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May 02, 2008

Speaking of - Patios and Condos

Shelley Williamson

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Despite Mother Nature’s reluctance to loosen her icy grip this year, soon warmer climes will be a reality and the time will be upon us to enjoy the warm weather on condo patios or balconies.

I just hope it’s before the snow starts flying again in September.

Many condo dwellers don’t realize patios are legally deemed common property owners enjoy exclusive use of, so we can’t necessarily do with or on them as we please. It’s simply a matter of, like many aspects of condo living, respect coming into play.

Bylaws often dictate dos and don’ts governing a condo. Taking a peruse through ours, there appear to be far more don’ts than one would expect about noise, smells, how to behave, and what can be stored, used, or affixed to and within patio and deck areas, also called “privacy areas.” Parking stalls would fall under the same heading.

Seems I can’t feed birds or squirrels from my patio, or erect a tent, “either with or without living, sleeping, or eating accommodation.” And I so love sleeping under the stars!

Hanging pots are also out of the question (though many of my neighbours have them), but lawn furniture, flowerpots and “small deck boxes” get the nod. And forget about airing my sheets and towels on washday—no laundry, not even bathing suits may hang outdoors to dry. I was happy to learn umbrellas get the green light, but just one per balcony—the one exception to the “no items above the sight line of any patio or deck” rule. And no sporting equipment either. There goes the badminton net. Oh, shuttlecock!

Any “improvements” can only be carried out with written approval from the board, and any plants will become my responsibility to care for and not theirs. Apparently whoever drafted the bylaws hasn’t seen my rate at killing any foliage or flower in my path. I best stick to the plastic versions to keep it looking its best.

And there’s to be no “fowl” play—it’s a no fly zone for squirrel and bird feeders. Funny, I didn’t even know squirrel feeders exist. Though there’s no mention of skunks or porcupines, I am guessing these four-legged critters are also persona non grata.

It seems fire pits are also on the banned list, as are charcoal-powered barbecues, but propane cookers get the green light, but only in an open area. Guess that puts the kibosh on cooking kabobs in my tent for the neighbourhood squirrels.

That is, unless my tent were declared a religious structure. Several years ago when four Jewish Montreal condo owners took their case to the Supreme Court, they won the right to put up Sukkah huts on their balconies as part of the seven-day Jewish harvest festival of Sukkot, when it was ruled the condo association’s arguments they were unsafe and unsightly violated their religious rights.

Under no circumstances is there to be any throwing cigarette butts, matches or other smoking or combustibles “out of windows or over decks or patios.” So where am I going to train my pot-bellied pig to hop through burning discs in mid-air?

All kidding aside, while some of the rules in a condo’s documents seem to border on the ridiculous to have to state, it’s often fair to assume rules are worded in such a way because someone actually engaged in the behaviour at least once.

Most condo rules are in place to promote the enjoyment of all owners and residents and to ensure property values are maintained—for the common good. No one wants to look down at an eyesore for a patio or be a balcony over from loud unruly gathering of chain smokers tossing beer cans over the wall into your space every weekend.

If I have learned anything in the past two years of condo ownership, it’s the fact common sense isn’t nearly as common as we sometimes take it for granted to be. The best advice in knowing what’s allowed in or around a condominium is to take a flip through its bylaws even before buying.

While it never hurts to try writing a letter to a condo’s board of directors and having them grant special permission for using your balcony in a specific way, you may find a condo is not necessarily the best fit for you—or your collection of carrier pigeons. 

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