Straight Talk: Cutting Through the Condo Jargon

One of our core values here at Catalyst Condo Management is the belief in the steadfast importance of crystal-clear communication. Sometimes, though, in the need for expediency in communication, clarity gets lost along the way. Simple, straight-ahead language gets caught up in jargon that’s meant to be more precise or transparent, but that ends up muddying the waters of communication more than before. 

That’s where Dustin Gutsche comes in. Long-time Catalyst employee and project manager extraordinaire, Gutsche brings a wealth of knowledge and industry experience to the table that we’re leaning into today to help cut through the condo jargon and shine a light on what some of those weird, seemingly-made-up terms actually mean to condo owners, communities, and corporations alike. Let’s dig in.

Top Ten Condo Colloquialisms, Clarified.

1. Capital Fund (or Savings Fund)

We figured we’d things start off with a bit of a gimme. 

In reality, Gutsche explains, the term “capital fund” or “savings fund” is simply a regional twist you might hear in BC or Ontario on what we here in Alberta commonly refer to as a reserve fund study – which is essentially the go-forward strategy and set-aside monies for tackling big-ticket repairs and maintenance items that fall outside the scope of a condo corporation’s day-to-day operating funds.

2. Special Levy

Similar to “capital fund,” “special levy” is simply a new twist on an old term. As of the implementation of Alberta’s Condominium Property Amendment Act in January 2020, special assessments are now known as special levies. 

What’s that you say? These feel like they’re too easy? Fair enough – let’s get into the real nitty-gritty. 

3. Post-Tension Cable Inspection

Ooooh, now we’re talking some seriously impenetrable jargon – and from multiple industries, at that! 

Post-tension cables are plastic-encased steel wires that are utilized in construction to add strength to long, thin slabs of concrete, Gutsche clarifies. These cables are tensioned after the surrounding concrete is poured, hence their name. Once you understand that technical detail, then, a post-tension cable inspection is exactly what it sounds like: an inspection of those post-tension cables! Here in Alberta, buildings constructed with post-tension cables are on a one- or two-year evaluation cycle as determined by the inspecting engineer. 

4. BEVA

You know jargon gets real when it starts to turn into acronyms. 

BEVA stands for Building Exterior Visual Assessment. Any building that’s more than ten years old and five stories tall must undergo a formal visual assessment at least once every five years to determine if repairs are needed to its exterior.

5. BECA

Another acronym! BECA, Gutsche details, stands for Building Envelope Condition Assessment. Basically, this assessment is all about determining the health of the building from its exterior to its inside. Does it shed water? Does it lose a lot of heat? Is it lacking in insulation? Is it lacking in vapour barrier? A BECA will provide the answers to these questions and more.

6. New Home Warranty

This might sound like a simple phrase to define, but as with all things warranty-related, the reality can sometimes be a bit more complicated. The provision of a New Home Warranty is a requirement under the Alberta New Home Buyer Protection Act that applies to condos just as it does detached dwellings. The rub here, though, is that different developers will often go about honouring this commitment in two distinctly different ways. 

In some instances, these warranties are applied to segments of newly-developed condos or townhomes in chunks at a time, as several blocks of a new development are completed and come online. In other examples – more typical to apartment-style condominiums – developers will provide a separate warranty for each individual unit owner, each of which starts when that specific property is sold, resulting in literally hundreds of different warranties within any single condo building. Nice and easy to keep track of, right? 

7. Technical Audit

A technical audit in the condo management industry is the equivalent of bringing in backup. To conduct a technical audit, Gutsche elaborates, an envelope consultant or engineering consultant is brought onsite to examine a building and detail at length the scope, cause of, and probable solution to a building issue. 

Typically, tech audits are brought in as tools to leverage a developer or warranty claim in a condo community’s favour, but they can also be used as a proactive measure – albeit a costly one – in certain highly-specific uncommon cases (say, to determine the health of something like a rock ballast roof, for example). Tech audits are expensive, but if utilized properly, they can save a condo community a lot of time and money down the on road. 

8. Condo Status Certificate

Again, this is a bit of a trick question, because condo status certificates typically go by a different name here in Alberta: estoppel certificates. 

An estoppel certificate essentially validates the financial posture a specific condo unit, and details the current condo fees associated with that unit, the payment schedule for those fees, any outstanding fees, and any additional interest owing on unpaid fees. Because unpaid fees carry over with the unit – not the owner – it’s always a smart idea to get an estoppel certificate when purchasing a condo unit, just to ensure you don’t end up saddled with someone else’s unpaid debt!

9. HOA Fees

This term is sometimes used interchangeably with “condo fees,” but HOA fees are an entirely different animal. Shorthand for homeowner association fees, HOA fees were a one-time American practice that’s made its way up to Canada in recent years. Several communities in some of Alberta’s larger cities now collect HOA fees, and these funds go toward anything from neighbourhood maintenance to lake access to community centre usage. HOA fees also lack the robust regulation enforcement that condo fees carry with them, further distinguishing these two fee structures from each other. 

10. CCDC Contract

The Canadian Construction Document Committee (CCDC) is a national regulating body that protects owners, developers, and engineers within the industry, Gutsche explains. Due to the technical nature of larger condo projects, CCDC contracts are often created to be vetted and approved by the Committee before being supervised by an approved administer – typically an engineering firm with knowledge of the job at hand. 

Wow, that’s a LOT of knowledge to drop all in one blog – but if you’ve somehow still got questions about the condo industry, you can bet we’d be more than happy to answer them for you. Get in touch with us at Catalyst Condo Management today to chat condo jargon, condo management, and more!