Owners' Rights and Responsibilities

In reality, the Condo Act fails to give sufficient rights to condo owners. As well, owners too often do not  benefit from the few rights they have because the Condo Act is self regulated.... In other words, no one oversees its functioning and no one helps owners whose rights are abused by managers, boards, and even condo lawyers.

The Condo Act specifies the following owners' rights, among many others:

More examples of owners' rights are provided throughout this website. But the writers of the letters posted in Readers Respond are very clear to the effect that owners do not actually have many rights and the rights they do have are too often not enforced. Owners are left without protection and recourse.

The second large issue is that owners do have responsibilities: Think of it--a condo is for most owners their main investment. Thus, it is also their main financial responsibility. However, condos are promoted and sold as a "hassle-free" environment and a "responsibility-free" lifestyle. Although it is true that a condo is far simpler to own and take care of than a detached home, it carries responsibilities and when these are not met, problems arise.

In other words, owners do have responsibilities and should not wait for a crisis to arise in their condo to do their duty. But, then again, it is often difficult for owners to exercise their responsibilities in condos where their basic rights are not upheld.

All in all, condo residents should be able to live in an environment that offers a quiet surrounding, dignity, a sense of purpose, and community. In these respects, much depends on residents’ civility as well as on boards’ and managers’ ethics, leadership, transparency, and the dignified way in which they carry out the business of leading the condo.

Please scroll down the next sections for a discussion of specific rights.

Right of Access to Condo Records

Owners have the right to see and obtain nearly all the corporation’s records with the exception of personal information, employees’ records, and ongoing litigation. Personal information is deleted before records are shown or given to an owner: This is particularly the case for minutes of board meetings.

Yet, 33% of the 2,081 letters (or 686 letters) received between July 2009 and the end of December 2012 are from owners who have been denied access to simple condo records to which they have the right or have been charged an exhorbitant fee. In addition, requests to see documents too often result in owners being subsequently mistreated by managers and boards--and even receiving threatening letters from condo lawyers.

Owners’ requests to view documents or to obtain copies should be accepted as the normal situation it is and the right it is. In too many cases, owners are treated as if their request was outrageous or, yet, it is taken as a personal insult that leads to open warfare. 

How To Obtain Documents

Owners wishing to examine a recent monthly financial statement, board minutes, or AGM minutes should simply write a request to view such documents in the office or obtain a photocopy.

Requests should first be addressed to managers. There may be a small fee for photocopying and manager’s time. Fees depend on number of pages. But fees should be reasonable and owners can object if a fee is unrealistically high.

If managers do not respond within 2 weeks, then the request should be made to the board, including a copy of the letter already sent to the manager. If another two weeks elapse without a reply, then another letter should follow stating the owner’s intent to bring the matter to a Small Claims Court (at least in Ontario).

The Ontario Condo Act clearly states that, when access to records is denied, the condo corporation has to pay a penalty of $500 to the owner.

As mentioned earlier, since first writing this website, many owners have complained about being denied access to documents, or being charged outrageous sums by a manager or a board. To read some of these letters, please click on Issues of Owners' Right to Information.

However, an owner who requests to see records dating back several years will impose a great deal of work on the manager. And it is not certain that a Small Claims Court judge will be as sympathetic to an owner’s cause in such a case. The cost for locating all this material, however, cannot be charged to the owner--the charge is only for photocopying.

Finally, it is difficult to predict how the Court will approach the case of an owner who returns for the 3rd or 4th time with a similar request within a year or two even if the owner has to keep returning because, in his or her condo, no information is ever posted. (In such situations, owners would be better off with a better board.)

As well, there is a possibility that the manager and/or the board may act vindictively after such a little Court excursion. And, at this point, there is nothing or no one responsible for protecting owners in this situation. (Click here for Condo Act Changes That Are Absolutely Necessary)

It might be more appropriate if a “repeat” owner requests to receive all monthly financials from now on, for instance. The manager simply prints out an additional copy each time—and each time at a reasonable cost to the owner. Or, preferably, these documents could be emailed at a small cost.

Indeed, with email so prevalent, requested documents could simply be sent as attachments. The cost of doing this should be minimal: a few seconds of an administrator’s time and no photocopying fees.

Right to Information

Apart from access to douments, unfortunately, right to information in general is not exactly enshrined in the Ontario Condo Act. It’s a theoretical rather than a real one because all depends on management and boards’ willingness to inform and, hence, to be accountable to owners. In contrast, in British Columbia, the Strata Act mandates that, at the very least, the “council [board] must inform owners of the minutes of all council meetings within 2 weeks of the meeting.”

Owners have to feel empowered by managers and boards, not helpless and left in ignorance about what is going on, as is too often done. There is too much secrecy toward condo owners and there is no reason for this. Keeping issues secret is certainly not part of boards of directors’ duties or managers’ role. Quite the opposite!

Owners who seek information are often treated as if they were trespassers. Yet, this is their home. They own the place!

Lack of information from boards of directors and managers is the most frequent specific complaint made by readers. It is a widespread problem. In addition, as noted in Readers Respond, lack of communication and transparency from boards of directors is also generally a red flag for a multitude of other problems. Also see What Is a Good Board? 

Indeed, the best boards and managers inform owners on a regular basis. For instance, some condos have passed a set of rules regarding the comportment of boards. One of these rules states that boards have to post a report after each monthly meeting explaining important decisions reached. This report can also be used to explain how residents can help improve the performance of their building or townhouse complex.

In a few condos, minutes of board meetings are posted on bulletin boards (minus personal information regarding staff and residents). In others, monthly financial statements are posted.

In several condos, boards or managers have websites that are updated regularly. Unfortunately, these websites are time consuming and, as a result, many are discontinued. Other boards, or presidents, publish informative newsletters.

When a sizeable proportion of residents do not speak or read English fluently, it is a gesture of civility and good business to find someone who can volunteer to occasionally translate important notices in a particular language.  When as many residents as possible have access to useful information, they are more likely to cooperate. The condo will function more smoothly and money may be saved.

The following are notices that can each be posted once or twice a year in order to provide guidance on:

  • energy saving, including water
  • preventing drain backups
  • recycling and green bins
  • preventing accidents
  • keeping parking spaces free of automotive fluids
  • bicycle use and storage
  • odour prevention
  • pet behaviour
  • danger from stuff thrown from balconies

Right to Notification for Entry into Unit

Right of notification for entry into unit is a right that is frequently violated in condos or is abused.

 

For instance, managers and superintendents do not have the right to inspect units before a status certificate is issued. And they do not have the right to inspect units to make sure that they are properly taken care of: This is none of their business and is an invasion of privacy--unless there is evidence that the safety of owners and the security of the building is at risk.

In other cases, fire inspections are carried out monthly in suites, plumbers enter suites to clean kitchen stacks several times a year, contractors come in to check out for balconies or sinks, etc. This is totally unwarranted and an invasion of privacy.

However, maintenance that is carried out on behalf of owners or that a condo is responsible to do requires that contractors enter units. Managers generally announce these services well over a week ahead of time by posting notices that are visible and accessible to all. Then, as the work progresses from floor to floor, managers post notices on each floor to let residents know that their turn has arrived.

Fan coil maintenance will take place on floors 10 through 14 on Wednesday through Friday. Please remove anything that is preventing access.

 

There are 5 important points that residents need to keep in mind:

  • Certain services, such as twice-yearly fan coil maintenance, require that residents remove furniture, TV sets, boxes, children’s toys, as well as plants from the area. Contractors are not paid to become movers. Even if they did move objects, it would cost much more money and delay the schedule for other residents. It is residents’ responsibility to clear out the area that will be serviced.  
  • Maintenance contractors are not allowed to enter suites alone when residents are not home. Rather, managers, superintendents, janitors, or concierge, will accompany contractors and remain with them for the duration of the service.
  • If a resident does not feel comfortable being left alone with a contractor, she can mention this to the manager ahead of time and a staff person will accompany the contractor.
  • The master key that allows access to all units is never given or loaned to a contractor. In fact, even the regular staff have access to this key only with manager’s or board’s permission. A sign sheet is a good idea so that managers can track the movement of the key.
  • Staff who enter a suite generally leave a note behind; this note gives the time and the reason for entry.
  • There are instances when staff may have to enter a suite without proper notification. This occurs when there is an emergency such as fire, water escape, or there is reason to believe that a resident is experiencing a health problem.

Please go into the section Other Important Residents' Rights below, in Right to Security, to read about some problems related to entry into units that arise and present a security issue.

What Are Owners’ Responsibilities?

The success of a condo largely depends on the level of civility and cooperation of its residents, particularly resident owners. There is agreement among condo experts that residents’ civility constitutes an asset to a condo and can raise its market value. Indeed, potential owners often seek out condos where residents are reputed or observed to be “nice,” polite, and “well behaved.”

In general, owners and residents should:

respect the right of other residents to live in a quiet and peaceful environment

  • maintain their exclusive-use common elements in good order 
  • do their part in keeping the building and grounds clean and in good working order; in practical terms, this means that residents should not litter, spill food and liquids in corridors or elevators, or use their balconies as storage areas
  • learn and follow the rules of their condo
  • cooperate with management’s reasonable requests
  • attend their AGMs and do so in a civil way even when disagreements arise. Regular attendance at AGMs is not only functional for the condo itself but it is in the best interest of owners. Indeed, where else can owners learn what is going on in their condo (which is perhaps their biggest investment), especially when a board does not communicate?
  • provide filled proxy forms when not able to attend AGMs in person (for info on proxies, click here into Owners' Meetings and Voting)
  • elect conscientious boards of directors 
  • consider becoming a board member with a view of helping their community
  • treat staff with respect
  • save energy 
  • recycle and participate in green bin programs where available

What Are Non-Resident Owners’ Rights and Responsibilities?

In most condos, tenants occupy 10% to 70% of the units, which means that condos are 90% to 30% owner occupied. In Ontario, non-resident owners probably constitute on average at least 25% of all condo owners. In some areas, particularly downtown Toronto and Vancouver, they constitute over 50% of condo owners.

Right to Information

First, non-resident owners have the same right to information about their property as have resident owners. Here, however, a problem arises that requires these owners’ cooperation:

Some condos maintain a confidential email list of non-resident owners and they are sent the same important information that is posted on the property’s bulletin boards. Yet, only a small proportion of non-resident owners avail themselves of this service. They rarely send in their email address, even if requested to do so. As a result, most non-resident owners are not well informed about their property.

Right  to Attend Meetings

Second, non-resident owners have equal rights of attendance at the AGM and requisitioned meetings. Yet, very few attend. And it is even difficult to obtain a proxy vote from them. In buildings with less than 70% of resident owners, requisitioning a meeting becomes extremely difficult so that problematic situations cannot be remedied. It is even difficult to obtain a quorum for the AGM in such buildings. (Click here for Owners’ Meetings and Voting)

Consequences of Non-Involvement

Therefore, when a condo has a majority of owners who are non-resident or week-enders, this condo has a much greater risk of experiencing problems of unethical boards and managers and, down the road, financial problems including very high fees and  building deterioration.

As an illustration of non-resident owners' lack of involvement in their property, of the 1,144 letters received by this website between July 2009 and the end of December 2011, only 5 were from a non-resident owner: This is less than 0.5% of all letters!

The above numbers probably mean that non-resident owners are not as likely to notice problems arising  in their condos as do resident owners. This also means that, in condos where only a small proportion of owners are resident, these owners have a far greater burden of responsibilities and problems that isolate them than in condos where a majority of owners live there. 

As well, it should be pointed out that condos with high levels of tenancy generally experience many more problems related to noise, pets, cleanliness, and parking. These problems are even more likely when owners locate tenants through an agent. However, some diligent owners choose their own tenants and do so carefully and follow-up before renewing their lease.

The former president of an older condo that is deteriorating because of a lack of resources to make necessary repairs lamented that,

“non-resident owners don’t care because they’ll never live here; they get their rent money and they don’t want to allow boards to increase fees for repairs and maintenance. The place is turning into a slum because each time a brave board tries to raise fees, these invisible owners show up and throw the board out. So now all they get are bad boards and they deserve them but the rest of us are stuck here and don’t deserve this, especially as it has become harder to sell our units because who wants to live here?”

He wanted to seek a Court order to have his building placed under administrative supervision but he couldn’t afford the legal fees. There are many condos in this deteriorating situation, both in Ontario and Quebec.

Residents with Disabilities/Challenges

Disabilities are covered under the Ontario Human Rights Code and equivalent codes in other provinces. Therefore, persons with disabilities have to be provided with easy access to their floor, parking area, facilities, and the street.

When there are steps from the street (or the outside) to the lobby, a ramp has to be built. Fortunately, most ground floors are now at street level. Heavy doors in buildings present a barrier for persons in wheelchairs or with a disability that makes walking difficult or opening a door impossible.

Heavy, fire-proof doors are difficult even for a healthy person. In one condo, the adopted policy is that persons who have difficulty opening a door because of a health issue or a challenge identify themselves to the concierge. After, any concierge at the desk always opens both doors for them. The concierge is also instructed to open doors for mothers with infants and strollers as well as pregnant women. This is called “the human touch” approach and it works so well that everyone in the lobby helps designated persons.

Another solution is to install an automatic door opener for either the front or the back entrance; such doors leading to parking areas may also be necessary. These doors can have a push button or a card reader and a “fob” can be sold to residents who need to use the automatic system. Or a combination of both, a push button for the outside door, and a card or fob for the interior door. Or, still, a button can be pressed by the person at the security desk. (Click here for What’s a Fob? A Card Reader?)

These mechanisms can be expensive but not overwhelmingly so. They also require somewhat more maintenance.

One has to be cautious to install a system that will not allow anyone off the street to “piggy back” behind residents. These doors take more time to close than regular ones. In such buildings, the concierge/security staff has to be even more vigilant--not an easy task or even one that is willingly accepted.

When observing from the sidewalk, one can at times see young people, mainly male, loitering outside waiting for the concierge to step away from the desk; then, they walk behind the next resident who opens the automatic door. Once inside, they walk corridors and check suite doors that may be left unlocked. Or they go into garages and check out cars. This is a security issue that has to be kept in mind.

Other Important Residents’ Rights

The four rights discussed here are rights to a smoke-free environment; safety; security; and right to social activities.

Right to a Smoke-Free Environment

The Ontario Human Rights Code takes precedence. Recently, a B.C. Human Rights Tribunal ruled that condo corporations have the duty to do act when a resident is affected by second-hand smoke. For instance, when smoke from another resident filters into the corridors and/or into another resident's suite and that resident is sensitive to smoke, the board has to step in. Repairs to the common elements may be necessary or requesting that the smoker take precautions against the smoke leaving his or her unit may also be necessary.

However, it is likely that recourse to the Tribunal is legitimate and will bear results mainly if the victims of the second-hand smoke are allergic to smoke and/or have other health problems or disabilities that make the smoke particularly bad for their health. Medical evidence may be requested.

It is yet unknown at this point to what extent a condo corporation is responsible for smoke that filters and simply inconveniences neighbours. However, there is plenty of research evidence to the effect that second-hand smoke is detrimental to health in general, particularly for small children, and this may be sufficient. Contacting the Ontario Human Rights Commission would be imperative.

Right to Safety

Boards of directors, through managers and superintendents, have to eliminate anything that people can bump into (such as overhangs at head level) or that can make them trip or slip and fall.

This is one of the reasons why storage of items behind and next to cars in garages is generally prohibited. Similarly, floors have to be examined so that they do not have slippery surfaces or objects such as food stuff (the famous banana peel, comes to mind here). Stairwells have to be carefully scrutinized on a daily basis. In cold weather, walkways have to be treated with sand or calcium (salt is generally cheaper, unfortunately). Loose stones have to be attended to.

Fire alarm testing has to occur on a quarterly basis in addition to the larger annual one. At that point, smoke, fire and carbon monoxide detectors are inspected. Fire alarms have to be clearly heard in all suites and common elements.

Smoke Alarms

Residents are at times irritated at the alarm and disconnect speakers and smoke detectors. Some even cut the electrical wires. This contravenes fire code regulations. But a fire inspection will reveal these problems and the resident will have to pay for their immediate reinstallation. Such actions are not only illegal but may place many lives in danger.

Elevators have to be periodically inspected and recertified. Finally, there is a standard of minimum lighting that is required in all corridors, stairwells, and parking areas.

Right to Security

The basic right to security first rests on the fact that no one should be able to enter a unit without the resident's consent or without prior notification from management for necessary repairs or services.

Several owners have written about thieves entering their unit while away or at work (something which is generally an inside job); of finding a security person or other personnel in their unit with no rationale for being there; of waking up in the middle of the night to find the security person in their unit; of owners who return from abroad to find that someone has been using their unit during their absence--and someone else is getting a "rent"!

On another level, it is difficult to know to what extent security cameras that are linked to monitors at the concierge desk are effective deterrents. At the very least, their visibility makes life more complicated for someone who is intent on committing a crime.

However, in the event that the concierge happens to be looking at the monitors, he or she could prevent or stop an assault on a person. This is why such personnel should be trained to glance at the monitors regularly.

But the best way to keep residents secure and safe from outside intrusion is to prevent non-residents from walking in.

Keys that can be readily duplicated for common doors create a security problem: Residents can make copies and pass them to friends. Card readers are far better because a manager can keep a record of the number of fobs given to each resident and cancel them upon their moving out or their losing a fob. 

Security System in Units

High-rise condos are generally equipped with a security system for access to suites. This is a small control panel inside a suite, right next to the entry door. Push buttons allow residents to secure their suite when they leave and return. However a personal code is required to “disarm” it. Most of the time, a resident who moves out does not give the code to the new resident. As a result, the system is under-utilized.

 

Security System

This system is designed to alert the security desk if someone breaks in. This can’t happen when the system is not “armed” by the resident. The worst part is that residents who don’t know how to change the code when they move in become frustrated when they inadvertently trigger the alarm in their suite and cannot stop it. Some then end up cutting the wires.

As a result, in some buildings, the entire system may fail and none of the suites are protected: The concierge can no longer hear the alarm system if someone breaks into a suite or, yet, he hears it all the time and cannot know when a real problem arises.

This is a serious issue of liability and a condo corporation could be sued if someone gained entry into a suite and hurt the occupants or stole personal possessions. When a resident “arms” her suite’s security system, the expectation is that the system is connected to the security desk and the staff will react if an intruder forces his way in and the alarm rings within the suite and at the desk.

When an inspection reveals that some suites have disabled their system and, as a result, the building’s entire system is equally disabled, then those owners should be asked to have their system repaired immediately. Otherwise, the condo should do it for them and the charge would be added to their common elements fees if they do not reimburse the condo shortly thereafter.

Most residents are not aware of this problem. In fact, most boards of directors do not understand their obligations in this respect.

Right to Social Activities and Parties?

This isn't a right: There is nothing in the Ontario Condo Act about owners and residents of condos having a right to be entertained by the condo.

In fact, the Condo Act does not allow condo funds to be used for parties for residents—even though no one generally objects.

One line of thinking, agreed upon by some legal experts but disputed by others, is that a condo party is an investment in community building and is a boost to morale. True. In fact, a large proportion of condos openly include a “social activities” category in their budget.

This said, a condo should not spend too much on parties and not too often either because owners who do not wish to attend (and indirectly pay via fees) may not agree with this perspective.  At any rate, condo boards should be aware of the potentially objectionable aspect of giving parties at corporation expense.

A good idea might be to ask residents to contribute a toonie when they register for a party.

Many condos have Social Activities Committees. Boards have to carefully scrutinize these activities for potential liabilities if they involve the use of common elements such as the party room. Boards should probably not give condo money to committees.

As well, if a director or the management is involved in planning these activities, including outings to casinos or racetracks or plays, the board should establish that the bus company has a good record and is properly insured.

Condo parties, whether organized by boards or committees, lead to the issue of alcoholic beverages.

Hosts can be liable when a guest drinks too much and is involved in an accident after attending their party or going to their bar.

A safer alternative for condo parties may be to give two tokens to each adult resident who attends and who wishes to drink alcoholic beverages. This limits the number of drinks to two per person. “Bring-your-own” is no longer a good idea under the circumstances.

So far, there are no directives concerning a resident who throws a party in the party room, allows guests to drink to excess, and a guest has an accident. The resident is liable if the Court reasons that the party room becomes an extension of a resident’s home. But is the condo corporation liable? This is something to think about.

Examples of Cost-Free Activities

The following is a list of activities garnered from various dedicated managers.

  • One manager who has many older residents, some of whom live alone, holds a weekly take-out lunch. Residents happily pay their share and there is no cost to the condo.
  • Another manager has activities for children. (Click here for Noise from Children Playing and Running)
  • A manager has transformed the corner of a large interior pool deck for the use of a professional masseuse. This masseuse comes twice weekly and pays a small rent to the condo. (A by-law has been passed to this effect.)
  • Another manager organizes monthly bingos in the party room. A small entry fee is required and residents buy cards once inside. There is no cost to the condo.
  • In another building, tennis tournaments are organized at a nearby court.
  • In a townhouse development attached to a high-rise, mothers with infants have a weekly “mothers and tots” hour in the party room. They socialize while sharing a potluck lunch.
  • In a condo high rise where many seniors with walking difficulties reside, a director opens the long party room each afternoon so that they can take safe walks in each other’s company. This is particularly helpful during winter time.
  • Yoga, meditation, and pilates classes are offered in some buildings but there is often a problem of declining attendance as the weeks go by.

Do Residents Have the Right to Use Their Unit for Business?

Not generally. Most residential condos have a clause in their declaration stating that the building is strictly residential. Or, yet, units are referred to as residential units. (Click here for What’s a Condo Declaration?)

Therefore, residents do not have the right to use their unit as an office or a small factory for business purposes. However, nowadays, with cell phones and computers, most people continue their professional activities when they return home. That’s totally acceptable and disturbs no one.

What is definitely prohibited is for residents to have business associates, employees, clients, or patients in the premises as well as use a great deal of office equipment, sewing equipment, storing supplies, and electricity as well as water for business purposes. This could involve doing laundry for others, operating a small catering business that requires cooking and refrigeration, a professional office such as a psychiatric or a legal office.

It is boards’ duty to terminate such arrangements. After due notices have been served and failed, a board could apply for a Court order to comply and the residents in question would likely have to pay Court fees as well.

Rights and Responsibilities Concerning Pets

The declaration or rules of a condo may prohibit pets, or regulate their type, number, and size. A prohibition on pets contained in the declaration will be upheld by Courts, but such a total prohibition in the rules may not be valid. However, rules can state the number of pets allowed as well as their weight. This is why potential owners who have pets should read the declaration and rules.

But even if dogs are prohibited by a declaration, this does not apply to dogs assisting persons with disabilities or illness.

Moving into a condo with 2 or 3 dogs when the limit is one—a reasonable limit, particularly in a high rise—and using the often-heard excuse of “my real estate agent said it was permitted” is not valid. A letter from the manager should follow requesting that only one dog remain.

Breeding pets is not allowed. But if puppies are born, they may stay for a reasonable period of nursing. If this is repeated, however, this will no longer be an accident. (Click here for Pets in General)

Puppies

Large dogs present an unfair situation and a safety risk. Indeed, large dogs confined to a small unit will not have enough space in which to exercise. This constitutes a form of abuse. As well, other residents are more likely to be afraid of a big than a small dog. Second, lawyers have correctly argued that large dogs can present a safety risk in stairwells and corridors during a fire alarm.

All dogs have to be on a leash everywhere. Any mess they make is owners’ responsibility.

Dogs are often heard barking loudly in condo corridors or from adjacent suites. This situation should not be tolerated because it prevents residents from peacefully enjoying their living area and common elements.

Such pets may be removed after written warnings. Dog owners should not feel personally offended if neighbours complain about barking. Residents are not allowed to create undue noise: Neither should dogs be! (Click here for Barking Dogs)

Under no circumstances are dangerous pets, such as venomous snakes and other fancy venomous critters, allowed in a residential building.

Spider

Generally, guests do not bring pets in a condo building.