Tenants remain outsiders in condo communities

More inclusion may be the answer to rule-breaking renters, panel suggests
Wednesday, January 17, 2018
By Michelle Ervin

How do condo managers refer to the people who live in the communities they manage? Are they categorized as owners and tenants, or are they simply called residents?

For Bill Thompson, president of Malvern Condominium Property Management, this language choice is telling. Little has changed in the way condo communities and their leaders treat tenants in the last few decades, he suggested, speaking last fall in a Condo Conference seminar on tenant issues.

“Rental units have been part of our reality for over 25 years and they still are not part of the community,” Thompson said as he reflected back on sentiments he shared in a 1992 article.

At the time, he said, roughly three out of every 10 condo units (29 per cent) from Oakville to Ajax Pickering and up to Georgian Bay served as rental units.

Last fall, Urbanation, a real estate market research and consulting firm, found that close to a third of condo units (32.7 per cent) in the GTA served as rental units in a review of 2017 Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC) data. If large tenant populations in condo communities seem like a more recent development, it may be because that figure is up from 18.8 per cent 10 years ago. What’s more, many newly completed condo units are making their way onto the tight GTA rental market.

Tenants appear likely to remain a fixture of condo communities, so what can condo communities do to help tenants shed their outsider status?

The people behind the stereotype

Brian Zander, president of his Humber Bay condo corporation and a tenant himself, has some ideas about how to make renters feel more welcome. He recommended making an effort to relate to tenants on a personal level rather than relying on stereotypes of renters as the resident trouble-makers.

“It’s not like they just showed up one day hoping to make problems for the property manager,” said Zander. “Most of them chose to live in that building.”

He spoke, for example, of Elise, a divorcée who, after falling in love with the Lakeshore area while visiting a friend, opted to rent in a pet-friendly condo building there as she sorts out her retirement plans in the next several years. And of Lee and Jessica, newlywed professionals who decided to rent downtown while their house is being built in Oakville — and for whom only a new condo could offer the amenities on their must-have list. As well as of Michel, who moved into a North York condo after being transplanted from Montreal to Toronto in just weeks for a new job, and who faced the possibility of having to relocate again in the indeterminate future.

These tenants hardly fit the caricature of renters as hard-partying transients. They are professionals who have something to offer their condo community, said Zander, whether that’s in a formal or informal capacity.

“Not every tenant is going to be super excited about participating on the board or in a committee,” he acknowledged, “but if you get to know them as people … I think that would help with engagement and help them feel like they’re respected, and they will in turn respect the rules of the corporation.”

Why are renters breaking the rules?

Tenants have to be aware of the a building’s rules to be able to follow them, as Thompson illustrated with some “fictional but familiar” examples that, on passing glance, might be easy to write off as renters behaving badly.

Consider the case of a condo board that creates and regularly updates a community website, which includes a copy of the corporation’s rules, he said. If the board restricts access to owners, is the ensuing parade of complaints about rule-breaking tenants surprising?

Or, he said, take an owner who neglects to share their condo community’s regulations, exposing their unwitting tenant to a flurry of enforcement by building management and security staff. In his first few days, the tenant feels targeted after receiving written warnings cautioning against parking in the visitor spaces (people helping him move) and to follow recycling protocol for disposing of cardboard boxes (his last building’s rules were different), along with a verbal warning from security to shut down a late-night get together due to noise complaints (housewarming party).

And there are instances where tenants are living with mental illness, unbeknownst to building management. Thompson painted a scenario involving unexplained banging noises, yelling and a broken window, which were ultimately traced back to a renter suffering from schizophrenia and who was put up in the unit by a family member.

“I find more and more often these days that people are leaving their relatives in a condo environment thinking that this is a relatively safe environment for the semi-vulnerable,” he said. “Well, semi-vulnerable generally means disruptive to the community.”

People living with mental illness are protected from discrimination under the Ontario Human Rights Code, although there are rare cases when efforts by condo corporations to accommodate individual needs cross the legal threshold of undue hardship.

Courts weigh in on tenant issues

Of course, there are instances when tenants are well aware of the rules and choose to flout them. Greg Marley, partner at Deacon, Spears, Fedson & Montizambert, recommended looping in owners as soon as possible when addressing rule-breaking renters. Not only can owners act as allies in obtaining compliance, but this positions the condo corporation to recover its enforcement costs.

Marley observed that in the recent case of TSCC No. 2032 v. Boudair, et al., the judge cited the over-eagerness of the condo corporation to bring a compliance application. The tenants, who were willfully ignoring the community’s smoking ban despite the owner’s best efforts to get them to follow the rules, were ordered to pay fixed costs to the corporation and the owner. However, Marley added, the corporation retained the right to charge back the owner for its costs because it had laid the groundwork to lean on a provision of the Condominium Act that leaves owners on the hook for the actions of their occupants.

In the Boudair case, the tenants agreed to an order terminating their lease. Another recent case, NNCC v. Temedio, confirmed that eviction orders, like forced unit sales, are “draconian” and “extreme.”

In the Temedio case, the tenant was found to have violated a rule prohibiting excessive noise over a period of two years. For Marley, it was notable that the judge denied the Niagara condo corporation’s request for an eviction order in favour of a compliance order despite the length of the infraction.

However, Marley added, recent reforms to the Condominium Act, which are not yet in force, might streamline the process of obtaining eviction orders. The reforms call into question the existing two-step process of obtaining a compliance order, and then returning to court to ask for an eviction order following continuing non-compliance. New wording will restrict the availability of eviction orders to cases where a judge determines that it is the only order capable of compelling compliance.

“There’s no guidance yet as to what another order that would be adequate to address the situation is,” he explained, “so we’re in a grey zone right now and we’re going to have to wait until we have some condos that unfortunately have to take this through the court system.”

More work to be done on inclusion

Thompson suggested there’s more work to be done to include tenants in condo communities, pointing out that there is an economic imperative to do so: it will help improve property values by making them more attractive places to live and thereby making it possible for owners to charge higher rents.

“What changes would you make in your management style to help make this change possible?” he asked.

Choosing to call the people who live in a condo community residents rather than categorizing them as owners and tenants might be a simple place to start.

Michelle Ervin is the editor of CondoBusiness.

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