How to Live With a Condo Board

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Buying a condo comes with a lot more than just a shiny set of keys, a hefty mortgage loan and an underground parking spot. Your newfound status as the proud owner of a shoebox in the sky also carries with it a whole host of responsibilities to the powers that be – the condo corporation.

The condo corporation is the often griped about entity that oversees all the mundane (and not so mundane) day-to-day operations at the condo, from making repairs to common areas to handling the finances to setting the rules by which the building will be run.

The condo corporation is made up of unit owners, who get to vote at meetings – not unlike the shareholders of a major corporation. Typically, each unit gets one vote. A board of directors is elected to make decisions on behalf of the entire building. The board is also responsible for hiring contractors to carry out repairs and other various tasks.

Many condo owners like to complain about the condo board because it is the one tasked with determining how much in fees to extract from unit owners. At some buildings the monthly condo fees – which cover maintenance and repairs to common areas such as the gym, the swimming pool, the lobby, party rooms and more – seem to climb higher every year, adding to the financial burden facing debt-laden owners.

But with the prices of single detached homes soaring out of reach for many, a condo is the only option for many buyers looking to dip their toes into the Toronto real estate market.

Here are a few tips to aid you in your dealings with the mighty condo corporation:

Know the Rules

According to the government of Ontario, there are several documents setting out the rules that govern the building.

The condo declaration outlines the details of how the building is owned – for example, by defining the boundaries between the units and the common areas. While this seems like it should be straightforward, often it is not. In some buildings, the outside wall of the unit is the owner’s responsibility, while in other buildings it may be the corporation’s job to keep that wall freshly painted. While this may seem like a minute distinction, it can determine whose job it is to pay for the outside of the windows to be cleaned.

The bylaws document outlines how the building will be run – for instance, what powers do directors have and how will meetings be run?

There may also be condo rules that govern day-to-day issues such as whether owners can have pets or whether or not you’re allowed to rent your unit for short-term stays on Airbnb.

Know your Responsibilities

It’s important to know what your responsibilities as a unit owner are. Typically, owners are tasked with handling any repairs and renovations needed to the inside of their unit, while common areas will be maintained by the corporation. There may be other responsibilities, as well. These should all be set out in the declaration and bylaws documents, so make sure to study those so that there aren’t any surprises.

Attend Meetings

How can you expect to have your voice heard if you don’t attend meetings? Condo corporations are required to hold annual general meetings where unit owners vote on major decisions. The meetings will also provide updates on issues such as repairs, security incidents and more. There may be other meetings, too, throughout the year to address special issues.

Handle Disagreements Gracefully

There are a number of avenues available for handling disputes. An informal discussion with the board is usually a good place to start, although if that doesn’t resolve the problem you can also write to the board or bring up the problem at an annual general meeting. If that fails you could look into mediation, which is when a neutral third party is brought in to come up with a solution. Arbitration – where a third party conducts a hearing and then makes a decision on how to resolve the issue – would be the next step. If all of that fails, legal action may be your last recourse.

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