Trouble with the declarant?

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I am regularly consulted by our condominium clients about issues with the declarant. Sometimes the declarant is in arrears of common expenses for units it still owns. Other times the declarant has not paid the first year budget deficit owing to the condominium. Sometimes the declarant made promises to purchasers that they didn’t follow through on. On occasion there are construction defects. What’s a condominium to do? Unfortunately, the answer depends on the situation and there is no one best way to deal with the declarant.

Arrears of common expenses

The easiest problem on the list – arrears of common expenses – is also one of the most common. Where the declarant has fails (or refuses) to contribute toward the common expenses payable for any units that it still owns the condominium may be able to register a lien against the unit to collect the amounts owing just like it would with any other unit owner. The declarant usually intends to sell the units quickly after registration so it is important to pursue liens against declarants in a timely manner. If not, the declarant could transfer the unit and a dispute could arise about their responsibility for arrears owing prior to the transfer.

It is important to note that the condominium can only register the lien against the units in arrears and not all of the units owned by the declarant. It is also important to review the declaration to see if the declarant is obligated to pay for the units while it still owns them as on occasion there is an exemption for the declarant while it owns units (see this case).

First year budget deficit

Another common issue is collecting the first year budget deficit owing from the declarant to the condominium. We previously posted about the declarant’s obligation to reimburse the condominium for the first year budget deficit (see here).

The Condominium Act, 1998, states that the declarant is accountable for the budget statement for one year following registration of the declaration and description (or the registration creating any phases). Section 75 of the Act states that the developer is responsible for the difference between the budget statement and the actual numbers, which are described in the audited financial statements. The condominium must notify the declarant of the deficit within 30 days of receiving the audited financial statements. The declarant then has 30 days to pay the condominium.

If the declarant refuses to pay the condominium, or they have a dispute about the deficit, the condominium and declarant must mediate the dispute pursuant to subsection 132(3) of the Act:

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If the condominium and declarant cannot reach a settlement at mediation the next step is binding arbitration, which is very costly.  Fortunately, in my experience, most declarants pay before arbitration is required.

Like with arrears of common expenses, it is very important that the condominium act quickly when faced with a first year budget deficit issue. The Act has very tight timelines (i.e. 30 days after receiving the audited financial statements) that must be complied with or the declarant may be able to avoid the obligation. Also, as the units are sold the declarant may transfer assets, which may leave very little funds left to satisfy the first year budget deficit.

Inadequate Disclosure or Misrepresentation

Some owners feel like the declarant misrepresented some aspect of the development to them. For instance, I have two different sets of condominiums who feel aggrieved because their declarants marketed the condominiums as phased condominiums only to register them as separate condominiums. This may not seem like a big deal, but the costs are significantly higher to operate the condominiums as two separate entities than it would have been as one. In one case, the condominiums are considering legal action to recover their damages. In the other the declarant agreed to contribute toward the costs of amalgamation.

If the purchaser becomes aware of the issue prior to closing on the unit, such as after receiving a material change notice from the declarant, they may be able to rescind the agreement and walk away. Unfortunately, once the units are transferred from the declarant to the purchasers the process is more complicated as rescission of the agreement is no longer an option and the owners must sue for damages. For this reason, it is vital to have the disclosure documents (and any notices about changes to the disclosure documents) promptly reviewed by a lawyer. The lawyer needs time to review the documents and prepare a notice to the declarant within ten days of receiving the documents if rescission is sought by the purchaser. Time is of the essence!

Construction defects

Some unfortunate condominiums find construction defects in the common elements or units. The engineer often finds them during the performance audit or subsequent reserve fund studies, but sometimes they can be discovered years later when destructive testing is completed for an upcoming repair project. Depending on a number of factors (i.e. the time of the discovery, type of condominium, and the type of defect), the condominium could have a warranty claim to Tarion. If not, the condominium may still have a cause of action that could be pursued at court, such as breach of contract, breach of warranty, breach of statutory duty, or negligence.

If a condominium suspects there are construction defects it needs to hire an engineer to investigate as soon as possible. It should also have a preliminary discussion with a lawyer to determine any possible limitations to a claim against the declarant. Apart from traditional limitations, such as the statue of limitations or expiration of warranty periods, some declarants are not including documents in their disclosure packages that require the condominium to release legal rights to pursue the declarant for construction defects, except for those that cannot be released (i.e. major structural defect warranty claims to Tarion).  My recommendation would be to consult with engineers and lawyers familiar with construction defect litigation. The condominium’s general counsel may not have the knowledge and expertise that you need when it comes to construction defects.

 

Common Errors with the Amendments: Part 3

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We posted previously about some common errors and misconceptions that we have run into since the Act was amended last year. We are still encountering issues regularly. Given the complexity of the regulations is it any wonder we are still encountering mistakes and misconceptions? Here are some of the most common issues we have encountered so far:
Myth: If a candidate makes a disclosure prior to her election or appointment she is automatically disqualified. For instance, if a candidates checks off the box that says “I am not an owner” the candidate cannot be on the board.

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Amendments: What’s still to come?

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I am regularly asked about the amendments to the Condominium Act, 1998, and when we can expect the next phase of amendments.  Many estimates suggested that the next round of amendments would be coming in the Spring of 2018. Nothing has been formally announced and this is looking less and less likely as we near June. There are some significant amendments still to come, including:

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Forms for Ongoing Disclosure by Directors

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A lot has been written about the obligation of candidates to disclose information and make certain statements prior to their election or appointment to the board of directors. The Act requires candidates to satisfy the disclosure obligations prior to their election to be qualified as directors (see section 29(1)(f) of the Act). Whether the disclosure may be made orally at the meeting or in writing depends upon a number of factors, including when the person notified the condominium of their intention to be a candidate and the condominium’s by-laws. There is no prescribed form for making the required statements in writing, but many law firms and management companies have created forms for candidates to complete prior to the election. The requirements for candidate disclosures are described in section 11.6 of O.Reg. 48/01.  Continue reading

Common Errors with the Amendments

techThe first phase of amendments to the Act has been in force for almost a month now. We have new forms, a new tribunal, and the CAO. There is a new process for calling and holding meetings. There are new information certificates. The changes span hundreds of pages so, understandably, everyone is still getting the hang of it all. There are even disputes about how certain parts should be interpreted. Here are some of the most common mistakes or misconceptions that we’ve encountered so far: Continue reading

Draft Reg#2 – Part 2

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The second draft regulation also describes the mandatory disclosure and training requirements for condominium directors. These changes came about because of perceived problems with widespread mismanagement, deceit, or fraud. Fortunately, these problems are less common than portrayed. Nonetheless, these changes should help protect condominium owners.

Mandatory Disclosures 

The disclosure requirements start even before a person becomes a director. Candidates must disclose certain information at the meeting where the election is taking place if they did not disclose it before in the candidates notice.  Continue reading