The myths of condo living

Here is where CondoMadness busts some common condo myths.

1. Condo living is perfect for people on fixed income
This is true only if these people have savings that they can draw on. If they are living month-to-month—if they can't rent out rooms—they may have to sell.

The unit owner has to pay for their unit's maintenance and to replace wore out appliances, fan coils, plumbing facets and shutoff valves.

Condos have many unexpected expenses that the owners need to pay. Municipal taxes can go up, electricity is getting expensive and condo fees should have annual increases to keep up with inflation.

Then there are unexpected special assessments and/or the condo takes out multi-million dollar loans.

2. When buying a condo, my real estate lawyer will read the documents and tell me if there is anything wrong.

Most likely, your real estate lawyer will skim the first few pages of the status certificate and check if the title is clear. That's about it

You, or your real estate agent, hunted around to find the lawyer with the cheapest rates so you get what you pay for.

3. The lower the monthly maintenance expenses, the better.
The monthly expenses must be high enough meet the corporation's expenses and to have sufficient savings to pay for future major repairs and replacements.

If the monthly expenses are too low, then the building will start to deteriorate.

4. I am the king of my castle.
No you're not. You do not have the right to complete privacy in your apartment, at all times. There are a number of reasons that employees and/or contractors can and will enter your unit and there is really not much you can do about it.

If they give you 24 hours notice, they can come in yearly to test the fire and smoke alarms and they can enter your unit to inspect and treat pest infestations. They can come in to inspect the balcony for any safety concerns and to perform any required maintenance.

If there is an emergency, usually a water leak or fire, they can enter the unit without prior notice if you are home or not.

5. I can put decorations and an extra lock on the door to my unit.
You don't own the outside of that door or the lock. They are common elements. You just own your keys. You need permission to put on a second lock or to put up a Christmas wreath or a welcome sign. (Of course, many condos are very lax in enforcing these rules and only a few are very strict.)

The building management needs a key to every lock you have on that door in case of fire or for entry for maintenance when you are not home.

You can paint the inside of the door.

6. I own my balcony.
No you don't. You just have "exclusive use" of it. The corporation owns it, maintains it and has a huge list of rules on what you cannot do with it.

7. Condo living is worry-free living.
I make one monthly payment and everything is done for me.

If you believe this, then it is time to worry. All owners better know who they are electing to the board, better be able to read the Reserve Fund Study, be able to understand the audited Financial Statements and at the very least, show up at the AGM and listen to what is going on.

In clobbering an owner, an Ontario judge ruled:
"In choosing not to attend meetings of the condominium owners or to not fully read correspondence he received demonstrated that [the owner] had little interest in the upcoming assessments."
—Ottawa Small claims Deputy Judge

8. Condo living is maintenance free living
The condo corporation generally handles snow removal, lawn care and window-washing, but owners have obligations.

Everybody has a role to play. The owner's role is to elect competent board members, pay assessments, be eyes and ears for potential problems and comply with the by-laws and rules.

Whatever happens inside the walls in your property, from drywall to drywall, that's yours. If the stove breaks down, your tap drips or if you plug your toilet, it's your responsibility to take care of it.

9. I can make any modifications to my unit that I want.
No you can't. You can makes minor changes to non load-bearing walls, change kitchen cabinets, bathroom sinks, change tiles and the like but you cannot make any changes to the common elements, cut into concrete walls or floors or make major changes to the plumbing or electrical systems without written permission of the board and you will need building permits.

10. The property manager, the corporation lawyer and the auditor work for the owners.
They all work for and take instructions from the majority on the board. You just pay the bills.

Check your condo documents before you decide to start any major renovations. Some older condos will not allow washing machines or dishwashers in the residential units and almost all apartment condos ban garburators as they tend to plug the drains.

11. Outside the boardroom, the directors are just ordinary owners.
No so. The superintendent, security guards, cleaners and contractors treat the directors far differently than they do the ordinary residents, especially the president. After all, the directors have the power to fire them, don't they?

12. This is a well maintained, very quiet and safe building
Maybe. However you need to know that the manager, security, the board and the employees will hide everything that's negative from the owners.

Examples: The swimming pool didn't fail water tests, its closed for minor maintenance. The elevator isn't out-of-service because we haven't paid the service company for the last three months, we are waiting for custom parts to be made in Germany. The overnight security guard was not fired for smoking dope and sleeping on the job, he went back home to look after a dying relative.

Huge water leaks, police raids on a drug den, thefts in the underground parking, muggings and loud parties will be known only to the few residents affected. Major repairs may be pushed out into the future with nothing said to the owners and nothing stated in the Status Certificates.

13. If I rent my unit, the board will go after the renters if they break any of the rules or damage the common areas.
No. The manager and the board will go after you, the owner. It is up to you to go after your renters.

14. The condo has insurance so I don't need any.
You had better get unit insurance to pay for any improvements and upgrades you made to your unit plus your contents.

Water leaks is the most common problem because if someone above you has a water leak, it could flood all the units below.

The condo insurance will pay to restore your unit to a "standard unit" so you, or your insurance will have to pay for the any upgrades you paid for to the floors, cupboards, counter tops, and wall tiles.

Finally, if you cause a leak or a fire, the condo corporation insurance will pay for the repairs but you will be responsible to pay the deductible. A few condos in Toronto have a deductable as high as $25,000 to $100,000 so you need unit insurance that will pay most of that deductable.

15. Condo owners will vote for the best candidates.
I wish. Far too often the majority of owners will vote for whoever promises to keep the fees low and they don't care how its done.

16. I don't have to go to the AGM, I'll just hand in a proxy.
If you don't go to the AGM, you won't know if any of the owners have serious problems with their units that will affect you (such as water leaks, cockroaches, bedbugs or break-ins in the parking garage), if owners have problems with the management, if owners have discovered problems with the audited financial statements, if there are conflicts between owners and the directors or with anything else that can occur in an apartment or townhouse complex.

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