The Condominium Authority Tribunal (CAT) has been up and running for about a month now. The CAO’s website contains a lot of useful information about the CAT, including the mediators selected to facilitate disputes. The CAO’s website also has the CAT rules that were released earlier this month. The rules answer many of the most common questions posed so far, such as “Who can file a claim?”, “How does the process work?”, and “Do condos need lawyers for the CAT?”.
The general process for resolving disputes at the CAT is:
The process starts with the aggrieved party filing an online application with the CAT. This person is called the “Applicant”. The Applicant must pay a $25.00 filing fee with the application. The Applicant must be an owner, a mortgagee, a purchaser, or the condominium corporation. The other party, called the “Respondent”, must create an account with the CAO and join the dispute.
The negotiation step allows the parties try to settle the dispute using the CAT’s online system. The parties can communicate and exchange offers to settle through the system. The case will be closed by the CAT if: 1) the parties reach a settlement; or 2) no settlement offer has been made by any of the parties for more than 30 days.
The second stage, mediation, is where a neutral third party (the “mediator”) assists the parties in discussing the issues and (hopefully) reaching a settlement. The cost for the mediator is $50.00. The mediator may give directions about the process. If the mediator is also a member of CAT, he or she may make a procedural order that the parties must obey. The mediator, if he or she is a member of CAT, may make a final decision on the dispute if the parties consent.
The mediator decides when the Applicant can move to the final stage. If the applicant has paid the fee for the final stage, the mediator will prepare a brief summary, which will be provided to the member responsible for making a decision. All discussions and documents exchanged during the mediation are private and confidential and may not be made public or used in the final stage unless the parties agree or the CAT allows it.
The CAT will close a case at the mediation stage if: 1) the parties reach a settlement, 2) the parties agree to the CAT making a consent order that ends the case, or 3) the mediator finds that the Applicant has abandoned the application.
The final step is a decision. If the parties cannot resolve the dispute on their own or with the assistance of a mediator, the Applicant can ask the CAT to make a decision for $125.00. The member hears evidence and arguments and makes a binding decision.
Fortunately, the CAT also has the authority to dismiss an application before a decision is made. Examples include where the application is about a minor issue, the CAT does not have authority to hear the case, the CAT is being used for an improper purpose, the Applicant knew or ought to have known that their documents had false or misleading information, and the Applicant has abandoned the application.
The CAT has its own set of rules. Fortunately, the rules are much easier to read than the rules of court or other tribunals. This should make it easier for people without formal legal training to go through the process without a lawyer. Notwithstanding such, the rules permit any party to be represented by an Ontario lawyer or paralegal, or a person who is exempt from the Law Society’s licensing requirements (i.e. a friend helping the person without receiving any fee, licensed condominium manager or a condominium’s director).
The rules describe how the parties are to communicate with each other, share documents, and present evidence. The parties must use the CAT’s online system, unless the CAT allows other methods. The CAT has the authority to order any party to give details, information or documents (called “disclosure”) or summons a witness. The rules also describe how disclosure is to be delivered.
Lastly, the rules indicate that the CAT’s decisions will be available to the public, unless an order has been made to limit access for privacy or public interest reasons. It will be interesting to see how much information is provided to the public.
Costs & Expenses
The rules indicate that the CAT has the authority to order one party to pay to the other party any reasonable expenses or costs related to the CAT, such as the filing fees. However, a party will NOT be ordered to pay another party’s legal fees unless there are exceptional reasons to do so. So, while costs will not be the norm, they will be available where the member believes it is appropriate (i.e. perhaps where one party’s conduct or unreasonable position has caused unnecessary delays or expenses).
Given that the process (at least before the decision stage) is designed to be user-friendly, it is likely that most owners and condominiums will choose not to use a lawyer or paralegal. That seems to be a reasonable course of action; however, given that the CAT’s decision is binding on the parties, the parties might want to use lawyers or paralegals for the decision stage to minimize their risks.
Only time will tell how if the CAT provides what was promised – a quicker, easier, and more cost-effective system for resolving disputes in condominiums. I’m interested in hearing your experiences with CAT. Is it user-friendly? How are you finding the online system?