With more than 50% of Torontonians choosing condominiums over other forms of housing, many believe the benefits of condo living outweigh any disadvantages.
Last year a Maclean’s article suggested otherwise. Why Condos are a Living Nightmare (April 28, 2014) presented what they describe as the downside of more people living in close proximity to one another. The front page headline summed it up as “more and more people living in constant aggravation”. Through isolated examples the article presented a fantasy removed from reality.
The article identified noise from neighbours, ineffective management, power struggles, harassment and lawsuits as just some of the problems. While all may be a part of condo life, the unfortunate reality is that such problems exist in all forms of housing.
Condo living is different and that is one of the reasons so many are drawn to it. Condo living involves shared space and collective decision making. It provides amenities and a lifestyle unavailable in other forms of housing. It also provides protection, and sometimes recourse, against neighbours who choose not to accept that their actions affect their neighbours. The assertion in the Maclean’s article that condo living means “accepting that we’ll have to give up some of our personal freedom, and that our neighbours may always be too close for comfort” is not the reality of condo life.
Contrary to the focus of the Maclean’s article, condo living provides protection against extreme actions by unreasonable people that most would not consider acceptable.
Here are some condo living concerns identified in the article and what was left unsaid.
Shared Responsibility vs. Worry-Free Lifestyle
It is true that condos offer a more worry-free lifestyle and that someone needs to manage what is often a multi-million dollar annual budget. Condo living provides a mechanism for this to occur by having volunteers from condo owners who are interested in filling this role. Good condo boards are desirable. Condo boards filled with retirees filling time and/or people lacking management experience is not uncommon.
Condo boards are elected by residents to manage the affairs of the corporation on behalf of condo owners. Condo owners have an obligation to understand the affairs of their corporation and to elect individuals most capable of representing their interests. This is not inconsistent with having a more worry-free lifestyle.
Condo fees are not a burden. They replace personal responsibility for maintenance and upkeep. Condo living does not allow one to avoid paying for maintenance and upkeep consistent with home ownership. Disputes may occur about the amount of these fees and how they should be spent. Ultimately, it is the role of an elected condo board to determine condo fees and how they should be spent. Condo management is about maintaining a building and lifestyle over the long term. Condo living means acceptance of condo fees in place of personal responsibility for maintenance and upkeep.
Condo rules are a way of establishing a standard to which all are expected to comply. These rules also exist to protect property values and maintain quality of the building. The general consensus is that standard rules solve many problems without confrontation or use of the legal system. Noise restrictions, for example, protect the majority against an inconsiderate minority. The same applies to restrictions on pets.
Condo rules are an important part of condo living that appeal to those who purchase or choose to live in a condo in that they provide a wide range of protections to residents.
Neighbour disputes have nothing to do with housing and everything to do with people. Condo life includes rules and protections to deal with or mitigate neighbour disputes without resorting to drastic measures.
Fines are an effective enforcement measure for when some choose not to follow rules. The author seems to oppose fines for those who allow dogs to urinate on common property and for excessive noise without proposing an alternative method to protect the rights of the majority. There are ways to change rules or fines if a majority of condo owners oppose them.
It is unlikely that a majority of condo owners oppose fines as an enforcement mechanism.
A 2012 B.C. Supreme Court case was cited where a condo owner was forced to sell their units “after her adult son had terrorized their neighbours by screaming obscenities, spitting, blocking their way in the hallway and throwing water at them from his balcony.” Why is this forced eviction bad? Protection from incidents such as this is one reason why condo life is so popular.
It is true that some condo board members manage budgets of millions of dollars per year and cannot read a balance sheet or financial statement. There are also engineers who develop reserve fund studies plus accountants and property managers who provide advice when called upon. A good condo board knows when and how to obtain this advice.
On average, condo board members are probably no more or less financially adept than the owners they represent. The same can be said of elected politicians who are responsible for far larger sums of money.