The boom of condominium development and ownership, especially in Toronto, has made legal disputes between condo owners, boards and developers all the more pertinent. The day to day running of a condominium can put condo owners, boards and developers into many types of conflicts, and the legal system is, at this time, ill-equipped to help resolve them effectively and efficiently.
Though we don’t claim to have a broad understanding of the entirety of legal issues associated with condominiums, we can readily understand the perspective of condo owners we hear from so frequently. Many people come to us with condo-related issues, which are, in effect, nearly impossible to resolve, because the forums available for addressing their disputes are simply too expensive or complicated to access. Here are just a couple of situations that come to mind from recent memory.
Following a minor disagreement, a condo owner and that condo’s tenant are harassed by the condo board and/or management. Among other things, the tenant gets late night visits from security claiming he’s loud (even though he’s sleeping); he is hounded by sanitation, fire and hazardous materials inspections. There is a vexatious lawsuit and an abundance of legal letters, for which the condominium’s lawyer invoices the owner, in what are, in our opinion, exaggerated amounts. Had the owner been a tenant, her recourse would be the Landlord and Tenant Board – in her situation, it would be reasonable to file a tenant’s application claiming to put an end to the landlord’s harassment. For a condo owner, however, there are only two possible avenues – an injunction (order to stop harassment) from the Superior Court of Justice, or initiation of private prosecution. Both options are fraught with problems – the Superior Court of Justice is prohibitively expensive for her to deal with, and private prosecution is, practically, too difficult to start. It is hard to identify the particular individual responsible for the harassment, and even if the individual is identified, there’s no guarantee that the harassment won’t be taken up by another person.
Excessive Repair or Maintenance Fees
A condo owner’s tenant had broken the door to his unit and it needed to be replaced. The condo board charged the owner $4,000 for this replacement, as well as legal fees for communicating with her regarding the issue. Reasonably, the owner wants to challenge this charge – it seems rather excessive given the type of door to be installed. Once again, we see that had the owner been a tenant, the issue could have been speedily dealt with through the Landlord and Tenant Board.
We also see disputes with condo boards that are common to an entire building’s worth of tenants. We encountered a situation, for example, where the condo board has repaired the building’s roof, found that it was unable to pay for the repair, and sent every unit’s owner a bill for thousands of dollars. This raises many points which the unit owners can dispute – had the need for the repair been established? Had the most cost-efficient option for the repair been used? Why are the owners responsible for these additional costs, in excess of the maintenance fees they already pay? The avenues available for condo owners to deal with the problem are again restricted by the costs and complexities of legal procedure.
We believe that the absence of a unified condominium tribunal, akin to the Landlord and Tenant Board, severely limits Ontarians’ access to justice. We believe that true access to justice means that the avenues available to us to defend our rights do not simply exist, but exist in the form that makes them financially accessible, efficient and proportionate to the complexity and significance of the dispute. To us, for example, having to apply to the Superior Court for an injunction to stop harassment by the condo board, with all the associated legal costs, fees and time delay, seems rather like cracking a nut with a sledgehammer.
We advocate for the creation of a condominium tribunal akin, in some respects, to the Landlord and Tenant Board. (LTB) Perhaps, some functions of such a tribunal could even be assumed by the LTB, which already deals with similar matters and has an established procedure to do so. The tribunal should be able to resolve disputes on things such as maintenance, harassment and repairs, in a way that is sufficiently rapid, simple and cost-efficient to be a real option to condo owners and boards alike.