Ontario Lifts Restrictions on Work Related to Condominiums

On May 14th, the provincial government announced that Ontario will move into “Stage 1 of Phase 2” of the framework to reopen the province and ease the COVID-19 restrictions. Phase 2 will be rolled out in stages and Stage 1 is expected to begin on May 19, 2020, assuming that the public health trends continue to improve.

A detailed list of the Stage 1 openings can be found here. They include the following:

  • All maintenance and repair can resume, and are no longer limited to work that is “strictly necessary”;
  • All construction may resume (including land surveying); and related essential workplace limits are lifted; and
  • Private households can employ workers on or about the premises in activities primarily concerned with the operation of the household such as:
  1. Domestic services: housekeepers, cooks, maids, butlers, personal affairs management, nanny services, babysitters, other domestic personnel, etc.
  1. Cleaning and maintenance service: house cleaning, indoor/outdoor painting, window cleaning, pool cleaning, and general repairs.

So, what does this mean for condominiums?

Although the province’s restrictions will be lifted on May 19th (as noted above), in our view Boards still have the responsibility and mandate to determine when and how this work should proceed on their properties while the pandemic continues to be a concern. This is because condominium Boards are mandated to control the common elements and to take reasonable steps to ensure safety and security on the property. So, Boards need to be satisfied that the work or services can resume without any unacceptable risk of virus transmission (as determined by the Board).

For instance, a high-rise condominium comprised of mostly elderly residents may have heightened concerns about increasing the number of guests, contractors, and service providers on the common elements as compared to a townhouse condominium where each unit has a separate entrance and the risk of virus transmission is relatively low.

The bottom line is that Boards are now in a position to assess the circumstances of their individual communities and decide when and how these particular types of services can resume. These are proper decisions for condominium Boards to make. Some factors Boards may want to consider in their decision making are as follows:

Unit Renovations

In terms of unit repairs and renovations, Boards are entitled to ensure safe protocols are followed when unit owners resume their construction. Owners hoping to proceed with unit work should be prepared to explain to the Board the impact that their work may have on the common elements and on other residents, and the precautions that their contractor will put in place to limit the spread of COVID-19.  Boards will want to assess these impacts in terms of mitigating virus transmission.

For instance, if it’s just one contractor coming on site per day and using a service elevator, the impact is likely going to be minimal. However, if there will be multiple contractors coming and going per day, then the impact may be increased and will likely require special cleaning/sanitizing at the end of each day.

And again: It is our view that a Board may determine, in a given case, that work cannot go ahead, given all of the related risks.

Common Element Work and Construction

Boards will also want to assess the most appropriate time to resume any common element work that had been put on hold and assess what protocols should be implemented to mitigate virus transmission. Examples would be window washing or parking garage clean ups.

Boards may also wish to consider staggering projects (whether unit renovations and/or common element projects) to ensure all work can be carried out safely.

The Canadian Construction Association’s guidelines respecting COVID-19 are a helpful resource for both owners and Boards to use in navigating their projects safely.

Private Household Services

Much like the way that many condominiums managed the increased number of deliveries on their properties, Boards will also want to assess whether limits or protocols are required for workers providing private household services.

Landscaping and Lawn Care Services

As a separate initiative, the restrictions on lawn care and landscaping were also lifted as of May 4, 2020. These are now considered an essential service. However, as with the other work and services noted above, they are subject to the Board’s discretion to assess the most safe and effective way to carry out the work in their condominium.

By way of summary, each Board will ultimately need to decide what procedures make sense in terms of safety and in order to mitigate virus transmission when it comes to work that now falls within the province’s Stage 1 opening. In some cases, Boards may even decide that certain work will not be permitted, in light of the Board’s overall assessment of the risks.