Update: Improper Use of the Indemnification Clause

money

In July 2016, we wrote a post about Pearson v Carleton Condominium Corporation No. 178, 2012 ONSC 3300, a case where the condominium registered a lien against an owner’s unit for legal costs incurred by the condominium in relation to three unsuccessful small claims court actions brought by the owner. The court found that the indemnity clauses in the declaration that the condominium relied on did not apply to recovering the legal costs and ordered the condominium to discharge the lien.

We also noted a Small Claims Court decision where leave to appeal was granted because the judge relied on a general indemnity clause similar to Pearson v CCC No. 178 as authority for the Condominium to charge legal fees to the unit owner.

The Divisional Court of the Superior Court of Justice recently released its decision in Wexler v Carleton Condominium Corporation No. 28, 2017 ONSC 5697; the subject of that appeal.

While the majority of the decision deals with the standard of review for an award of costs, Justice O’Bonsawin does address the applicability of the general indemnity clause in the declaration for claiming legal costs. Specifically, at paragraph 16, she states,

In Pearson v. Carleton Condominium Corporation No. 178, 2012, ONSC 3300, the corporation submitted that the Condominium Corporation’s Declaration permitted it to recover all legal costs incurred related to the litigation by adding these costs to the common expenses of Pearson’s unit. The language in the Declaration in Pearson is very similar to that of this case. Mr. Justice Smith concluded that the article in the Condominium Corporation’s Declaration did not apply in that case because there had been no loss, damage or injury to the common elements caused by any act or omission by Ms. Pearson. I come to the same conclusion in Ms. Wexler’s case; Declaration X is not applicable as there has been no loss, costs, damage, injury or liability suffered or incurred with respect to the common elements and/or all other units caused by an act or omission by Ms. Wexler.

The provision in the declaration Justice O’Bonsawin referred to above reads as follows:

Each owner shall indemnify and save harmless the corporation from and against any loss, costs, damages, injury or liability whatsoever which the corporation may suffer or incur resulting from or cause by an act or omission of such owner, his family or any member thereof, any other resident of his unit or any guests, invitees or licencees of such owner or resident to or with respect to the common elements and/or all other units, except for any loss, costs, damages, injury or liability caused by an insured (as defined in any policy or policies of insurance) and insured against by the corporation.

This type of general indemnity clause is often the only indemnity clause found in older condominium corporation declarations.

So what is my point? Simply that case law is growing that supports the position that a condominium cannot force an owner to indemnify it for costs incurred without proper authority to do so and a general indemnity clause in the declaration might not be sufficient. Authority may be contained within the Act (see e.g. sections 92(4), 98 (4), or 134(5)), declaration (e.g. like above), or by-law (e.g. insurance deductible). The condominium’s lawyer can assist in determining if there is proper authority in the Act or documents or if there are other legal principles that may allow the condominium to recover the expense from the owner.

Finally, still to come with the amendments, is the promise of a new process and new forms for charging costs back to unit owners.  Once the amendments are in force only “prescribed additions” may be added to an owner’s common expenses and only once the “prescribed notice” is provided to the owner.

Changes are Coming – Chargebacks

chargeback.jpgLast Friday I participated in the ACMO Burlington conference as a speaker on the legal panel. One of the topics that I briefly spoke about was chargebacks and liens. I spoke about the changes coming to the lien and chargeback processes in the Condominium Act, 1998 (the “Act”). Today I’m going to summarize my presentation for those who were not able to attend the conference.  Continue reading

Can the Condo Demand My Dog’s DNA?

dogToday I was on Newstalk1010 with Jim Richards to discuss an annoying enforcement issue faced by many property managers – dog waste left on the common elements. The question posed to me was this: can the condominium demand that an owner provide his dog’s DNA for enforcement purposes?

Wouldn’t it be nice if you could identify the dog (and its owner) by examining the waste left on the common elements? That would make enforcement pretty easy, right? Well a new service promises to do just that. PooPrints will create a DNA database for all of the dogs in the condominium using a simple cheek swab. When dog waste is left on the property a sample is sent to the company and they let the manager know which dog left it. If a match is found the costs of testing and clean-up are charged to the owner of the dog.  Continue reading

Improper Use of the Indemnification Clause

Many declarations contain a clause that requires the owners to indemnify the corporation for a loss, cost, damage or injury to the common elements or units if it was caused by the owner, his family, tenants, guests etc. Many condominiums attempt to apply these clauses to other types of expenses incurred by the condominium, such as legal costs.

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Chargeback or Fine?

I’m often asked by directors if they can fine owners for unruly or disruptive behaviour, like excessive noise or improper parking. The simple answer in Ontario is no. While a condominium cannot fine an owner, it may be able to charge some costs back to the offending unit owner in certain circumstances. This process is typically referred to as a “chargeback”.

The Condominium Act, 1998, is clear that a condominium may only lien an owner for “common expenses”, which according to the Act are “expenses related to the performance of the objects and duties of a corporation and all expenses specified as common expenses in this Act or in a declaration”. It is noteworthy that it says the Act or declaration, not the by-laws or rules. This seems to suggest that an indemnification clause in a by-law or rule is not sufficient, in itself, to support a lien against a unit for a chargeback.

A provision in a by-law or rule may be sufficient to support a lien against a unit for a chargeback if it is authorized by the Act. For example, a condominium may pass a by-law extending the circumstances where a deductible may be charged back to an owner. While the provision is within a by-law, it is enforceable because of section 105 of the Act, which authorizes a condominium to pass such a by-law.

This is a controversial topic. Many lawyers ignore the definition of “common expenses” in the Act and rely upon provisions in rules and by-laws, without further support, to charge costs back to owners. If you have any doubts about the condominium’s ability to charge back an amount to an owner you should discuss it with the condominium’s lawyer or property manager.

For more information, see the Ontario government’s website.

 

Condominium Fines & Chargebacks

Every so often I have a client ask me if they can fine a unit owner because of behaviour that is annoying (i.e. constantly paying their fees late) or unsavoury (i.e. rude or vulgar language). Unfortunately for condominiums (and fortunately for the offending owners), condominiums in Ontario cannot fine unit owners for their undesirable behaviour. However, there are other charges that may be levied against a unit because of the behaviour of the unit owner or occupant. These are typically referred to as “chargebacks”.

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