Welcome to your new home!
We realize you might be a fairly new owner of a condominium, or perhaps you have owned your condominium for a while and you are interested in some general information about living in a condo. You have purchased a piece of real estate that can be difficult to fully understand, as the legal documents associated with these properties are complex, lengthy and rarely read by condo owners. Furthermore, the provincial legislature sometimes adds to the legal requirements that govern every condominium corporation in the province. It's essential to make sure you understand your rights and responsibilities.
What are my responsibilities as an owner?
Condominium ownership offers many benefits, but at the same time there are a number of responsibilities. There's a mistaken belief that living in a condominium means you have no responsibility for the common area or anything outside of your unit. Every condominium property requires a board of directors to lead the corporation, which the owners elect. Most corporations struggle to find new board members to replace those who move away or want to leave the board due to other life commitments. The great thing about owning a condo, however, is that you can share the load of property ownership, which includes caring for the value of your asset such as the common areas, the grounds and everything outside of the units.
As an owner who is not on the board, you can support your board members in several ways, which may encourage them to stay in their positions longer. You can do this by offering your help on special projects that may interest you, serving on a committee and treating board members respectfully.
Being a responsible corporation member means that you attend and vote at the annual meeting. To protect your interests, it is important to elect board members who understand the importance of representing the interests of the entire corporation.
In short, you have invested in the property and the future value of your investment may rise or fall based on the health of the corporation.
So what makes for a healthy condominium corporation?
- Annual general meetings that a majority of owners attend.
- Owners who do not serve on the board support it and serve on committees or on the board as needed.
- Owners who pay their monthly fees and special assessments on time to the corporation. These funds exist to benefit you and your entire corporation. If they are not paid, your property might suffer.
- Understand the corporation is an entity consisting of many owners and exists for the benefit of the whole. Sometimes our own desires may not be in the best interests of the entire corporation. Flexibility and understanding are important to consider.
What are my rights as an owner?
The governing documents for your condominium corporation, known as the declaration, bylaws, rules and the provincial law (also known as the condominium act) form the primary body of information that gives you rights as an owner. The following are few of the most important rights:
- The right as an owner each year, to elect a board of directors to represent your collective interests as a corporation. The board members are similar to trustees or fiduciaries to see that the interests of the entire corporation are protected.
- The right to view certain financial statements of the corporation. However, there are a few statements that may be protected due to owner confidentiality issues.
- The right to receive minutes for corporation board meetings.
- The right to know what is on the board meeting agenda.
- The right to expect the corporation to fulfill its duty to maintain and protect the common area.
- The right to receive the budget and other financial information prior to the beginning of each new year, and be aware of how monthly assessments are being spent.
What should I do if I have problems with my neighbors?
It's possible that you may, from time to time, have issues with your neighbors, whether it's the neighbor upstairs or the neighbor with whom you share a common wall. Often, the conflicts arise over noise issues. With many condominiums being built with relatively thin walls, floors or ceilings and inadequate insulation, this is understandable.
- It is very possible that your neighbor is completely unaware of the noise being created.
- Just as neighbors in single-family homes realize, conflicts between neighbors are best dealt with neighbor to neighbor. Only after addressing the issue with your neighbor should you turn to the management company for assistance.
If you have first approached your neighbor and have not achieved a solution, the next step would be to communicate in writing with the management company, which will forward your correspondence to the board for its review at the next board meeting.
What does the board do?
Every corporation is required to have a board of directors consisting of owners elected by the entire corporation. These directors are volunteers and are elected to terms as specified in your governing documents. The job of the board is to provide leadership and direction to the corporation as a whole and follow the provincial law and governing documents of your corporation. Its role is to protect the interests of the entire corporation. Some of the most common tasks for the board are to, with the management companies assistance, secure contracts, review and monitor the financial matters of the corporation and make rules and regulations for the benefit of all owners.
Because board members are volunteers and are also your neighbors who would like to enjoy their lives in the corporation, you should respect the fact that members may only want to conduct corporation business at board meetings. Different board members have different views on this issue.
What does the management company do? Does it work for me?
The management company is retained by the board of directors (in some cases, the developer) to assist with many issues that pertain to the entire corporation. Without a management company the tasks of your volunteer board would be greatly increased and enlisting board members would be much more difficult. The management company works closely with and is accountable to the board only. As such, there are a very limited number of items owners who are not on the board may request of the management company, including:
- Accounting concerns related to your own assessment account
- Common area maintenance needs that you personally observe. If you are not sure, contact your property manager.
The following is a brief list of some of the responsibilities of the management company:
- Maintenance issues: Coordinating maintenance requests and the needs of the corporation, such as obtaining bids. It is available to dispatch repair personnel on a variety of levels, access and assess vendors and provide after-hours emergency maintenance.
- Accounting: Collecting monthly dues, processing payable items to vendors and producing monthly financial statements for the board.
- Administrative: Performing administrative functions, such as communication issues like notices to owners, distributing minutes or other items and writing violation letters to owners.
- General: Guidance and resources for the corporation board in a number of areas.
Maintenance: Why are some items repaired and others not?
Figuring out who is responsible for the maintenance of different components of your property can be confusing. It is defined in your declaration, bylaws and the provincial law (a.k.a. condominium act). In some cases, the law prevails, while in others the documents guide the decision. Often the governing documents are not clearly stated and the law, which is in many cases more current, is more helpful.
Some corporations retain a lawyer to create a maintenance chart for the property after reviewing the documents.
There are three different possible sources of maintenance problems that can originate with a corporation:
- Common area: This is the entire common interest of the development, except for the separate interests therein.
- Separate interests or individual units: Commonly defined as the walls, floors or ceilings designated as the boundaries of separate interests.
- Exclusive use common area: A portion of the common areas designated for the exclusive use of one or more, but fewer than all, of the owners. Unless the governing documents state otherwise, any shutters, awnings, window boxes, doorsteps, stoops, porches, balconies, patios, exterior doors, door frames or hardware incident thereto, screens and windows or other fixtures designed to serve a single separate interest, but located outside of the boundaries of the separate interest, are "exclusive use" common areas. Regardless of the governing documents, internal and external telephone wiring designed to serve a single separate interest, but located outside the boundaries of the separate interest, are also exclusive use common areas.
A unit owner is responsible for the repair and maintenance of his or her unit, and the corporation is responsible for common areas. Unless the documents indicate otherwise, in most cases owners are responsible for their own exclusive use common areas. While the individual owner may have the responsibility to repair something, the corporation still retains architectural authority. For instance, a balcony or patio is considered an exclusive use common area, but the corporation may create and adopt rules pertaining to what may be stored there.
It is important to check your own governing documents and the provincial law (condominium act) to confirm responsibility for maintenance in your corporation.
What should I do in an emergency situation?
An emergency is a situation in which there is a current or imminent threat to personal safety or property from a common area source. Examples would include a roof or plumbing leak, either from the roof if it is raining, or from a common area plumbing supply line.
Water leaking from the back of a toilet or under a sink is an emergency, but not a common area emergency. You need to contact a plumber immediately after shutting off the water source. There should be a shut-off valve behind your toilet or under your sink. Your corporation is not responsible for this type of plumbing emergency.
If you have water entering your condominium from above you and it is not raining, immediately go upstairs and attempt to contact your neighbor and check the plumbing fixtures in the unit. There might be a plumbing leak they are not aware of. By taking this action first, the resulting damage may be much less significant. If no one is home upstairs, you should call the emergency service number, if it's after normal office hours be sure to follow the prompts.
For water/rain-related issues, the roof is usually considered a common area. Consequently, leaks that come from the failure of the roof are the corporation's responsibility. You should call the emergency service number to report a leak.
Please take every possible step to protect your possessions and use buckets to capture the water. It is very difficult to effectively repair roof leaks during the rainstorm, so you will likely receive water for a longer period than you may think is appropriate. Once the storm clears, the roofer will be in a better position to diagnose the source of the roof leak.
Other examples of true emergencies may include an elevator stoppage, an inoperable driveway gate or a power outage.
Do I need to buy my own insurance coverage?
While most corporations do not require owners to purchase their own insurance policies for their units, it is strongly recommended. As an owner, you will be well advised to consult with your insurance agent about getting condominium unit insurance.
What is covered under a condominium unit policy?
- Items not covered by the corporation master policy and that may be your responsibility
- The value of building additions or alterations made by you, at your expense
- Value-added items (If you've put in a better-quality carpet than was originally there, for example, this coverage would make up the difference in case of loss)
- Damage to your unit not compensated because of the master policy deductible
- Personal property insurance provides coverage for your household contents and personal belongings in case of theft or fire damage.
What if I'm selling or refinancing?
Almost all owners eventually sell or refinance their mortgages. This process involves the need to provide information about the corporation to the lender, realtor, law firm or buyer. Because time is always critical in transactions and the law provides a specific response time, Imperial Properties provides the required information within two business days and can offer it on a "rush" basis, if needed.
Due to the fact that this service of providing information to agents, lawyers, lenders or buyers is a "customized" need for each transaction and there is no standardized request form from lenders, our staff offers this service to only the owner who is selling or refinancing. Our fee is based on the amount of information that needs to be provided. Some lenders have very extensive forms with many questions to answer.
This is not a service provided to the corporation, as some of the documents have already been provided to the owner and there is a charge to furnish them again.
How do I pay monthly common element fees?
The obligation to pay a monthly common element fee, sometimes called a "condo fee," is required of every owner. The amount is determined by the board during the prior year's budget process. Virtually all board members want the lowest dues possible, and there are rarely ever any excess funds. In fact, the opposite is often true. It's very important for the corporation that you take your responsibility to pay the fees very seriously.
There are multiple ways to pay. Billing statements are available on the Imperial Clarity web-portal or can be requested by e-mail or phone. You can pay by check or automatic withdrawal, and soon by credit card. Please note that most credit card companies charge a fee to pay in this way.
What do my monthly dues cover?
Each year, the corporation is required to adopt a budget for the following year. The budget process generally takes place three or four months before the beginning of the corporation's fiscal year. The board must send the budget to all owners at least 30 days prior to the start of the fiscal year.
The budget indicates all of the budget categories and the expenses for each item during the next year. These categories include insurance, contracts, utilities, administrative expenses and repairs or maintenance.
No budget is perfect, as it is a projection of the future, but it is a legally required tool to project your assessments. There are unpredictable elements to every association. For instance, it is not possible to know if 100 percent of the owners will pay their assessments as they are required to do. There is no way to predict a plumbing or roofing emergency. A budget is simply an educated estimate of future expenses.
What are the common rules and regulations?
Most corporations adopt rules and regulations to promote a great living environment for all residents. The board does not have unlimited power, however, and must comply with a process in which all owners are given the opportunity to address them, when new rules are being considered. All rules must be reasonable and completely legal. For example, the corporation could not enforce a rule that is discriminatory according to provincial or federal law.
If rules are violated, the corporation board has a duty to enforce them. Typically, enforcement would consist of an initial warning letter, and if no change occurs, the board has the power to assess a penalty pursuant to the by-laws and possibly other remedies, depending on the situation. Before a fine can be assessed, the owner has a right to request a hearing with the board, and the board may decide to either waive or impose the penalty.
As an owner, it is important to be aware of the rules. This also includes tenants if you rent your condo out to another party.
Why should I serve on the board? How do I get on the board?
Service on the board is critical to the proper functioning of your corporation. While every owner may not be able to serve, it is important to "invest" in the health of your corporation at some point.
This requires some time - somewhere between 2-5 hours a month. This mostly includes monthly or quarterly meetings and possibly some intermittent time through the month. If you are a board member reading this and you are putting in more time than that, you may be doing too much for your corporation and you should utilize committees and the management company more. Speak with your manager at Imperial Properties to learn more.
It takes a willingness to work for the interests of the entire corporation and not just your own interests. This is essential, so if you are serving on the board for your own personal benefit, you should re-examine your service.
It takes common sense, but not a lot of technical knowledge. As a volunteer board member, you are not expected to know everything, but you are expected to rely on the advice of experts. In fact, you are protected by insurance when you do.
As your management company, we are committed to informing you of your tasks and responsibilities as board members, and we have a number of resources available to you.
If you feel you are able to serve on the board and can represent the best interests of your corporation, speak with the current board members or your property manager. Every year, just prior to the election, you will have the opportunity to nominate yourself for board service.
When does a condominium corporation elect a board of directors?
The condominium act provides that a meeting of the owners of the condominium corporation to elect a new board of directors is to be held within six months of the date on which the developer ceases to own a majority of the units.