingness to “do the right thing”, nothing more. Although this is self-evident for many of us who have become involved in strata management issues, it appears to be lost on many strata council’s. Marina Estates is certainly not alone when it comes to strata council negligence or abuses.

Failure to read bylaws allows Council to help themselves to cash without permission and for their own benefit. Failure to read and understand the bylaws allows Council to pander to themselves at the expense of other owners. Failure to read and understand the Strata Property Act allows my Council to circumvent the law and run my corporation in the Soprano style- Badda Bing!” (Strata101)

In short, living in a strata complex has been one of the most unnecessarily frustrating, discouraging and stressful experiences of my life. An experience which contributed to some Marina Estates owners losing their homes and many other owners left financially, emotionally and psychologically wounded after all the stress. In spite of having a degree in psychology, and decades of experience in business, technology and information management as well as project management, I have been unable to improve the situation in our complex for the better, in spite of years of trying. I have now learned that this is not unusual for a “strata living experience”. Over the past 7 years now I have expended vats amount of personal, emotional and financial resources in order to educate myself on strata issues and strata management. I have become intimately familiar with all the laws, Acts and other regulations which govern strata corporations. I have also provided our strata council with hundreds of pages of communications, reports, “expert” opinions, legal advice (from lawyers of course) and various advice from industry “experts” such as CHOA. I have also made various offers to assist and donate consulting and other services, all of which have been declined. Therefore, I feel as if I have learned all of this, I have put in all this time, effort and money for nothing! I am 50 years old and so I don’t take kindly to wasting, or losing what little time I have left on this spectacular planet. Much of my entire personal focus over the past few years has been to find more ways to “make a difference” and so I continue to seek out ways in which I can make a positive contribution. Since I have failed at improving how Marina Estates is managed, maybe some of the things I have learned and picked up along the way – combined with some knowledge of psychology, technology, collaboration tools and social networking – could benefit other strata owners. I don’t know the answer to that question (yet), but I am going to give it a shot. However, I am going to try and approach this from a perspective which may seem unusual at first. But like I said, this is an experiment.

I consider myself a student of Buddhism and meditation. Ever since I was a young boy, long before I even knew what meditation was, I seemed to have an ability to shut off my internal thoughts and just “be there”. Maybe I learned it from reading Carlos Castaneda where, as a student of a Yaqui Shaman, one of the things he had to learn was how to “shut off his internal dialog”. In the woods behind our house on the slopes of Grouse Mountain, I would often sit for hours, without thought, just listening to the sounds of the earth, the wind, the water and the animals that lived in the area. Over the years, especially during my climbing period, I have grown accustomed to being able to spend at least some of my waking conscious time in a peaceful, expansive and transcendent state of meditation. I like to think of it as “Living Inside Joy”, an all-encompassing inner peace where I want of nothing and just feel contentment. Living in a strata, particularly Marina Estates, has messed with this big-time. In effect, strata living, and Marina Estates, have messed with my Chi and I want it back! Therefore, striving for a peaceful, calm, secure and stress-free living environment which evokes a feeling of contentment, rather than anxiety, is a primary goal of these efforts.

Living in a strata community, your home, should be a peaceful, safe, secure and most importantly, happy experience for everyone. A place of community where you stop and say hi to your neighbors, or reach out and extend a helping hand when someone is in need. A place where you can feel at peace and content, something akin to a meditative state. A state of serene bliss. Ok, maybe that’s a little bit much to expect for strata living but there must be some way to at least encourage a more cooperative, collaborative and happy environment for strata owners and so maybe this Collaborative Social Networking Experiment can help to start the process.

Since I am looking for a safe, secure, content and happy living environment, something akin to a “meditative state” I thought the name “Strata Zen” was appropriate for these efforts. So if you are living in a strata, and have some ideas, experiences to share, or even if you just want to “lurk” in order to learn what other strata owners are doing, please consider joining the Facebook Group and/or Page, “Strata Zen”.