When the dream of condo living turns
into a dictatorial nightmare
“Gag orders” on banning complaints and annoying behaviour are just
the tip of the condo craziness iceberg
26 May 2017
Condos at 555/556 Wilson Ave CondoMadness
Earlier this month, a Toronto condo board introduced a new workplace
harassment rule to its residents. One of the examples of harassment
cited: “Unreasonable and/or repetitive expression of concerns with
respect to the administration of the affairs of the condominium
The unusually-worded rule has raised the ire of tenants renting in the
building. While the board clearly has a duty to protect its employees
from legitimately harmful treatment—for instance the rule bars any
statements or behaviour that is threatening or violent—the rule also
restricts actions it deems “annoying,” and occupants have interpreted
the board’s wide-ranging ban on complaints as sending a message to
them: don’t bother us, we’re not interested.
It’s just the latest in a string of disputes in recent months involving
condo residents, owners, boards and property managers that have
highlighted some of the downsides of condo life, even as scores of
cranes erect new glass towers in Canada’s largest city. Amid a perfect
storm of investor-owned units, powerful condo boards and tenants who
have limited powers to fight back, a democratic living ideal is rapidly
turning into a dictatorial nightmare for condo-dwellers.
One tenant renting at The Station Condos at 555/556 Wilson Ave., who
requested his name not be published, said the new rule seemed like a
“gag order,” and has left many tenants worried they’re being silenced
and will be penalized for following up on requests.
Having lived in the
building for roughly a year, he’s already seen it go through three
different property managers. What’s more, his concerns about leaky
sinks and broken tiles have regularly taken weeks and repeated emails
before even being acknowledged by management, he says. Even his
landlord’s agent, who acts as a liaison, has reached out to the
property manager but nothing has been repaired yet. Many times his
complaints have been ignored completely and he’s had to fix the
situation himself—an added frustration since he and his neighbours pay
between $300 and $500 each month in maintenance fees.
According to Section 58 of the Ontario Condominium Act, rules created
by condo boards need to be “reasonable,” and many are saying that this
latest addition is not. “I’ve never seen anything so ridiculous,” said
Moti Flaster, of the Ontario Condominium Owners Association. Flaster is
calling the rule “dictatorial” and “draconian.”
But Denise Lash, a lawyer specializing in condo law says that these
types of clashes between tenants and condo boards usually come down to
a lack of communication and possibly overworked, overwhelmed employees.
This building has 388 units and just one person—the property manager—to
In fact, Lash says this rule might be warranted given a recent court
case. In YCC No. 163 v. Robinson, a condo corporation in Toronto
successfully received a court order against a tenant who was emailing
every day, criticizing management and demonstrating rude behaviour.
That sounds much like what The Station Condos and Brookfield Condo
Services, the company managing the building, might be trying to
prevent. However condo board members deferred requests for comment to
Brookfield, which did not respond to interview requests on the matter.
While the motivations for the regulation in general sound legitimate,
Lash is concerned that the definition of harassment is entirely left to
the “sole and unfettered discretion” of the condo board.
“They’ve gone a bit too far in drafting it this way,” says Lash, adding
that it gives too much power to the board, which can go wrong if a
member decides to abuse it. For instance, the board could deem three
emails about the same issue as ‘harassment.’
The offending condo owner would then be given either a warning for
breaching the rule or a lawyer’s letter for which they’d have to foot
the bill of a few hundred dollars. If they refuse that, liens will
start to be applied against the owner, which could add up to thousands
and then they’d have to go to court.
The only recourse for the owners and occupants, as laid out in the
Ontario condominium act, is to get 15 per cent of owners in the
building to sign a petition calling a meeting to discuss the rule.
Renters need the owners of their units to sign. This has to happen
within 30 days, otherwise the rule sticks. Another option is electing a
new condo board.
This small-scale political process seems fine and democratic in theory
but doesn’t account for the new reality in condo buildings. In hot
markets like Toronto, recent studies suggest that more than half of
unit sales go to investors—both foreign and domestic.
As a result, it’s becoming more common for condo boards to do whatever
they want, says Rachelle Berube, LandlordRescue.ca writer and property
manager. “The more investors there are, there is lack of leadership in
the building. Condos were never made to be a vehicle for investors.
They were made for the people who live there to be a community.”
Supposing all units at 555/556 Wilson Ave. are occupied, those who live
there will need 58 signatures from owners to force a meeting by the end
of the month. Then, they’d need more than 50 per cent of attendees at
the meeting to vote for or against the rule. As of publication, they
had 30 signatures in total.
If residents don’t succeed in challenging the rule, they at least can
take solace that their situation could be much, much worse. Condo board
battles, dramatic showdowns and abuse of power is becoming rampant in
Non-owners are making headlines for attempting to gain control
of condo boards for their own interests. Take for instance one downtown
Toronto tower whose owners are on the hook for $100,000 in extra costs
after their condo board signed an energy contract that reportedly
benefits a board member’s acquaintance. Or the Brampton woman who
received a court summons for having too many patio chairs and
non-regulation flower pots.
New legislation that is not yet in effect aims to help condo owners in
these situations. The Condo Authority of Ontario (CAO) would be a
third-party not-for-profit administrative body that would help in
resolving disputes between owners and boards, presumably to avoid
expensive court battles. The legislation would also encourage increased
communication between boards and owners and also regulate the
qualifications required from property managers.
In the meantime, calling a meeting is the obvious next step for owners
at The Station Condos to try to repeal the ‘repetitive complaint’ ban.
“[The rule] sounds like a bullying tactic,” says Berube.