The reality of condo life 
“Corporation: An ingenious device for obtaining profit without individual responsibility.
—Ambrose Bierce

Buying a unit in a condo is somewhat like joining a commune or a kibbutz. The condo has its by-laws, rules and policies that all owners and their guests must obey. It is not like renting where if you don’t like the rules, you just move. Getting out of a condo, without taking a financial loss, may not be easy.

Some boards pass rules banning dogs

You may love your condo and you will have no serious issues at all with the board or your neighbours and you will think that it was a wise investment. Many people do enjoy their condo lifestyle.

It is also possible that you will find that owning a condo is just like living in a rental building except that now you own part of the headache.

Sure you only have to write one cheque a month and everything is done for you, but the bad news is that you may have very little control over the way that cheque is spent. You have become a minority shareholder with a mortgage.

No life like it
Buying a condo locked you into a small private community that is also a privately-owned corporation that needs to be professionally run and properly maintained.

Yet, some condo corporations, that have  real estate assets worth $50-200 million and an annual multi-million dollar cash flow, are run by amateurs on the board of directors and a property manager who—acting together or separately—may be Condo Nazis at best and at worst may be incompetent, naive, lazy or stupid. Corruption is a constant concern

If you cross a vindictive board, you could find yourself being harassed by the board and the manager and threatened by the condo lawyer who may send you a bill for several hundreds of dollars for the privilege of being bullied.

A condominium may be the only type of corporation that has the right, and sometimes uses it, to sue their shareholders (owners) and lien their homes.

Thin walls, nasty neigbours
If you bought a new unit you may find that there are serious construction faults. Water leaks and mould can be serious problems.

Thin walls between the units may cause you to hear your neighbour’s private telephone calls, their TV and even their opening or closing the drawers in their bathroom vanity. The bass on a their expensive sound system or home theatre may drive you nuts.

You may smell your neighbour's cigarette smoke and cooking odours and hear their toilets flush.
If you paid extra and got a terrace, lit cigarette butts, candy bar wrappers, used condoms and dog urine may rain down upon you and your expensive patio furniture.

A commentator on a Globe and Mail site remarking on his ten years living in a condo stated:

Having lived in a Toronto condo for over a decade now I can tell you your happiness may be short-lived. Here is a list of the problems we've come across:
Condos are increasingly infested with dogs whose owners leave them alone all day and do not walk them sufficiently. The end result is that you are eventually going to have a barking problem on your floor which will awaken you at all hours of the day and night.

Also without strict enforcement of the no urinating on condo property rule any grass will soon be brown. This has happened at the new condo across the street from us.
A young family will move in above you and with hardwood floors now the norm you'll be listening to kids jumping and dropping things on the floor from the time they are one years old to about six years old.

Again not an insoluble problem but with more and more young families not able to afford even a semi-detached expect these types of young children noise problems to increase.
The high heel walker on wooden floors.

This has turned out to be the most difficult to deal with if the person above wants to be an jerk. Hardwood floors with improper or insufficient sub-flooring and an uncivil person is a recipe for disaster. We had this problem with a tenant above who started their day in high heels at 0:500 hours.

The problem took a year to resolve with the woman moving out.
Odours in the common space hallways which then enter your suite.

Pot and cigarette smoking is a big problem as is cooking odours and incense. Many condos do not have sufficient positive pressure ventilation to keep these odours from escaping the suites between the door and frame which is often made worse by opening a window.
Hard core partiers sharing one of your suite's common walls.

We've not had this problem yet but others in the building have. The penthouse owners had a rich Nigerian 22 year-old kid who liked to party five nights a week and bring strippers over as well. It took a year to evict the guy meanwhile everyone near his suite suffered.

The surround sound bass sub-woofers can be a real problem too in a condo setting.
Your suite owner decides to sell or move in. I've had this happen to me twice in 15 years as the suite owner divorced and wanted to move in.

I always recommend that if people are looking to purchase a condo they rent in the building first to determine the problems before buying. Each building has its own culture and problems. Even as a renter eventually you'll have to deal with one of the above problems.

No assurances
When you buy a house the chances are very low that the neighbourhood will drastically change in one year. That process usually takes years. In condos there may be a major change from one year to another.

Being satisfied with the board at time of purchase is no guarantee that future boards will continue managing with the same values. Annual elections have the potential to replace two-fifths of a five-person board.

A board that believed in properly maintaining the building and enforcing the rules can mutate into a board that wants no increases in fees and is lax in confronting noise and parking violations. Proper maintenance may become a distant memory.

top   contents   chapter   previous   next