Limitation periods to commence court proceedings in British Columbia have been suspended, and statutory decision-makers have been provided discretion to waive, suspend or extend time periods related to their powers.
This is good news for strata corporations concerned about collections proceedings that were underway before the COVID-19 pandemic, but have not yet filed an action in Court.
However, we advise against strata corporations assuming that that all collections work is no longer subject to a limitation period. First, this order only gives decision-makers “discretion” to waive or extend the limitation periods. So, the strata corporation will need to argue that an extension should apply due to circumstances unavoidable due to the pandemic. Second, the Doctrine of Laches may still apply to require that strata corporations continue to be vigilant in their collections work, only considering the pandemic as a factor in what decisions are made.
What is the Doctrine of Laches? Thomson Reuters Practical Law defines this doctrine as follows:
Laches is an equitable defense, or doctrine. A defendant who invokes the doctrine is asserting that the claimant has delayed in asserting its rights, and, because of this delay, is no longer entitled to bring an equitable claim. Failure to assert one’s rights in a timely manner can result in claims being barred by laches: it is a maxim of equity that, “Equity aids the vigilant, not the negligent.”
However, delay alone is not enough to prevent a claimant obtaining relief. The consequence of the delay must be that it would be unfair for the court to give relief, usually because the defendant has changed its position because of the delay.
The party asserting laches has the burden of proving that it is applicable. Laches is distinguishable from the statute of limitation, which prevents a party from asserting claims after the designated limitations period has expired.
To ensure that a delay will not compromise the strata corporations position to collect the unpaid amount in the long run, it is important that any strata corporations seek legal advice before considering a delay to their normal procedure or recommended best practices for collecting debits, including of filing liens, applying to the Civil Resolution Tribunal, or applying to the Supreme Court.
This is not to say that strata corporations should be unsympathetic to owners who have been laid of a result of the pandemic. In fact, this is almost certainly something that must be taken into consideration before deciding what steps will be taken to collect a debt from an owner. Payment plans- with legal advise- may be acceptable. Likewise, a written acknowledgement from the owner that they agree to the debt, and understand that the delay to CRT or Court proceedings in no way affects the strata corporations position to collect the debt may be helpful, even if only for transparency reasons.
If in doubt, speak to your strata manager and seek legal advice about how to proceed.