If you live in or work for condominiums you’ve heard of the three p’s: people, pets and parking. These are three of the most common sources of problems in condominiums. (It really boils down to one problem – people – but let’s leave that aside for now.)
Lately, it seems like condominiums are encountering problems related to a new set of p’s: pot, prostitution and petty crime. Here we use “pot” to refer to drug activity generally, “prostitution” to include related crimes like human trafficking, and “petty crime” to refer to other sorts of criminal activity, such as vandalism and bicycle thefts. For some really unfortunate condominiums they experience all three of these at once.
It can take months or years to fully resolve these sorts of problems. It is rarely quick. It is often costly. It can be complex. It normally involves a number of people and organizations, like the local police service or fire department. These situations are almost always the most disruptive, anxiety-inducing situations for the other residents.
There is no perfect solution to these problems. It often takes a number of different approaches to solve the problem. Today, we share some approaches that have reduced or eliminated these problems for some of our clients.
Before we get into approaches aim at reducing or eliminating these problems, we will spend a few minutes on approaches for preventing them. Some of the most commonly mentioned tips from security experts and police are:
- Physical Environment – ensure the physical environment does not encourage criminal activity. Eliminate hiding areas, like overgrown bushes and untrimmed trees. Bright lights and security cameras can be a deterrent to some criminals. No trespassing signs may deter some (and can be used to remove people if a problem exists). Some police services will walk the property and provide recommendations to improve security. Private security companies can do this as well.
- Regular Maintenance – do not allow the property to deteriorate, such as not fixing broken windows or removing graffiti, as it gives the wrong impression to outsiders. The “Broken Windows Theory” is a criminological theory that states that visible signs of crime, anti-social behaviour, and civil disorder encourage further crime, anti-social behaviour and disorder. The solution is easy: keep up with regular maintenance and fix broken or damaged items quickly after you discover them.
- Security – hire security personnel. This could be a full-time service provided to the residents 24/7 or a part-time service. Sometimes the part-time service is scheduled for peak times for the criminal activity, like between midnight and 6 a.m., but other times it is random so provide an element of surprise.
- Community – build a strong community. In condominiums with regular social events or gatherings people get to know each other, making it easier to spot outsiders on the property. The residents look out for each other and report suspicious people or activities to the manager. A strong community will normally identify problems quicker than others.
These options won’t work for every condominium, but a combination of some of them should improve safety and security on the property.
Like with any rule violation or issue, the first step is normally to write to the offender and remind them of the rules. The letter should identify the troubling behaviour, the rule prohibiting the conduct, a deadline for compliance, and a description of the possible consequences for further infractions. If the issue involves a tenant send the letter to the owner and remind them of their obligation to ensure the tenant complies with the rules. Sending a copy to the tenant is a good idea as well.
For residents or owners who refuse to comply with the condominium’s rules there are normally a variety of enforcement options: letters from the manager and lawyer, mediation/arbitration, court, and self-help remedies. Unfortunately, when the problem is related to serious criminal activity, like drug dealing, the number of available options is greatly reduced. For instance, mediation is unlikely to be recommended because it could be dangerous to invite a group of criminals to sit in a small room with the persons reporting their criminal activity! Similarly, self-help remedies are usually too risky when dealing with criminals because the police will normally advise people to keep a distance from the offenders or unit. As a result, court is the most frequently recommended option for addressing serious infractions and criminal activity.
Typically, the condominium would initiate a compliance application to the Superior Court of Justice. The relief sought from the court depends on the situation, but often includes an order that the person discontinue the behaviour and pay the legal costs of the condominium. In some instances the condominium may seek an order terminating the tenant’s lease or requiring the owner to sell the unit. These orders are normally reserved for serious criminal activity or repeated violations of court orders.
Crime & Police Involvement
When serious criminal activity is suspected, the condominium should also seek assistance from the local police service. Keep in mind that it takes a significant amount of evidence for police to obtain a warrant to enter a unit. The condominium, or owners witnessing the activity, should record as much detail about the suspected criminal activity as possible before speaking with the police. This information can provide the police with the necessary background to start their investigation. If there is a concern about possible retaliation, the owner can remain anonymous when reporting the crime to police. The owners should keep the manager apprised of reports made to the police as the police reports could be submitted as evidence in civil proceedings commenced by the condominium.
The condominium can assist with police investigations by providing information about the suspected criminal activity or providing access to the property. That said, if the condominium receives a request, without a warrant, to release sensitive information about the occupants the condominium should seek legal advice to ensure the condominium is complying with its legal obligations with respect to the requested disclosure. Similarly, absent an emergency, the condominium should seek legal advice before granting police access to a unit or exclusive use area without the consent of the owner or occupant of the unit, or without first providing proper notice to them of the condominium’s intention to enter the unit.
The most important task when faced with these sorts of situations is to regularly communicate with the other residents. The best method is normally frequent electronic communications on the condominium’s website or email if most owners have agreed to receive communications electronically. Meetings may be necessary if the owners have questions that are easier to answer in person. In some cases a representative from the police service may attend to speak to the ongoing efforts of the police. Keep in mind that the officer won’t be able to release much detail if there is an ongoing police investigation or pending criminal charges.
These problems can happen to any condominium. It isn’t always the ones that you might expect. I’ve seen it happen in luxury condominiums. I’ve seen it happen in traditional townhomes. No condominium is immune. Hopefully your condominium won’t experience these problems, however, if you do experience them, remember to consult with the authorities early on before the problem escalates.