Dealing with Difficult Condo Boards

A friend of mine wants to know how to deal with condo boards. The question itself implies that he isn’t happy with his own board, so I’m going to assume that his board is difficult.

This is a common complaint, and it doesn’t seem to manage how big or small the condo building is. There are often issues that arise that are frustrating for owners who feel the board isn’t listening to their concerns. I’ll address a couple of common scenarios and what you might do to address them.

I have a friend who lives in a condo where a number of the row units experienced seepage a few years ago. The condo board brought in an expert who came up with a very expensive quote that would have seen owners paying a huge special assessment. She didn’t know what to do and was getting pretty stressed out. I suggested she get a second opinion and gave her the names of two experts I highly recommended.

One of them, Chris de la Roche from Ardel Concrete, came up with a much less expensive option. When it was presented to the board, the board agreed that was the way to go. The unit owners still will have to pay a special assessment but it will be about half what they expected. So that’s one way of dealing with things: provide them with good information to help make their jobs easier.

I have often heard of condo boards where the members have lived in the complex for years, are getting on in age (and are often on fixed incomes) and don’t want to raise condo fees to pay for necessary repairs. Of course, this kind of short term thinking makes no sense at all. When things get neglected, the cost of fixing them later on is much higher and if the reserve fund isn’t large enough to cover them because of low condo fees, there will have to be special assessments.

I’ve seen condo complexes hit with $20-75K in special assessments because of this kind of attitude. Eventually, the piper has to be paid and sometimes the piper doesn’t give you much time to come up with the money.

This is a much tougher problem to solve. Meetings are usually closed (except for the Annual General Meetings) so you may not know which board members are being recalcitrant. I’ve learned over the years that people don’t change much, so unless you can get broad support from other board members to act, you may be stuck.

You can try to get on the condo board yourself but that means taking on a huge amount of work, and you may well be out-numbered when it comes to votes anyway. (I’ve seen many situations where clients sat on condo boards and quit out of frustration because they couldn’t get anything done.) You can try to requisition a meeting to have problem board members, or even the entire board replaced, but that requires support of your fellow unit owners. Changing a board is not easy, and these people are also your neighbours.

The best advice I can give in this situation is to do your due diligence  up front before you buy. Make sure you get a status certificate review done by your lawyer and that you understand what’s in it.  A good lawyer can flag concerns with reserve funds, engineering studies and pending issues, before you complete the deal and since we make the deal conditional on these clauses, that means you can get out if you’re not 100% satisfied. Ask lots of questions!Ask your realtor if they are aware of any problems.  Most of us know which property managers are good and which ones have less stellar reputations. A good board will have a good property management company working with them: that’s the first step, although even a great property management company will have problems if the board won’t accept their advice.

But if you have purchased and you are having problems with the board, be sure to read the bylaws and other documents, and know your rights.

If you are in a condo high rise, you are living in a vertical village. Noise, garbage, pets, pot, shared laundries where people don’t unload their wet clothes — other people live in your backyard and your front yard and now they’re in the attic too. The condo rules should spell out how these things are to be managed to minimize friction. There’s no point overloading your condo board members with these kinds of complaints: contact the property management company instead. It’s their job to resolve them. If they don’t, then you can complain to the board. Property management companies can be replaced, are replaced all the time if they aren’t doing a good job.

If the issue is larger, however, like my friend with the leaky basement, you may need legal or expert advice. If you absolutely can’t resolve things, and it’s affecting your quality of life, you may have to sell. A special assessment will make it harder; no question about it.

A well run condo board with a good property management company providing support and operational services is terrific. A poorly run one can be a nightmare and worse, it can devalue your property. Condo life isn’t for everyone. Sometimes we have to cut our losses and move on. The best way to avoid that situation is find out as much as you can about the condo board management before you firm up the deal.



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2 Responses to Dealing with Difficult Condo Boards

  1. Kathryn says:

    I have read of many issues for condo owners in various news stories – and noted them for reference.

    You state *Condo life isn’t for everyone.* So true. I have lived in apartments for most of my adult life, as a tenant. I believe that many people who buy condos have never lived in an apartment as a tenant, and do not know what the life is truly like. Some end up on the boards – in power positions – and push through bylaws that are not really suited to communal living – and ignore some that could actually be more beneficial (in my mind).

    One of the buildings I lived in – as a tenant – for 14 years – was a condo, low-rise apartment. It was great for the most part, until the unit directly under me was sold. We had been living there for 12 years at that point and had just signed our new lease. A few weeks later, we were just having dinner around 6 pm and a Very Loud drilling sound started up below us (it is a concrete building so likely a concrete drill as we found out later.) I (and others) discovered from the building manager the next day that the new *young* owner decided he would renovate his unit,and the word was that he was *gutting* his unit. We could not figure out what there was to *gut*, as it was a 700 sq ft one bedroom unit, about 16 years old. He was apparently an electrician (or so he claimed) and was going to do the work himself – in the evenings after he got home from work. Time passed. Work continued into the late evenings. One day, my internet suddenly stopped working and when the company technician came he could not figure it out until he looked behind the plug and discovered the cable had been cut from the floor below. Who knows why? He was able to do a temporary fix for me but then had the company come back to do a permanent one – I hope they billed the unit below for that. I spoke regularly with the building manager to see if the end of the project was imminent. Many months passed and things appeared to have ended for the renovations so we decided it might be safe to again renew the lease. Wrong. A few weeks later, the noise began again. As a tenant, I finally phoned the property manager (though they were not the company that looked after the rentals) and she was very good to talk with. She was familiar with what I was telling her about my neighbour from other residents (owners) and basically explained that there is little they could do other than talk to him – even if he were breaking any condo bylaws (which I had no knowledge of anyway), the only process was legal. But what she did tell me was that I could phone her any time if there were problems as she was on 24-hour call, and she told me the *secret code* to use when calling her office after hours. I actually did this once and she again took action in calling the neighbour. Not that it made any difference. Complaining to the manager can just make things worse. Things did not get better, and many of the elderly (female) residents (much older than me) who I would see in the halls or lobby were afraid of him, and tried to avoid him when they saw him in the building lobby area. The building manager knew all this but was unable to do much. The property manager had a heart attack (we will assume it was not due to this owner). The answer for me, as a tenant, was easy. I did not renew the next year, and moved at the end of my lease, to a rental-only building, where I have been now for 11 years (in peace). That is the benefit of being a tenant – you can leave if there are problems (when your lease ends or you sublet). And the building owner can have tenants leave if they are problems. I recently read in a newspaper advice column about an issue with neighbours and the advice columnist quoted her late brother – who happened to have been a judge – (my words) – that life is too short – just move. That is basically what you also said *sometimes we have to cut our losses and move on*. . . .

    • Peggy Blair says:

      Sorry to hear about your experience, but yes, you can find yourself living below or above or beside people that make your life miserable. Glad to hear your next home turned out better!

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