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THE ART OF COMMUNICATION - Educating Existing Owners

It cannot be assumed that uninformed purchasers will become informed and educated owners only with the passage of time. There are several reasons why an existing owner may not have knowledge of a condominium’s governing documents:

  1. Blissful ignorance. The owner was an uninformed purchaser who never did gain insight. Perhaps welcome packages were not circulated when the owner purchased his/her unit or he/she did not bother reading one. Perhaps the owner did not have a thorough Status Certificate review carried out before purchasing nor has otherwise taken the time to become familiar with the condominium’s governing documents. For whatever reason, the owner did not see merit in becoming familiar with the parameters of condo ownership and may not have viewed this lack of knowledge as problematic. In a worst case scenario, the owner is not engaged in the condominium community and has no idea that the declaration, by-laws and rules even exist.
  2. Lifestyle changes. The owner’s lifestyle has changed such that a provision in the declaration, by-laws or rules that was not of concern at the time of purchase is now material. An example of this is a resident unit owner who did not have a pet when he/she purchased. The owner knows that the condominium permits pets but has not bothered to look deeper into the restrictions upon pet ownership as they were not a concern at the time of purchase. Years go by and the owner decides to adopt a pet. After all, they know that pets are allowed in the building…unfortunately, they do not know that a weight restriction applies or that pets are required to be carried upon the common elements. Other examples involve occupancy standards and the evolution of the single purchaser into a unit owner who is married with children and the purchaser who bought a unit to live in deciding to move out and rent it.
  3. Formed perceptions. Having been a member of the community for some time, the existing owner has formed perceptions as to what is permitted and acceptable. They may view the condo docs as theory but feel well acquainted with the practical realities of residing in their unit and comfortable with what they view as the status quo. The owner may or may not realize that the building does not permit pets, but sees another resident with a pet so believes that it is fine to have one. In such an example, the owner may have no idea that the pet that they see is grandparented, that the resident has negotiated an exit strategy with the Board and is in the process of finding the pet a new home or that the resident legitimately needs the pet for medical reasons.
New owners can sometimes be viewed as untarnished by previous condominium experience and open to better understanding their new chosen lifestyle, such as by way of a welcome package. By contrast, providing a welcome package to an owner who has already resided in the condominium for 5 years could be viewed as an insult and is perhaps less likely to be read even if it is accepted. 
So, how can condominium communities educate existing owners?
  1. Don’t assume. Just because someone has owned a unit for years does not mean that they know what is contained in the declaration, by-laws and rules. While you should not disregard the familiarity that an existing owner has, never assume that the longer someone owns a unit in the community, the better they know the content of the condominium’s governing documents.
  2. Friendly reminders. A simple “Did You Know” section in a newsletter or friendly seasonal reminders about key provisions can go a long way in cordially ensuring that everyone is informed. Many condominiums, for example, proactively post seasonal reminders about the rules surrounding hanging wreaths on doors and bringing live trees into units, etc. In this spirit, remind owners and residents from time to time of key provisions within your documents, including what they say surrounding issues where you often experience compliance trouble.
  3. Review your documents. Outdated rules that are never enforced benefit no one and can be a source of confusion and conflict within the condominium community. If owners support the status quo, but the status quo contravenes the declaration, by-laws or rules, this could be a sign that your documents need to be updated! While rules are easier to update than by-laws and by-laws are, in turn, easier to update than the declaration, it is possible to amend them all. Since the Condominium Act, 1998 came into effect on May 5, 2001, many condominiums established under the prior Condominium Act have updated their by-laws to take the legislative changes into account and attend to such matters as establishing a standard unit definition, mediation/arbitration procedure as well as drafting advances and new subject areas now typically incorporated into condominium by-laws. Similarly, Boards can review the rules every few years to ensure that they are still appropriate for the community. This is not to suggest that an owner’s disregard of the condominium documents signals that the problem is with the declaration, by-laws or rules and not the owner’s behavior, but rather a suggestion that Boards should ensure that their condominium documents reflect the values of the community and recognize that these can evolve over time. 
  4. Two-way communication. Two-way communication can go a long way in fostering community. Social gatherings and information/idea exchange sessions provide an opportunity not only for the Board to help educate owners and residents but also for the community to provide input to the Board who can, in turn, ensure that community values and the condominium’s governing documents align.
Communication with new and existing owners is certainly important, but it is just as important to consider your approach to both. A new owner may be more eager to learn or at least admit that they have something to learn about the community while an existing owner may need to be contacted using a different approach that recognizes that he/she is already an established member of the community. Either way, the goal should always be to create a community that is both knowledgeable and engaged. 

By Marc Bhalla - November 2012
Hons. B.A., Q. Med. - Mediator and Senior Clerk

Ext:  811
Email:  mbhalla@elia.org 
Toll-Free:  1-866-446-0811

 

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 All of the information contained in this article is of a general nature for informational purposes only, and is not intended to represent the definitive opinion of the firm of Elia Associates on any particular matter. Although every effort is made to ensure that the information contained in this newsletter is accurate and up-to-date, the reader should not act upon it without obtaining appropriate professional advice and assistance.

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