You are on page 1of 7

A GUIDE TO CONDOMINIUM LIVING

(Or How I Learned to Avoid Strokes and Enjoy Living)

TO BEGIN: A COMPARISON:
Living in a condominium whether a townhouse, duplex or apartment building IS NOT LIKE LIVING IN A
SINGLE FAMILY HOME on the street. Check the comparison chart here for some differences and
similarities.
Please note that this comparison is not intended to disparage condominium living but to give the reader
some advance warning before buying a condo because it is a major investment and more importantly
will let you know what to expect in the circumstances of living in a condo community; information which
you will not find in a developers disclosure booklet or in the show home or real estate listing.
CONDO LIVING
If you want to do ANYTHING to the exterior of
your unit or put anything on the grounds of
common property or even your own land in a
bare land condo, you ask permission of the
Board of Directors PRIOR to doing it. The Board
may say NO for a variety of reasons.
If you dont pay the fees assessed by the Board
for maintenance you will find a caveat
registered on your title and your mortgagee
advised of your default.

SINGLE-FAMILY LIVING
If you want to change the colour of your door,
plant flowers, erect a fence, install an air
conditioning unit outside of your single family
home you do it.

If you dont want to keep your grounds looking


spiffy you can let it go and until it becomes so
bad the City gives an order, you can leave it.
Your neighbours will hate you but it sounds like
youre not too sociable anyway.
You are free to let any aspect of your home
deteriorate or keep it maintained at your own
cost. If a roof needs to be replaced, you look to
your savings to repair it at the time it begins to
give you trouble. (or after your ceiling
crumbles). Same thing for driveways.

You will have to put money into a Reserve Fund


to cover the cost of anticipated future capital
expenses based on someones projection and
anticipated life-span of those items (concrete,
roofing, boilers, etc.) It does not matter if you
feel you will have moved or died before the
expense actually arises. Think of it as your share
of the depreciation on things.
As a member of the condo, you join a group with It is not uncommon for people to know nothing
common interests and there is a very good
about their neighbours. The only common
chance that you will develop new friendships.
ground is that you happen to live nearby.
Certainly people do form community friendships
but it takes just that much more effort without
the condo connection.
RULES abound in condos. First and foremost are RULES are what you make them. Aside from
the Bylaws. If you do not read the bylaws
abiding by the municipal bylaws, you pretty
BEFORE you buy you will regret it. You will find much do as you like at your home and change
there what you are responsible for, if you can
anything you feel like changing.
have pets and how many, what you can or cant
do. In addition, many condo boards create a set

of rules and regulations which clarify and add


more detail to some bylaw requirements.
If you do not like following rules do not buy the
condo. If you feel that some bylaws are not
really going to be enforced, you will be proven
wrong; do not buy the condo.
If your neighbours deck starts to deteriorate,
you and all the other neighbours share in the
cost of repairing or replacing that deck.
Before you buy, confirm whether or not this is
correct; numerous condos have found that
decks (not patios on apartment buildings) are a
major expense and have amended their bylaws
to place the financial onus on the individual
owner to repair the deck, particularly true when
someone has installed a sunroom on top of the
deck.
The size of your associations reserve fund may
well impact your ability to sell your home and
how much people are willing to pay for it.

If your neighbours deck starts to deteriorate,


you remember not to go dancing on it and hope
they dont fall and break their necks.
Conversely, if your deck is rotting, its all yours
to fix.

If you dont repair and maintain your home, a


buyer will probably reduce the amount they are
willing to pay for your home but they wont ask
you how much you have saved up for it.
The outside maintenance of your home and of
You alone control the maintenance of your
your neighbours homes is controlled by the
home. You do not have the comfort of
Board and its decisions on whether to do work neighbours contributing to the costs and you
this year or next or at all are their own. The
have to find contractors and investigate them
Board also decides who to bring in to do work.
for the quality of their work.
You likely have at least one neighbour whose
Your home is your castle or hovel depending on
home is attached to yours; more if you are in an how you want to or are able to live. Unless the
apartment-style condo. You must deal with
neighbours have Greek letters over their front
their lifestyle, parties, noise, odours, comings
door the parties, noise, etc. are not often a
and goings at all hours, etc.
concern.
MEETINGS. You have an annual general meeting MEETINGS. There arent any. Unless your wife
and if you are on the Board you have up to 12
says we have to talk
monthly meetings to attend. These are usually
held in the evening and last from 30 minutes to
2 hours. Do you have some concern about the
way things are being run? Go to the AGM if your
letter-writing campaign has been unsuccessful
and voice your concerns. Be calm and orderly
and if at all possible, decide in advance what it is
you want to discuss and ask that it be put on the
agenda.
Most condos provide for Roberts Rules of Order
or The Standard Code of Parliamentary
Procedure and this may assist in getting your
views in front of the meeting if there is
resistance from the Chair. Please dont try and

show everybody all you know about these


procedures on every point on the agenda. It is a
small gathering (usually) of neighbours and
friends (usually) and most attendees just want
to get home to watch the game.
Value for money is subjective but many people
in condos have it in their heads that they do not
receive the same service as their freehold
friends.
That long road leading to
your
townhouse from Main Street is really a
DRIVEWAY. Once it leaves the public road it is
not the publics responsibility to clear snow or
fill potholes.
Garbage collection is often privately done at a
direct cost to the condo and paid by condo fees.
Property taxes (in Alberta and many other
jurisdictions) are based on Market Value. If your
home is valued at $400,000 you pay the same
tax, based on the mill rate, as for single family
homes. It still applies to you even though the
City makes you collect your own garbage, light
the roadway within your complex, etc. The
theory of market value says your home is worth
that much after allowing for the fact you have to
do those other things.
CARE-FREE LIVING is a concept found almost
exclusively in developer marketing material.
While you may not have to shovel or cut the
grass you are paying someone to do it.
You should take your turn sitting on the Board
or committees to help run the place. Every
Board everywhere has complained about the
people who just sit back and let somebody else
do the work around there. If you go away for
more than the weekend you need to have
someone lined up to care for your home. The
grass may be cut or the snow shoveled but the
fliers need to be cleared from your mailbox and
someone should check on your interior for
problems like leaks.
Insurance on your home is provided by the
condominium through your condo fees BUT this
does not include your personal property,
furniture, etc. or any upgrades you may have
made such as hardwood flooring, upgraded
cabinets and the like or basement development.
Get a condo owners policy.
Carry this
insurance, its cheap. Make sure you are

Value for money is subjective. Your driveway is


maybe 25 feet long. You have to shovel it and
the condo owner doesnt.
Garbage collection is normally included in your
taxes or added to your water bill as an extra cost
and you pay it whether you have one bag or ten.

CARE-FREE LIVING was never in the cards. If you


dont want to pay someone to do it, youll have
to do it yourself.
You are the committee and the Board running
your home operation. You can have wine at
your meetings.
If you go away for more than the weekend you
need to have someone lined up to care for your
homes exterior, pick up papers and fliers and
check that the hot water tank hasnt exploded.

Insurance on your home is a major responsibility


that you have. It is needed if you want to come
back from any catastrophic event and your
mortgagee demands that you carry it. Make
sure it is for the full replacement value of your
home and possessions. It will not be nearly as
cheap as a condo owners policy.

covered for your liability to third parties and to


the condo corporation for its deductible in case
a flood or fire does start in your suite. DO NOT
be one of those people interviewed after a fire
who weep about not having anything left and
no we didnt have insurance.

GET ALONG (CHILL)


When you decide to live in a condo, you need to understand BEFOREHAND that it is a multi-family living
arrangement. If you are in an apartment condo you should expect the same sound transmission
between walls and floors as a tenant in a rental building. Ditto for odours.
A condo is not a single family dwelling where you get things done the way you want them, when you
want them and you write the cheque. Repairs go to the Board or the Maintenance Committee (it has
many names) who will likely go around to your place to see what the problem is and if it is indeed a
problem. Then they will decide if the budget allows the work to be done or if it should be put off for a
while. Then they will tell you when the contractor is coming. Grass cutting and snow removal are done
in more of a commercial setting; not like you going out and clipping every blade of grass to perfection.
Cars on driveways will thwart snow removal crews who generally will not come within a meter of any
vehicle to avoid damage claims. The lengths people will go to, blaming others for damage can be
incredible. Without ever seeing a crew at work they know he raised the bobcat bucket up and damaged
my eaves or whatever unlikely event occurred. Crews do things improperly at times and you should
report them. Debarking trees with weed whackers, breaking fences with piled snow, gouging curbs and
lawns with bobcat buckets all do happen and most contractors will repair these things. Dont though, go
out and harangue the crew for perceived transgressions even if you do have proof or eyewitness
evidence. Call the manager or a Board member you know to report it.
Dont complain that you have to clear your own driveway because you leave for work at 6:00 a.m. and
they arent there and you shouldnt have to pay for it. Dont think you shouldnt pay for road
maintenance because you live by the entrance and only use 30 feet of the road. Its a condo and you pay
in proportion to the number of Unit Factors your unit has on its title.
I have never seen in single family living, the level of discontent I see daily in condominiums.
a) If you are not able to accept that somebody else is running a facet of your life - do not move into
a condo.
b) If you cannot control your temper because someone next door (or even down the street) got
their deck repaired before you did - do not move into a condo.
c) If it bothers you that neighbours have a big pickup truck on their driveway that blocks out the
entire street so I cant tell whats coming or they have grandchildren come over to visit who
run amok and totally destroy the place do not move into a condo.
d) If no one should tell you to pick up childrens toys outside or that you cant leave a perfectly
good transmission on your deck or write to you to remind you a payment is past due do not
move into a condo.
e) If rules were made for other people, not you - do not move into a condo.

The reactions of far too many residents in a condo to perceived slights against them or shortcomings of
a Board in their decision-making, border on that of kindergarteners vying for toys. If only we could put
them all down for naps. Arrears notices are not sent only to you nor is it a campaign to persecute you.
Recognizing that these are the homes of the people involved there is still no justification for fits of rage,
angry and often anonymous letters accusing Boards of stupidity, favouritism, financial trickery and
mismanagement and vindictive campaigns to oust the Board. A popular newspaper column answers
questions about condos that invariably include the note that you should consult a solicitor. Solicitors
understand the law and can interpret bylaws but how truly bad is a situation that you should be going to
that extent. Try talking about what you see as being wrong rather than lighting torches and marching on
the castle.
When looking at a purchase, ask questions about the various responsibilities of owners vs Condo
Corporation. As I noted in the comparison table, ask who looks after decks and is there a difference
when a sunroom or roof has been installed. Who pays when a zone valve has to be replaced in your
apartments heating? Do you pay for windows and/or doors and is the garage door or patio door
included? What about the trim around the door and the garage door opener? Very few sets of bylaws
get into the detail of such things. If you know going in, the problems never arise.
It should be obvious but needs to be emphasized that condo Boards are made up of VOLUNTEERS who
do not get paid to do this work and are also owners within the same condo, subject to the same rules
they devise for the rest of the population. When they put through a 15% condo fee increase it was not
to cause YOU difficulty, it is the same increase they are paying and it has been done because this money
is needed to continue to support the condo.
An important note on condo fees: the Board is charged with the responsibility to maintain the condo
property and not to make sure the fees are affordable for everyone. Too many times we encounter
Boards reluctant to increase fees that have been shown to be necessary because it will be too hard for
people to pay. While we all sympathize with people on fixed and low incomes when it comes budget
time, it is wrong-thinking to take that into consideration in setting the basic budget. Yes, you can forego
the fancy electric gates at the entrance but you cant decide to not have snow cleared. Utilities,
insurance and reserve funds need to be paid for.
If the Board members pay themselves it is usually via a dinner meeting at Christmas and is meagre
compensation for the effort they put into keeping your place running (not to mention the abuse many of
them take).
If you get a letter telling you to fix something like a deck or deck boards (where the owner is responsible
for it) they didnt write to you as a form of punishment; they are trying to ensure all the components of
the exterior are maintained. If your neighbour has a bad deck also but didnt get a letter, its not
favoritism, its an oversight or that person has already agreed to repair their deck. And in any event, it is
not something that should cloud your day and fester inside you.
Dont threaten to sue the condo or the management company for every little thing you think was done
improperly or wasnt done to your satisfaction. It is an empty threat and when you see your lawyer to
do this hell tell you what a waste of time and resources it is and then you are left feeling kind of silly for
having said it. Save the big threat for the big problem because nobody believes these everyday threats.

In the comparisons above there is reference to the bylaws and rules and obeying them. Too often we
see people ignore them because they dont feel it should be a rule or that they only do it once in a
while or and this one is common, I have to park on the roadway/in visitor parking because Ive got 3
cars and I can only put two in the garage. This is not a reason, its a rationalization and a poor one. If
you cannot get a rental parking stall you are left with parking on the street outside the condo. If you
prefer satellite television to cable make sure that dishes are allowed, where they can be placed and that
the Board will allow you to put a hole in the exterior walls. All the rules are there to be obeyed and the
Board is obliged to enforce them when it becomes aware of a violation. Having said that, most boards
are not looking for trouble and will wait until a complaint is made to enforce many rules. Bear in mind
also that some condos have people with nothing better to do than look for other peoples bylaw
infractions and they will report everything, regardless how minor it may be. Unfortunately, the Board
must enforce the bylaws and has to act when the local busybody points out an infraction.
If you become a family instead of a couple and the bylaws include an age restriction, you may be ordered to
move out. If your plan is in that direction make sure your condo home accommodates families.
If you join a Board please do so for the correct reasons. If you are hoping to improve your environment or get
some of those delayed maintenance jobs done or streamline the administration of your condo thats great. If
you want to work constructively with other Board members thats even better. Also remember that working
constructively does not mean you have to acquiesce to the others all the time; you are there to voice your
opinion too and show where your ideas are better. That improves the condo for everyone. And when the
other person is the one voicing their opinion, do not dismiss it even if you think you are part of the majority;
accept their view and consider all the possibilities. If a question is put to the Board members, DO NOT answer
Ill go along with whatever the majority decides as you may be the one who creates a majority but more
importantly, you are a director and you are there to make decisions; not to simply agree. If you give that
answer you are not doing your job. There is no reason to get angry with others for having disparate views. If
all the considered views have been looked at and your Board makes a decision it is now time for you to stand
behind it. Even if you think it was a bad decision, you are part of the team, the Board, that you joined and it
needs a single voice to the public. If you cant be a team player maybe single-family living is right for you. If
being two-faced and sneaking around behind the backs of your fellow Board members is how you think you
can get your way you may be right and I probably wont change your methods but know that this activity is
usually transparent to others and your personal value is gone (not that you probably care) but being open
with the Board members is a far better means of attaining goals. If five other people think your proposal is
not in the best interests of everyone, it probably isnt. You probably should be living in a single family home.

Do not join the Board just because there is a piece of maintenance you want to have done at your unit.
We have seen it too often; the Board is joined, the particular problem is resolved and thats the last we
see of the new Director. When you do this you skew the quorum requirement and leave the other
Directors wondering why you are not coming to meetings. On that final topic, only join a Board if you
are going to be able to meet the needs of the Board. You should be able to make it to most meetings,
you should be prepared to offer your insights on topics and you should be able to communicate with the
rest of the Board between meetings. If you are going to be in Mazatlan or Arizona or Florence for the
winter you may not feel like taking time to Skype Board meetings so then dont join. Today, when almost
everyone is internet-ready it is practical for every Board member to have email as that is becoming the
accepted method of dialogue between meetings. Without it you are not going to be as up to date as
other members and then you put out someone who has to take material to you.

Please dont always tell the property manager that its all his/her fault unless you know the manager
was supposed to do something specific. The property manager works for the Board, takes direction from
the Board and must only spend condo money when the Board approves it. The property manager deals
with contractors hired by the Board so dont yell at the manager when the contractor misses your
driveway or scalps a part of your lawn or doesnt pick up your garbage. If you tell the manager, they will
contact the contractor to resolve matters. I have seen owners yelling at the manager because work
didnt get done and thats only because the Board chose not to do it or couldnt make a decision, a
common malady among Board members.
In mentioning these points I do so because people become almost apoplectic when they see some
shortfall in the operation of the condo. There is no good reason to get this worked up. Tell the manager
and that will usually get something done.
If you have a problem with another resident of your condo sometimes it is easier to make a direct
appeal to that person to cease whatever is giving you grief. A low-key, calm request will often result in
the person apologizing for whatever it was, the explanation that they didnt realize it was disturbing and
the cessation of the problem activity. If you hammer on their door and scream or threaten because of
some minor problem like footsteps above you; expect to be greeted with hostility in return. If you are
uncomfortable approaching another resident, write the property manager (or the Board) and explain
the problem and how you see it as violating bylaws. The manager can write to the other people with a
request to cease and your identity is not given to them as a complainant. The Privacy Commission has
stated that the name of the complainant is not to be given out. The manager needs it as backup for
issuing the letter so he is not then told I never said anything by a complainant who fears retribution.
Unacceptable activity that continues can result in fines or other sanctions against people and in the case
of tenants, their eviction from the property.
When the property manager asks for information on you and your tenant and the tenants agreement to
abide by the bylaws it is because the Act requires that you provide this information and the condo relies
on this to contact tenants and to enforce its rights under the bylaws. You dont have the right to refuse
because its private and it is only going to go in a file to be available if needed. No one is trying to usurp
your identity.
Chances are that your condo has a professional property manager. Some smaller condos manage things
on their own and this is fine if the people understand what is required of them. Unfortunately, many
self-managing Boards do not really know what they are supposed to do, what records they should be
keeping or how to maintain a decent set of financial statements. Green columnar paper might get you
all you need but too often something is missed. A professional will know to register an address for
service and changes of directors. They will keep proper books and be able to tell who is in arrears and
notify mortgagees and register caveats. They will know or find the answers to bylaw questions and find
contractors who will do good work for you. Joining the Canadian Condominium Institute will get you
resources to help you if you must self-manage. Managers work on a rather narrow profit margin and
because yours is a small condo does not mean the manager has proportionately less to do than a big
condo. Management fees at small condos can seem quite high for this reason but the big and small
condo each has one set of books, regular meetings, one snow or grass contract to negotiate, etc.

Bill Begley, Inland Property Management Ltd.