When Condo Disputes go Online

February 2017

Condo owners are choosing online forums for communicating problems and concerns.

Establishing a publicly accessible online forum for residents to air grievances about how their building is managed is no longer expensive or difficult. Social media is also used to air grievances. Both are increasingly popular ways to communicate concerns.

As condo buildings and their residents become more comfortable on the Internet, use of these online communication methods is expected to increase. Problems are also likely to escalate.

Online exposure can be a way to attract attention or to obtain support. While there is value in this approach, there are risks to consider:

  • A building with a reputation for poor management, an ineffective board or financial problems can hurt all owners if such problems become public. Buyers
    learning of problems are less likely to purchase in the building. Property values can suffer.
  • Social media allows people to share concerns without identifying themselves. This anonymity can create dysfunction. Individuals tend to become bolder in their claims and can be encouraged by others intent on mischief. Defaming an individual, perhaps by suggesting they have stolen money, broken certain laws or cheated during a condo election, can and has led to lawsuits among condo owners.
    One person can easily abuse social media by posting numerous messages or comments as if they were coming from many people. This can magnify a single loud voice or make it appear that many more are involved.
  • Online communications can be misleading. Most people tend to be less precise and less articulate when preparing a short message for online posting. Poorly written communications read by many people have a tendency to magnify the implications of misunderstandings.

Major media have recognized their error in allowing comment sections on their websites. Rather than facilitate engagement, comment sections are plagued by foul language, vitriol and racism. Even moderators, human and automated, have failed to address this problem. Most recently, the Toronto Star eliminated their comment sections effective January 2016. The Toronto Sun closed their comments sections in September 2015. National Post has taken the approach of requiring readers to sign into their Facebook account before posting as a way to prevent anonymous comments.

Pre Internet, it was more common for condo owners to meet as a group and discuss matters in person. The anonymity of the Internet and its ease of use have resulted in face-to-face meetings being less common. This allows relatively minor matters to grow in perception without an opportunity for explanation and resolution.

Working with others to resolve concerns is hard. It can be easier to hurl abuse through online communications in an effort to strengthen one’s perspective than it is to resolve concerns face-to-face.

Online communications can be effective when properly managed. Some condo corporations have established moderated sites that are accessible by an invitation extended only to building residents. The moderator typically has authority to remove posts considered inflammatory or personal. Prohibiting anonymous posts is another approach intended to make people think twice before making uninformed accusations.

While online communications provide a practical way for condo residents to communicate and work together, this should not replace face-to-face communications where people can more effectively learn, understand issues and work toward resolution.