The Toronto skyline is a long way from the suburban utopia of manicured lawns and white picket fences.
While Toronto once spread out, it’s now also rising up, and since almost no one is building new apartment rental units, the demand for rentals has been supplied by condo buyers, many of whom are absent offshore investors.
There are some 750,000 condo units with 10,000 condo corporations in Ontario now, so it’s laudable and timely that new regulations under the Protecting Condominium Owners Act 2015 came into force in September with more slated for January.
No matter how many new regulations are added, however, says Michael Gwynne, a lawyer at Harris Gwynne Law Firm specializing in condo law, the bigger issue with managing the social dynamics of vertical communities is human nature.
“In my experience, bigger conflicts are caused by owners,” he says.
“They just go ahead and do things they shouldn’t. The new act gives all this attention to the owners, but it’s the owners who keep breaching the rules. Condos communities are like cities with bylaws, but there are owners who don’t want to believe the rules apply to them.”
So, here we are. The Protecting Condominium Owners Act creates the Condominium Management Regulatory Authority of Ontario to regulate and license property managers and creates the Condominium Authority of Ontario, which will manage the Condominium Authority Tribunal, a body mandated to resolve disputes ultimately using video conferencing.
More transparency, more accountability, fewer points of exploitation and a balance of power between condo boards and owners — it all sounds good.
This is great if you’re a condo owner, but what if you’re a tenant?
Geordie Dent, executive director of the Federation of Metro Tenants’ Associations, says the changes invoked last May under Bill 124, the Rental Fairness Act and the changes under the Protecting Condominium Owners Act simply don’t address the reality of condo tenants who make up a growing portion of those vertical communities.
“The Rental Fairness Act is great for large landlords with multiple buildings or multi-residential units,” says Dent.
That act brought units built since 1991 such as condos under rent control, but it really doesn’t cover many of the issues condo tenants face, he says.
“In a condo, the person above you might be an owner and the person below is a renter,” Dent says.
“What happens when the upper unit floods the lower unit? There’s a clear mechanism under the Landlord and Tenant law when it’s an all-rental building, but things get more complicated when it’s a renter and owner.”
In law, he says, the tenant has no legal relationship with the condo board of directors and, by extension, property management, because their legal relationship is with the owner.
As such, the tenant has no right to notice of a board meeting and no voice at that meeting, unless the owner endows them by proxy. That’s easy if you have a relationship with the owner, either by blood or friendship, but it gets complicated otherwise.
Tenants can be assigned proxy votes by owners, says Gwynne, and the board should at least accept their presence and listen to their concerns, but it’s not binding on any budgetary issue and it’s rarely invoked.
The problems will only grow, Dent says, since there are no rental units being built, just condos, which get rented.
“The issue is there’s a lot of confusion about who is responsible for what,” he says. “Whether its communication, enforcing condo rules, repairs, damages to common space. We asked the government to address these issues, but I’m not sure what their rationale is in doing what they did.”
It’s something to consider when looking at that Toronto skyline.
Ian Harvey has been a journalist for more than 40 years, writing about a diverse range of issues including legal and political affairs. His email address is