On trust and transparency in condos

As condominiums become the standard form of housing across the country, the discussion about trust is really just beginning
Tuesday, June 6, 2023
By Todd Hofley

Trust. It seems that no matter where you look today there is a distinct lack of it. While society has always grappled with the issue, over the course of the past three years — as the pandemic reorganized almost every aspect of our society in ways that are both permanent and transitory – our sense of trust seems to have frayed. The reasons for this are many but when we’re discussing our home, its importance cannot be overstated.

As the cornerstone of condominium living, trust is, oddly, seldom spoken about amongst owners and residents. Most just assume that a condo is just like any other home but, as we all know, nothing could be further from the truth. Owning a condominium is an exercise in shared values, shared assets and shared decision-making. Trust is what allows us to share our communal spaces, rely on our neighbours or employees for assistance and feel safe in our home.

As a condo board in charge of the functioning, maintenance and governance of an asset worth millions or hundreds of millions, we are at the top of that “pyramid.” An enormous amount of trust is put in our hands and it’s a responsibility that is humbling and daunting.

So how do condo board members earn and keep that trust?

There is nothing that breeds distrust quite like silence, so the antidote to that is frequent and transparent communication. Telling the story about how major decisions are made, inviting members of your community to participate (if appropriate) and then following up with their suggestions is paramount. When you explain the context, research and reasoning versus just announcing a decision, owners are more likely to understand – even when the decision is difficult.

As a board, you then place a lot of trust in your property manager and your employees. Is your accounting being done properly? Are contracts being bid on in an ethical manner? Are residents being treated equally and with respect? Are your employees being treated equally and with respect by your residents? Does your team have the resources and support they require in order to fulfill their duties and enjoy their work environment?

In my current community, we’ve taken the unique step of instituting large bonuses for our staff that represent roughly five per cent of their wages. We did this to encourage our employees to stay – thus improving our bottom line as employee turnover is expensive. It also had the wonderful knock-on effect of ensuring three things: institutional memory, safety and trust.

Even if an employee were leaving, because they felt trusted and valued in the workplace, they would recommend equally qualified and reliable people to substitute. They trusted us to treat them well and in return we got longevity, lower overall costs and a reliable and trustworthy workforce that cared about the building and its residents.

Finally, there is the trust from the owners and residents in your community – and this is the trickiest one of all. As board members, we accept the responsibility and workload of running the board and, for the most part, most residents will either appreciate this quietly or be silent on the matter.

That being said, there are always owners who will feel things are moving in the wrong direction, the decisions being made are poor and antagonistic. What then to do? Stay above the fray, be professional and respectful regardless of how someone else is behaving, and, importantly, document everything. It’s at that point that you really need to trust in the process of your declaration, your lawyers and any provincial regulations to protect you.

As condominiums become the standard form of housing across the country, this discussion about trust is really just beginning. Legal parameters have been established to guide the decision-making of condo corporations, and this does encourage a base level of trust.

Ultimately, though, it comes down to the people of the community itself. Are we communicating from a place of knowledge and understanding while actually listening to others’ concerns? Are we comfortable being wrong? Is the board
made up of people with skill sets that complement one another and can tackle large fiscal and social issues? Does your condominium help create community and foster healthy discussion?

None of these goals are easy and they take a lot of work, but they’re the bedrock upon which a healthy condo corporation and community lie.

Todd Hofley is the President of Toronto Standard Condominium Corporation 2164.

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