Big changes are coming to the condo landscape in Ontario. This past December, Bill 106, the Protecting Condominium Owners Act, was passed and obtained royal assent. It still remains anyone’s guess as to when its amendments to the Condominium Act will be proclaimed into force (i.e. become law). However, technology looks poised to take centre stage in the way condos are governed at that time.
Compared to other jurisdictions, Ontario’s condominium laws are globally regarded as some one of the most advanced of their kind. While it has its share of critics, Bill 106 is written with modern realities in mind — at a time when software is eating the world. The condo industry is about to experience the same. One read of the Protecting Condominium Owners Act shows that legislators have finally embraced technology in this sector.
A bulk of its amendments to the Condominium Act aim to increase communication and transparency between board members, property managers and residents. When they’re rolled out, the changes will enable the use of “electronic mail,” “electronic means,” “electronic databases,” “electronic communication” and “electronic delivery” to achieve those objectives. The provisions will become clearer when they are supplemented by corresponding regulations, but it is safe to say that “electronic” will, in a lot of cases, mean software.
Here are five ways forthcoming Condominium Act changes will facilitate, and in one case require, the use of technology.
1. Document and notice delivery
The amended Act will make it mandatory for boards to formally provide preliminary notice of owners meetings 20 days before sending out the actual meeting notice. It will also make electronic options available for delivering important condominium documents and notices including disclosure statements, status certificates and material change notices.
Given the sensitive nature of documents and notices, board members and property managers will have to consider security when selecting which software and tools to use. In particular, look for robustly built solutions that completely encrypt the communication link between the browser and platform. Also, consider ease of use because board members and residents possess varying degrees of technical proficiency.
2. A dedicated condo website
The amended Condominium Act will require condo developers to make public proposed documents, corporation bylaws, community rules, a search function for keywords and terms, and other key documents online. This is to help prospective buyers understand what to expect from a condo community that has not yet been constructed.
The key here is to use a software platform that is easy to manage, as the need to put up the website quickly and update it as documents evolve will demand flexibility. That means the website should be fully customizable to the specific needs of each condo and developer, have the ability to publish online instantly and be easy to maintain by the condo developer.
3. Increased communication
Communication is key to a healthy condo community. However, many condo owners have expressed that they do not feel they know enough about decisions and activities that have a direct impact on their lives. As such, some of the amendments to the Act aim to improve transparency by mandating regular updates from the condo board.
Noteworthy in the forthcoming amendments to the Act is the requirement to improve owner access to high-level information such as the reserve fund budget and other financial information. Additionally, there is a dire need for condo owners to be kept in the loop of all other day-to-day happenings in the community.
Ideally, communication should be accessible, easy to consume, mobile and available in real time, which can be achieved through multiple channels such as smartphone push notifications, emails, text messages, and voice calls. While the smartphone has become an indispensable tool, it has yet to make its mark in improving communication in condos. That is likely to change.
4. Virtual board meetings
A common issue with condo corporation board meetings is the challenge of finding the right time and location for the meetings. Condo board members cannot always be physically present for meetings.
In an effort to keep up with the times, the Act will make it possible to hold a valid board meeting via teleconference without having to pass a bylaw. This will surely have a significant impact on how boards get together to make decisions as it makes it easier for them to attend and hold meetings on a regular schedule. To facilitate these teleconferences, property managers are likely to turn to popular virtual meeting software that is already out there, such as Webex and GoToMeeting.
5. Voting procedures
Today’s technology makes it possible to vote electronically. The Act will recognize this reality as it gives condo corporations the option to allow owners to vote by “telephonic or electronic means,” which is defined to include emails, faxes, automated touch-tone systems or computer systems.
There are no go-to tools on the market that specifically accommodate voting in condo corporations, but the ability to vote for a director directly from a smartphone app is coming soon.
Not only will the implementation of Bill 106’s amendments to the Condominium Act pave the way for new tools. It will also update the legislation to acknowledge a role for existing technologies that have yet to make inroads into the condominium industry.
This is important, because the tools are designed to promote better and more communication, which is exactly the intent of these consumer protection laws.
Grant Yim is co-founder of condo management software Evercondo. He is an entrepreneur and lawyer.