Lessons from a First-Time Condo Owner

October 2017

Professionals who work in the condominium industry often say they would never buy a unit in a condominium.  They spend their days dealing with problems faced by condominiums including infighting on the board, nasty neighbours and financial troubles.  I was the same before purchasing my first condo.  It has been about four months since my family moved in and we’ve been pleasantly surprised!  The condo is well managed.  No disputes.  No financial concerns.

We love our new home!

What changed my mind?  Simple.  The condo was everything we were looking for!  There are great schools.  We have more time to spend with our boys since the condo corporation takes care of maintenance, landscaping and snow removal that would have been our responsibility with a single-family home.

This was a smart financial and personal decision.

Being a condo owner has changed my perspective on condo living.  As with any form of home ownership, there can be problems.  There are also so many perks.  I can better empathize with condo owners now that I have experience on the other side.  I have learned valuable lessons being an owner that I never would have learned as a condo lawyer.

Sometimes it is easy to violate the rules

I read the documents prior to the purchase, again before moving in, and once more after we moved in.  I keep them handy to review when needed.  I still inadvertently violated a rule within the first week of moving in.  Fortunately, it wasn’t a major infraction and easily corrected by asking the board of directors for approval (and forgiveness!)

Topics that seem trivial are meaningful to the owners

I’ve sat in on Annual General Meetings (AGMs) for clients and thought “why have we been discussing this for twenty minutes?” when owners are debating something seemingly trivial; the length of grass or the watering schedule for gardens.  It never really sunk in before but the condo is someone’s home. The issues aren’t trivial to them. They live it every day.  I now understand why they wouldn’t want sprinklers going off when leaving for work in the morning.

It is easy to be indifferent

Indifference is a disease in condos.  There are so many condos without quorum at their AGMs every year.  Even though it happens regularly, I was always stunned when attending an AGM and no one would put their name forward as a candidate.  How can owners have so much apathy when it involves their largest asset?  Turns out it is easy.  We all have busy lives and can think of more appealing ways of spending our free time than attending board meetings.  As the old saying goes, “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”  It is easy to let someone else do the work until problems arise.

Infractions happen a lot if you look for them

If you look hard enough there are violations in every single condo building.  But should you?  Some condo owners and directors are constantly on the lookout for violations.  I saw quite a few violations after moving in because I was looking for them.  I was trying to gauge the level of enforcement efforts taken by the board and manager.  Fortunately, our board is reasonable in its enforcement efforts.  They do not ignore infractions, but they don’t seem to jump directly to letters from a lawyer either.  It has also been nice to see that neighbours aren’t watching and waiting for me to screw up so they can report me.

All in all, it has been an enjoyable and interesting ride.  Not too bumpy or fast.  Condo living is turning out to be a gentle ride suitable for the whole family.  This is exactly what we were looking for in our first condo.

Michelle Kelly is a condo lawyer, mother and first-time condo owner.  She can be reached at