At some point every condo corporation requires legal assistance. No matter how capable your board of directors and hired management, none are likely to have the legal experience needed to effectively deal with condo-related matters.
At times a lawyer is needed to prepare legal documents required by the condo corporation. Other times it may be to provide advice, represent the corporation in court, collect outstanding condo fees or deal with a resident failing to comply with governing documents.
An experienced lawyer specializing in condo law will know how to deal with such matters or be able to direct you to an associate with expertise required to deal with your situation.
Choosing the right lawyer or law firm to work with and represent your condo corporation in advance of need can protect the condo corporation and its residents from potential disputes and their cost.
Hiring the right lawyer or law firm requires a considerable amount of time and effort; more than what is required for most other vendors. When done properly, the individual or firm chosen is one likely to work with and represent your corporation for many years.
Lawyers have varied specialties and it is important that your selected agent specialize in condo law. That friend or neighbour who specializes in real estate transactions is unlikely to know enough about condo law to provide reliable advice. There are many lawyers specializing in condo law. One way to identify them is through a resource such as Condo Resource Guide by Toronto Condo News.
Once the field has been narrowed to a select few, develop a checklist of desired criteria before arranging interviews.
- Specialization in condo law
- Have drafted condo documents and know how to interpret them
- Five or more years of experience with dispute resolution – between board members, owners and tenants – dealing with enforcement matters
- Have a favourable success rate at resolving disputes before they go to court, and a successful record at winning disputes that go to court
- Familiarity with financial documents
- Have litigated cases involving condo complaints
- Have presented arguments in front of judges
- A common sense approach to dealing with people and legal matters
A successful relationship requires the lawyer to be compensated for their time – typically an hourly rate but at times a fixed price for certain types of work – while condo directors need to be comfortable that the billing meter will not be turned on every time a question is asked.
As a general rule, lawyers hired for general representation charge an hourly rate. They may charge a fixed price for certain identified services. This rate can vary depending on experience. A higher hourly rate is charged for more experienced lawyers. Associates, less experienced lawyers working with or under a senior lawyer, may bill their time at a lower rate. Associates offer more economical legal services for routine matters.
When choosing or working with a lawyer, be aware of signs that the fit between your condo corporation and the chosen lawyer may not be right.
- Lack of transparency – A lawyer should be clear about their methods.
- Clash of Personalities – There should be a good relationship with board members and the condominium manager.
- Fee Arrangement – There should be clarity about the fee arrangement, required payments, retainer, etc. They should be willing to answer general or basic questions without always billing for their time.
- Communication – The lawyer should be clear on when they will respond to you or a particular matter and then respond as committed.
- Planning – The lawyer should have an emergency plan for time-sensitive matters.
Not all lawyers are suitable or appropriate for all condo corporations.
- Generalists may not be suitable and unlikely to adequately represent the diversity of condo law matters common for a condo corporation. Look for a specialization in condo law.
- For general matters, rely on a lawyer specializing in condo law to refer you to a generalist when warranted.
- Lawyers charging below market rate for services usually do so for a reason. As with other vendors, consider the reason why fees are below market. Saving on legal fees but losing on legal matters is of no value to your condo corporation or its residents.
- Avoid lawyers with a known poor reputation among their peers.
- Seek out lawyers willing to work with other lawyers when the need arises to obtain necessary additional expertise.
- Avoid lawyers who prefer to litigate without first attempting settlement or resolution by some other method.
- Lawyers who talk more about themselves rather than what they can do for you may not have the proper focus.