Welcome to Condo Living – The experience of a condo owner and reluctant director

April 2019

We moved into our first condo eight years ago.  It was our third home purchase.

While I enjoyed some yard work there was more of it plus painting, fixing things and other chores than I cared to handle.  We were prepared to trade many of these home ownership tasks for a monthly condo fee.

Our love of condo living came with a rude awakening.  We learned that too many people who lived in our building at the time assumed it was always someone else’s job to take care of things.  The building looked old, outdated and run down. The reserve account was insufficient to pay for upcoming work.  The board at the time was, while not dysfunctional, incapable of understanding their situation. Our new home needed a lot of help and we weren’t prepared for that.

We learned it was necessary to get involved, so we did.

It took us eight months to get involved and the learning curve was steep.  Because of inertia, laziness and ignorance of the board, the building was behind in maintenance and common area updates.  Nobody was watching finances.  The corporation was surviving off money obtained through prior special assessments and a successful lawsuit.  These funds were nearing depletion so changes were necessary.

It took another two years of serving as a director before enough of the board was convinced, forced may be a more appropriate word, to focus on finances.   We increased payments to the reserve fund, got caught up with delayed maintenance and began looking at updating common areas.

Yet many were dissatisfied with the increased condo fees necessary to stabilize finances.  After the end of my term the board took a different approach to finances and building management.  Rather than risk my investment and ongoing enjoyment of my home, I sold and moved elsewhere to continue enjoying the many advantages of condo living.

My building contained over 300 suites and an estimated 800 residents including owner-residents, renters and landlords. That’s 800 different personalities, 800 opinions, 800 intentions and 800 backgrounds.

I’ve learned what to expect from a condo corporation and what not to expect.  I’ve learned who is and is not suited for condo living.  While condo corporations receive criticism, the reality is that there is a lot expected of them.  They are managed by volunteers expected to do far too much for no compensation at the expense of their personal and professional lives.

Every owner and resident in a condo building has an opinion about their condo board yet only a few will give of their time to be on the board.  Most of the rules were approved by a majority of members of the corporation many years ago.  Changing condo corporation by-laws and declaration is a slow and costly process.

Condo corporation directors have a fiduciary responsibility to the corporation.   They can’t pick and choose which rules they wish to enforce without potential legal and liability consequences.

Condo Corporations and Condo Communities

A condo corporation is a non-profit organization responsible for the management of a multi-unit property.  It is a voluntary grouping of individuals with shared property ownership.  Condo corporation boards and management manage common areas on behalf of all owners.  This includes bank accounts and use of condo fees.

Condo communities include numerous benefits.  Homeowner responsibilities such as landscaping, repairs and snow shovelling are replaced with monthly condo fees.  There are shared areas to be maintained including hallways, elevators and amenities that may include an exercise room, swimming pool or lounge.  These are amenities that many could not afford on their own but which are available to them as part of condo living.

What Condo Corporations Are Not

Condo corporations are not your parents.

Condo corporations are not your parents.  You are expected to clean up after yourself in common areas.  Companies employed to clean and maintain the property are not there to clean up after your dog, pick up gum or deal with messes you have created.  Condo corporations can make you financially responsible for messes or damage in common areas that are the result of your actions or those of your guests.

Condo corporations are not free. The term “shared expenses” does not mean “free” or “no expenses”. Every task undertaken and item purchased by the condo corporation must be paid for.  The person paying is you!

Who’s Right for Condo Living

Condo living is ideal for those who are prepared to share the benefits and expenses of a shared community.  Some may not want to be directly responsible for typical homeowner tasks such as property maintenance and repairs.  Others may prefer certain amenities available to them through condo living.  Yet others may desire the social aspect of condo living.

Condo living is not appropriate for those who do not want to pay what it costs to maintain their property.

Condo living is not appropriate for those who do not want to pay what it costs to maintain their property.  Individuals who may have neglected their home by avoiding maintenance and repairs, or failed to replace a hot water heater, heating system or roof when necessary, will not find condo living to be a cheaper alternative.  They will find they are obligated to pay for maintenance and repairs.  Condo living is not a way to avoid paying for the necessities of home ownership.

Condo living requires flexibility and compromise.  Individuals who want complete control or who do not like to share in decision making may not appreciate condo living.  Condo living is a democracy and not an autocracy.

Condo living is not a cheaper alternative for home ownership.  It is a more enjoyable lifestyle that a majority of Torontonians have come to appreciate.