How to strata 

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It can be hard to live with people. Even the best of friends can grate on one another after being cooped up in the same house all winter long. Fights can start over the smallest things—like playing the same stupid song for a millionth time or hanging the toilet paper roll the wrong way. (And yes, there is a right way.)

For a large chunk of my life, I've had roommates. It was fun—I met a lot of great people and made some lasting friendships. My life has been richer for the experience, more than making up for missing food and beer, scratched CDs, sinks full of dishes, and lost sleep due to some upstairs night terrors.

I was also happy when I met the right person and that part of my life came to an end.

Until we moved into a strata. Nobody drinks my beer when my back is turned and the mess in the kitchen is all mine, but sometimes it feels like I'm back to having roommates again. Hundreds of them this time. It was a bit of an adjustment.

Don't get me wrong, there are a lot of positive things about strata life.

Shared roofs, driveways, walls and pipes mean more affordable housing, something that has made home ownership possible for my family. I don't have to mow the lawn on Sunday afternoons or paint the siding every 10 years—we pay strata fees to have those things done for us. Someone also picks up our garbage, which means I don't have to drive leaking bags of days-old compost to the waste-transfer station a couple of times a week. My driveway also gets shovelled for me, a luxury I could never afford if we lived in a single-family home.

Because it's a Whistler Housing Authority (WHA) property, I also get to live around a lot of like-minded locals in a community filled with kids and dogs. And everybody gets along most of the time.

But there can be downsides as well.

There are people that don't get the strata concept. They don't understand what they signed up for or where their money goes. Some weren't aware that their new home came with a long list of bylaws and rules that are good for the 'hood even if they're not good for you personally.

There are people in my strata who refuse to learn how to do garbage, compost and recycling properly, with the result that everyone in the strata is paying higher fees for maintenance, extra trips by the garbage trucks and contaminated loads. If the bin is full or compactor isn't working, people will just dump their bags on the floor, resulting in additional cleanup charges by strata management.

There are people who let their dogs roam free and don't pick up their waste. There's nothing harder to clean out of a child's sneaker treads than three-day-old dog crap.

And then there are the people who drive way too fast down our 15 kilometres-per-hour sidewalk-less strata lane, which is ridiculous because my strata has blind corners, children on bikes and scooters, pedestrians, dogs, and other vehicles. I live in fear that one of the kids in my neighbourhood will one day be hit by a careless person hellbent on getting home all of 10 seconds faster.

Because of the WHA and the way Whistler is set up, there are a lot of people now living in stratas that would rather not, but also don't have a choice. They don't like the rules or noise bylaws or speed limits or other expectations of behaviour, but can't afford to move into non-strata market housing. At the end of the day, they're stuck—and everyone in that strata is stuck with them.

My advice for anyone moving into a strata complex is to treat it like you're 25 and moving back in with your parents. You're going to be giving up some things but you'll be getting a lot in return.

Do yourself a favour and read your strata bylaws and meeting minutes. If there's a Facebook page for your neighbourhood, join it. Separate your waste into the right bins, and if you're ever not sure about something then put it in the garbage to avoid contamination. Break down your cardboard boxes so trucks can make fewer trips. Clean up after your dog. Slow down. Park where you're supposed to. Turn down the music at 11 p.m. Stop your renovation at 8 p.m.

I say all of this having broken several of the noise bylaws myself, but I can honestly say I'm trying to be a better roommate to all my strata neighbours. On balance, the pros of living in a strata outweigh the cons—namely the people who aren't doing it right. Yet.

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