Living in a condominium most often involves sharing space with others. Different living styles, customs, religions, ethnicity, ages, food, etcetera, all requires a great deal more consideration and accommodation than the privacy afforded by living in a single detached home or acreage.
Issues arise daily between those living in close proximity to others and with those charged with the responsibility of looking after the maintenance, repair and the enforcement of by-laws and rules in condominiums. Most of these issue become disputes due to a false expectation that one can do what one likes in their own home without any consideration of how their living style will affect the comfort of others. Add a lack of understanding, respect and a lack of communication and we have disputes.
Condo corporations enact by-laws, rules and policies to provide everyone with some guidance in creating a harmonious and enjoyable living environment. Most residents have the great expectation that someone else will enforce these by-laws and rules. Someone else will handle all issues and solve all problems and that no effort is required by individuals themselves. Indeed, the condo Act verifies this expectation by indicating that the board of directors must enforce the bylaws and rules. Most conveniently set aside, is the responsibility of each and every resident, to abide by the by-laws, rules and policies.
Persons on a lower level smoke on the balcony creating an irritant to persons living above. This results in a letter to the board of directors who in turn notify the property manager, who in turns sends a letter to the offending owner. It occurs to no-one that this not a non-smoking building.
Next, the police are called in as a use of a prohibited substance is suspected. The police of course require proof, which is not available. In retribution, the persons of the lower unit report excessive noise being created by persons in the above unit.
No investigation is done. However, the people in the upper unit still receive a letter of complaint. Ultimately, the board decides that a mediator be called upon to settle the dispute at the cost of the disputants. The disputants on being contacted by the mediator decline to attend the mediation process and everybody hopes the issues will disappear.
Is there a better way? Would it have helped, if both parties had been requested to appear at the next board meeting to explain to each other the discomfort being created and to discuss options to resolve the issues? To persuade both to attend, could the notice indicate that a failure to attend might result in a court action and mandatory mediation?
A music student diligently practices playing the piano for two hours each and every day. One neighbour sends a letter of complaint to the board, which sends it to the property manager, who sends a letter to the piano player with an order to stop playing. No contact with other neighbours, no noise measurements, no communication between parties. The piano player offers to meet with the board and the complainant to discuss play time, but the offer is declined. More letters follow with a fine imposed and subsequent threat to caveat.
Is there a better way? Would there be value in a discussion between the two disputants to work out a playing time agreeable to both. Would it make the result binding if the disputants were advised that no resolution would require mediation or court action at their costs?
Dependent upon the seriousness of the situation, encouraging disputants to meet each other face to face in a controlled atmosphere and be encouraged to resolve their issues themselves, rather than have a third party decide, would seem to be more productive.
This article has been written by Gerrit Roosenboom.
Gerrit Roosenboom is a 22 year veteran of the Canadian Condominium Institute (CCI) having served on the Board of two condo corporations, the Board of five CCI chapters across Canada and served on the National Executive of CCI. He is Past President of CCI Edmonton and practices mediation and arbitration.