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March 20, 2020 - By Marc Bhalla & Richard Elia

COVID-19 Bulletin No. 5: COVID-19 & Condo Conflict

Updated March 20, 2020 at 5:45pm

On-site management offices have already closed and many condominium managers are working from home. Still, it remains that condominium communities across the province are “home” for their residents. Whether you are a director, owner or tenant, chances are that you are self-isolating in your unit and attempting to foster and embrace social distancing insofar as possible; all of which seems to contradict the communal nature of condo living.

If you venture out, you might have noticed the reduced volume of cars on the road. If you venture to your parking garage, you might notice that what always struck you as a half-empty garage is now full of cars - meaning even more people are staying at home, embracing social distancing. Combine condominium residents spending increased time at home with the increased stress everyone feels as they navigate how to address a pandemic. While we encourage everyone to exercise kindness and offer support for those in their community who need it, we should also appreciate the increased likelihood of conflict to arise in our condominium communities, as everyone experiences heightened tension surrounding COVID-19 and spends increased time in close quarters. Taking proactive steps through online dispute resolution options helps to both manage conflict before it escalates further and encourage personal resposibility through social distancing.

Resources offered by the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the BC Division of the Canadian Mental Health Association and Psychology Today are amongst those available to support people as they experience the stresses of this crisis. The Guardian and BBC are amongst those who have acknowledged that self-isolating in close quarters with others can be challenging and create conflicts between those sharing space. Extending the increased sensitivity to annoyance many are experiencing as days feel like months and minutes like hours, consider that people who share walls or otherwise are in close proximity have greater opportunity to find one another aggravating.

While we are all being encouraged to help take care of each other and many are stepping up with acts of kindness in these uncertain times, it is important to also appreciate (and perhaps expect) the increased likelihood of conflict developing in our condominium communities due to stress levels and uncertain around us.  However, it is important to recognize the opportunities we have to take proactive steps to address issues.

In that light, regardless of if an issue has only just arisen or has been lingering for some time, whenever possible, managing and addressing condominium conflict, at all stages, should be taken online - and not in person at this time.

Early Stages of Conflict

You will likely continue to cross paths with your neighbours – these exchanges may be handled more cautiously, but they are still going to take place. It is not uncommon for condominium directors to be approached by residents as they go about their personal lives in the community. This has never been acceptable in our view (as outside of board meetings, a director is a resident like any other); however, especially in view of the dangers posed by ignoring social distancing, this might now be taken as objectionable and threatening, even by the most patient director. While we always encourage people experiencing uncomfortable situations to take proactive and positive steps to address them, conversations about conflict can often become emotional. When emotions are heightened, rationality can be lost and it can become all too easy to default to past habits and not keep a safe distance from one another. Please keep in person interactions to exchanging pleasantries, well wishes and checking in with one another. Leave condo issues out of it.

There are many ways in which conflict can be addressed and proactively managed while also promoting social distancing. For example, condominium residents could be directed on how they can communicate with property management as management offices are closed, and their expectation set up front about what are reasonable reply times as Boards look to change how they conduct meetings and interactions with their service providers. There may be opportunity for community groups formed on social media and elsewhere online to receive increased activity for neighbours to connect and collaborate, instead of doing so in person. There may be notices explaining WHY the “Gym is closed” sign was posted.

Later and More Formal Stages of Conflict

Mediation & Arbitration

While most condominium mediations and arbitrations do not exceed the 50 people number that renders them prohibited until at least March 31st, parties are encouraged to participate in these processes online rather than in person at this time. The ADR Institute of Ontario now offers a directory of practitioners equipped to provide online dispute resolution services.

It is important to keep in mind that online dispute resolution is not simply moving the mediation or arbitration process online but that it is a distinct dispute resolution process with its own set of opportunities and challenges. It may be important not just to verify that your mediator or arbitrator has the capacity to offer services online, but the training and the experience to do so as well.

Court Proceedings

The Ontario Superior Court of Justice has suspended regular operations until further notice.

Until social distancing is no longer the recommended practice, we encourage everyone to avoid in person interactions that can be avoided and to use online options to address matters insofar as possible. If online options are not available, with the exception of urgent issues that cannot wait, we recommend aiming to adjourn matters for the time being... the chances are that your non-urgent matter has already been adjourned.  Our clients who currently are involved in ongoing alternative dispute resolution or trials are encouraged to contact us directly for further information surrounding the status of their proceeding and options.

Please feel free to share the links or sentiments contained in this post without being obliged to H/T us. We did not share these resources to seek credit for doing so and hope that they will be helpful for those feeling extra anxiety and stress during this time. It is important that we all remember that we are not alone and exercise tolerance of those who remind us of this in an aggravating way.