In its first month in operation, the Condominium Authority of Ontario (CAO) fielded 330 calls and 130 emails from condo directors, managers and owners, and registered 524 condo corporations.
Registering the remainder of the province’s estimated 10,000 condo corporations before the end of the year is a focus for the new non-profit organization as it works to increase awareness of its services, said Tom Wright, chair of the CAO. In the days leading up to the official launch of its operations, a poll of 1,000 people found that only 14 per cent of respondents had heard of the authority.
The CAO was established under changes to Ontario’s condo laws aimed at improving consumer protection, which are being brought into effect in phases starting this fall. The authority began providing information services Sept. 1 and is scheduled to begin providing director education and dispute resolution services Nov. 1.
“Right now, the most common issue we’re dealing with is the matter of how does a condo become registered, which is a requirement,” said Wright.
Wright said the CAO has been hearing from representatives of condo corporations that were missed in its mail out of information packages. Identifying and tracking down accurate addresses for all of the province’s condo corporations has proven challenging in the absence of a public registry, which the first of what will become annual filings will help to create.
The CAO is now calling on condo boards and managers to email [email protected] to request the invitation codes required to register for condo corporations that have not received them. The authority needs to get corporations registered to collect the assessments that will support the CAO’s operations, which are expected to run on a projected annual budget of around $10 million.
The assessment, to be paid by owners via common fees and remitted by condo corporations, works out to roughly $1 per unit per month. Due Dec. 31, the first assessment will capture the seven months spanning from the beginning of September through to the end of March.
In addition to fielding inquiries about registration, the CAO has been receiving general questions about condo living, such as obligations to pay special assessments and responsibilities for repairs and maintenance. Wright said the calls and emails the authority receives will inform new content as it builds out its website, which is intended to serve as a 24/7 resource for condo directors, owners and residents.
The CAO is also receiving questions about accessing condo corporation records, the first type of dispute that will eligible to be heard by the Condominium Authority Tribunal (CAT) when its services become available Nov. 1.
The CAO’s board recently named Ian Darling the first chair of the CAT — a position which attracted a lot of interest, said Wright. He said Darling saw the role of the tribunal much the same way the authority did, being to resolve disputes versus to hand down rulings.
“It would not be a traditional tribunal that is there basically to make decisions,” Wright said of what the CAO’s board envisioned. “That’s a last resort.”
Conceived as a cheaper, faster alternative to taking condo disagreements to court, the tribunal will offer dispute resolution services in three stages, the last of which involves an adjudicator handing down a binding ruling. Before that, parties will have to attempt to resolve their disagreements through guided negotiation, and, failing that, assisted resolution with help from a tribunal member.
The person who makes the application is required to pay user fees for each stage of dispute resolution, which escalate up to $200 total.
All of the tribunal’s services, including formal adjudication, will be offered electronically as opposed to in-person, making it the province’s first online-only dispute resolution system.
With demand for the tribunal’s services difficult to predict, starting out with a scope limited to disputes about access to records will allow the tribunal to focus on delivering the best possible service, said Wright.
“Although it’s based on a system that is being used in the province of Quebec, it’s been adjusted to the Ontario setting, so we wanted to make sure it’s working,” he said, “because the last thing we want is frustration on the part of people who want to use it.”
Once the system has been tested, the government is expected to amend the regulations to add other types of disputes to the list of issues that can be taken to the tribunal.
The CAO is currently testing training for condo directors, which will be available for free online and become mandatory to complete for directors elected from Nov. 1 onward. The four pilot modules cover the basics of condo living, the laws governing condos, director roles and responsibilities and community leadership.
Whether director training improves the governance of condo corporations is one way Wright will be measuring the success of the authority. How well-used the tribunal is and how quickly disputes get resolved are other benchmarks he said he’ll be watching.
“Bottom line: [The CAO] will be seen as the trusted source for information about condo living in Ontario,” said Wright. “That, to me, is the measure [of success].”
Meanwhile, with each passing week, the authority is seeing its website traffic and call and email volumes grow as it works to raise its profile, said Wright.
“We want people to be aware of the resources that are available to them, primarily through the website,” he said. “We’re also very interested in feedback in terms of: What is it that the CAO can do that will help you to make your condo community a better place to live?”
Michelle Ervin is the editor of CondoBusiness.