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June 01, 2008

Speaking of - Condo Boards and Owners

Shelley Williamson

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In the rush of trying to get into the market a couple of years back, it’s funny how much energy I focused on finding a place, yet how little was dedicated to what living in a condo would mean in the long run.

Yes, I knew that condo fees would be part of the package, and at the time seemed to be reasonable at just over $200 a month. I also recalled from others who live in condos there would be some type of general meeting that was likely boring but necessary to attend. And I knew there would be bylaws I had to comply with as a resident of a community.

My realtor was less than informative about the responsibilities of condo ownership and the state of the corporation (it’s true, as an owner I became part owner in a business), except to say the board at the time was new and had been “proactive” by raising the condo fees to beef up a then pretty well depleted reserve fund.

Perhaps that alone should have raised some suspicions—a new board and depleted reserve fund. But I was preoccu­pied with new furniture and paint colours.

I suspect it's like most new condo dwellers, that my husband and I (both inquisitive by nature) have learned more than our share about the ins and outs of condo ownership. From attending two Annual General Meetings, the second of which culminated in my joining the board, we discovered there is mass apathy permeat­ing our community. On both occasions, our 141 units drew fewer than ten percent of owners to meetings that are supposed to be in everyone’s best interest, and those who spoke out seemed to have concerns based in self-interest, like whether they could have a satellite dish. Pair that with our buildings’ peeling paint and wood rotting underneath, a badly faded colour scheme likely original in the ’70s, and pavement heaving through­out the parking lot, and my theory of a lack of pride seems spot on.

I have also confirmed with my six months on the board, review of financial statements and discussions with management that in the 30-plus-year-old complex where I live, have made friends and am now responsible for governing, people have looked the other way while the place fell into disrepair.

It seems the only way to get a reaction out of people is to, as is perfectly within the power and duty of a board of directors, ask for money to make things better. And we are not even talking improvements—this is maintenance for work left undone too long.

So we voted for a special assessment, which was far from easy. The meeting literally dragged on for hours, with pro­-posed payment schedules ranging from a few months to a few years being debated, and at least a few of us begging for mercy for fellow owners and ourselves. I’ve known our budgets would not cover what was laid out by the engineers as needed to bring the aging complex to an acceptable level, but was still as shocked as I can imagine were owners at the amount required, not later, but now. It seems we all—and yes, that includes board members, who are not very popular right about now—will be on the hook for $5,000 in the next year to right the wrongs of past boards and long-standing condo owners, who happily went about their busi-ness while siding, walkways, stairs, roofing, and eavestrough withered around them.

I can empathize with other newer owners who bought at much-higher prices than what the units were fetching a decade, or in some cases two, ago, but I have a hard time wrangling sympathy for anyone who sat by idly allowing, even causing, this to happen.

It’s funny how matters of money bring people together. Since the letters went out a couple of days ago I have already heard rumblings, and rightly so for some, grumblings. I know some owners are even demanding to meet with the board for answers. That’s fair. I suspect a meeting, which we are not obliged to hold, would result in a lot of questioning as to why now. The same questions we as board members posed.

The answers will be the same. Were it not for previous boards, and to some degree, bad management in not advising to get at least some of the work done, we would not be in this position. We are left holding the tab because everyone else put it off (I am guessing even some of those now up in arms), and things can no longer be detained or the result will be long-term, far-reaching and serious damage that will cost owners even more.
Now I know why people avoid politics.

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