How to avoid a DIY renovation disaster

Best practices and tips for condo projects
Thursday, March 11, 2021
By Michelle Kelly

The internet is full of videos of do-it-yourself (DIY) tutorials for renovation projects with guarantees to increase the value of your property. Not surprisingly, there are almost the same number of videos of DIY fails.

While the fails might be entertaining for viewers, the homeowners were likely disappointed with the results. Multiply that disappointment by the number of unit owners in a condominium and you could have a costly disaster. To avoid a DIY disaster, condominiums should consider the following advice.

Design Expert

If DIY videos have taught us anything, it’s that designing a room that is aesthetically pleasing is not easy. Often the design is left to the directors with little experience or training in design. Condominiums should consider hiring designers for their renovation projects, especially larger projects with significant dollars invested to avoid costly mistakes.

Review documents

Someone should review the condominium’s declaration, by-laws and rules (and shared facilities agreements, if any) to ensure the proposed work is not prohibited. For example, in newer condominiums, the consent of the declarant might be required.

Approval of owners

The directors must also review section 97 of the Condominium Act, 1998 (the “Act”). Is the proposed work being done using materials that are reasonably close in quality to the original given current construction standards? If so, notice to the owners may not be required. If the proposed work is an upgrade, or a completely new feature, it may require notice to the owners and possibly a vote in favour before the condominium can commence work. The condominium’s lawyer can provide an opinion on whether the owners must receive notice and approve the proposed work.

Input of owners

Even if notice to the owners or their approval is not required, seeking input from the owners is sometimes wise. A hideous new paint colour or door design can lead to conflict in the condominium, leading to gossip, accusations and even requisitions to remove directors. A radical change in the design should be discussed with owners before the work begins.


The renovation work should aim to improve the property and make it more accessible for residents and visitors. The condominium must also provide notice of service interruptions if the renovation project will reduce services, even if the disruption is only temporary. For example, if the elevator will be unavailable, the condominium must provide notice to residents so residents with disabilities can make alternative arrangements.

Written contract

It is important to have a written contract with the contractors, including the designer. The contract should describe at least the cost, estimated start and end dates, warranties, insurance, dispute resolution, any limits on liability and indemnity requirements.

Engineering advice

Depending on the work being done, the condominium should consider hiring an engineer to oversee the project. For larger projects, the engineer can help with the tendering process, prepare the contract, inspect the work and certify payments to the contractor. For smaller projects, the condominium should at least obtain a few estimates from the contractors and consider having the engineer review the proposed work.

Reserve fund

The condominium will need to review the work to determine if it can use the reserve fund to pay for it. According to the Act, the reserve fund can be used only for major repairs and replacements of the common elements and assets of the condominium. If the renovation project is not a reserve fund eligible expense, the condominium will need to find other sources of funding.

Sources of funding

A condominium can use the operating fund to pay for renovation projects or levy a special assessment to cover the costs. Prior to levying a special assessment, someone should review the condominium’s by-laws for any special requirements, such as a minimum notice period or content for the notice to owners. Finally, a condominium might consider a loan for the renovation work. A loan will usually require a borrowing by-law, which must be approved by the owners of a majority of the voting units.


In light of changing public health restrictions and recommendations, the condominium should also consider whether the renovation project can be deferred. If the work can be carried out without much interaction with owners, the risks are considerably lower than work that requires access to the units. The condominium should ask the contractors for any safety protocols that they have implemented to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

No one wants to make a list of design fails or DIY gone wrong videos compilation. The list above provides some of the key considerations, but condominiums should seek professional advice prior to starting a renovation project to avoid costly mistakes and DIY fails.

Michelle Kelly is a condo lawyer at Robson Carpenter LLP, a firm that specializes in the development of condos and subdivisions. She leads the firm’s condo management practice, providing legal assistance to condos, directors and managers throughout Ontario.



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