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March 30, 2018 - By Kati Aubin and Richard Elia

The Condominium Paradox – Carefree Turnkey Living

Everyone remembers – some with dread, some with fondness – that day in elementary school when the teacher asked you to name the three levels of government. If you’re a condominium owner, however, that question is trickier because there is, arguably, a fourth level of government for you to deal with. No, not a shadow government à la James Bond, Jason Bourne (or any other spy thriller really), but an unspoken level of democratically elected government to serve and lead the condominium community with all the attendant rules and regulations, legal obligations, and (lest we forget) political motivations.

So why, or perhaps how, can we look to, or consider condominium living as carefree turnkey living?

If the brochures are to be believed, living in a condominium is home ownership without the messiness of home ownership: you don’t need to cut the grass or shovel the driveway, costly repairs are included in the cost of ownership, lifestyle altering amenities (that would might never consider owning on your own) are to be at your fingertips, the list goes on.

It all sounds too good to be true – and in many ways, it is.

For lack of a better phrase, many condominium purchasers “get sucked in” by the implied promise of carefree turnkey living, not appreciating that condominium home ownership is still home ownership – but without the high fences (which make for good neighbours). It is home ownership in common with the other condominium home owners. The brochures don’t tell you about the differing “personalities” of the community you are buying into, the unavoidable politics and history that will affect decision making, or what to do when no one wants to step up to be on the board – or worse, when the wrong person is the only one willing to step up.

The brochures don’t tell you that living in a condominium means that some of you will need to step up (volunteer, usually without compensation) and be in service of the other members of your community as a member of the board – to create that forth level of government.

A lack of education on these, and many more, matters has been identified by the Ontario government (level 2 government, for those keeping track) as a major source of conflict in condominium communities. This has led to the institution of mandatory (albeit minimal) education for board members and mandatory education and licensing for property managers.

Education should always be considered as a good thing. In the condominium context it is an excellent thing. It can open owners’ and board members’ eyes (and minds) to the reality that they have a fourth level of government to contend with (and account for), and it can provide them with the tools to solve their community’s issues in creative and positive ways. Without education, you will never know what you don’t know. You can’t know what powers you have as an owner, similarly you can’t know what duties you have as an owner – same for board members.

Board members elected or appointed after November 1, 2017 are required to complete online training with the Condominium Authority of Ontario. The training course is straightforward and provides a primer for directors that allows them to see just how much is out there. This mandatory training is very basic. One can hope that, at very least, it will provide a director with some appreciation as to how much more there is to know. While education for all owners is not (yet – one can hope) mandatory, the online training that is mandatory for directors is available to the public, free of charge.

The free training offered by the Condominium Authority of Ontario is a great first step – but it’s just that, a first step. With the changes coming to the Condominium Act, some already in force, others to come into force in the near future, the time to be reading up and asking questions is now. Living in a community means many hands can share the load, but it also means that you need to know what the load looks like and how it should be shared. Everyone involved in a condominium community, from the consulting professionals to the board to the owners, help make the community work, but only if they know how to do so. Knowledge is, after all, power.

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 article is accurate and up-to-date, the reader should not act upon it without obtaining appropriate professional advice and assistance.

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