On March 20, 2012, I had the opportunity to attend the “Dealing with Difficult People” seminar at the Mocha Shrine Centre in London. Over the course of the evening, Doug Simpson-Dietrich and Dawn White provided many excellent tips for dealing with difficult people. In the few short months since their presentations, I have had great success in implementing some of their tips when dealing with irate owners (and even a few lawyers). I thought I would reciprocate and share some tips for dealing with difficult people from a lawyer’s perspective.
The “Condo Commando”: Difficult Owners
Most directors and property managers have a story about a unit owner that made their life miserable for one reason or another. Some owners take it upon themselves to review every decision made by the board, questioning their authority to make decisions without the input of the owners and the decisions made. In the industry we often refer to these owners as the “self-appointed watchdog” or the “condo commando”. Others simply are not suitable for condominium living, whether it is persistent late payment of fees or frequent non-compliance with the Condominium Act, 1998 (the “Act”) or a condominium’s declaration, by-laws or rules (collectively “documents”). Fortunately, there are a host of powerful remedies in the Act for enforcing the provisions of the Act and a condominium’s declaration, by-laws and rules, including charge-backs and liens (section 85), mediation/arbitration (section 132), compliance orders (section 134), and oppression claims (section 135). The aim of this article is not to describe these remedies in detail, but rather to provide tips on navigating them safely or avoiding them altogether.
A. Non-Compliance: People, Pets & Parking
A significant source of conflict in condominiums is owners or occupants that fail to comply with the Act or a condominium’s documents. Pursuant to section 17(3) of the Act, the directors are obliged to take all reasonable steps to ensure compliance with the Act and its documents, but the offending owner often acts surprised, confused or incensed by the board’s decision. The remaining owners take sides, and the situation escalates. In all enforcement matters, regardless of the method, there are a few things that the board should keep in mind:
Warnings: Unless the breach is serious, such as conduct warranting criminal charges, the first communication from a condominium should be from the board and/or property manager. In my experience, nothing incites an owner more than receiving a letter from a lawyer without any prior warning.
- Communication: To avoid a physical confrontation, or a “he said, she said situation”, all communications with owners on compliance matters should be in writing, preferably sent via registered mail or by courier to thwart a later claim that it was never sent. Also, any communication sent to an owner should be clear and concise, setting out the details of the breach (i.e. date, time), the provisions of the condominium’s documents that were breached, a deadline for compliance, if applicable, and the consequences for further non-compliance (i.e. chargeback, mediation/arbitration, or a court application).
- Consistency: Another common complaint from owners is inconsistent treatment by the board. While these complaints are usually meritless, often arising from a perceived inconsistency rather than a real one, directors should be mindful of previous decisions made by the board, including a former board, in similar circumstances.
- Documenting the Evidence: While recording evidence of the breach is crucial to a successful enforcement file, a director that is confronted with a breach should not approach the offending owner as it could result in a physical altercation. Instead, the director should take detailed notes of the breach, including the date, time, and a brief description of the event. If there were any other witnesses to the breach, the director should record their names, addresses and contact particulars. Lastly, directors should avoid taking photographs when the owner is present; take the photograph when the owner is inside their unit or offsite.
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