What Are Some Tools Available When Dealing With a Dispute in a Condominium Environment?
Even when a condominium corporation has a strong governance framework in place, disputes are (unfortunately) an inevitable aspect of condominium living. As our readers are likely already aware, disputes can include tricky issues such as repair/maintenance obligations, enforcement of certain provisions or rules (for example, a size limitation on dogs), or even a specific board decision (such as a decision to proceed with a major repair project requiring a special assessment).
Sometimes such disputes can even be “healthy” for the community. Take for example a dispute involving the decision of a Board to move forward with a major repair project, resulting in a group of owners that is opposed to the decision. Such a situation may require the dispute to run its course, in order for the community to become comfortable with the Board’s decision.
If your condominium corporation is facing a dispute, here are some ideas/tips to navigate the situation:
- Consider getting professional help early on in the process. In some circumstances, early professional advice can prevent a dispute from becoming protracted, which can make it more difficult to resolve the dispute later on.
- Even if the dispute continues, it doesn’t mean that the good governance practices, that have been in place previously, should not continue. In fact, the continuation of good governance practices (particularly fulsome communication) can often help resolve disputes more quickly.
- Consider implementing a communications strategy. In my experience, many disputes can be resolved through dialogue. This can take place in the form of an email, a letter, or in certain circumstances a meeting (whether virtual or otherwise) to discuss the issue with the involved parties.
- Sometimes education can be particularly important. In my example about a board decision to proceed with major repairs, a possible course of action could be to send a letter to the community, explaining the reasons for the decision and outlining the legal responsibilities of the Corporation and of the Board.
- Try not to escalate the dispute by making it personal, even if the “opponent” becomes personal. When things get personal, resolution often becomes more difficult. Regardless of what the other party is doing, it is important to maintain a professional and courteous tone.
This approach also has potential legal benefits. One good example is that case of Harvey v Elgin Condominium Corporation No. 3 in which the owner opposed a major repair project and tried to argue that he was oppressed. The Court disagreed and found that the condominium corporation was open and candid in its communications. The Corporation had to send the owner a letter asking for payment for a special assessment and the judge highlighted the fact that the tone of the letter was respectful.
- Consider alternative approaches to dispute resolution other than the courts (if applicable) or the Condominium Authority Tribunal (CAT). For some types of disputes, a mediation/arbitration process may prove to be much more cost effective and efficient in resolving a dispute, when compared to a normal dispute resolution process.
- For Board Members specifically, don’t feel obliged to address the dispute directly, particularly for those disputes that become protracted or belligerent. Get professional help and consider referring all correspondence/communication to that professional. Sometimes, a little bit of professional distance (between the parties) can help “calm the waters”.
While condominium disputes can sometimes be difficult to navigate, there are an assortment of tools available to condominium corporations that can help resolve such disputes in a timely fashion.
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