A Warning to Owners Leasing their Units

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A recent case provides a warning to owners leasing their units. Briefly, the facts are as follows. A unit owner leased her unit to a tenant. The tenant “did not live harmoniously with his neighbours” and was in constant conflict with management. He sued the condominium for over $5,000,000. The condominium’s lawyer wrote to the owner to warn them that the costs incurred by the condominium to defend itself against the tenant’s claim would be sought from them. The owner’s son, who was power of attorney, ignored the warning and provided an affidavit in support of the tenant’s claim against the condominium. The tenant’s claim “failed miserably” and the condominium sought to recover about $86,000 in legal fees from the owner.  The owner refused to pay and the condominium registered a lien against the unit.

The court found no reason to question the validity of the lien. The main argument presented by the defendants was that the owner was not properly served by the condominium. The court found that the owner was in India at the time and it was difficult for her own family to contact her. “It would not be realistic to require the corporation to serve her personally and the law does not require it.”

The court reviewed the new provisions of the Condominium Act, 1998 at paragraph 27:

The Condominium Act establishes what must be done to serve a document for the purposes of the Act:

  • Section 46.1(3)(b) requires the corporation to keep a record of each unit owner’s address for service if that address is in Ontario.
  •  Section 46.1(4) states that a document can be served on an owner in several different ways including delivery by prepaid mail addressed to the owner at the address for service that appears in the records of the corporation.

The court was satisfied that the documents were served on the owner when the condominium sent the document via registered and regular mail to the address for service provided by the owner. “There was nothing more that the corporation could do.”

The owner also disputed the validity of the process because the condominium did not bring an action or have a hearing before registering the lien. The court reviewed section 85(1) of the Act and confirmed the process does not require an action to be commenced prior to the registration of a lien against a unit. The condominium must register the lien within three months of the default and must provide notice of the lien at least ten days before registering it. The condominium satisfied the requirements of the Act.

The owner tried to argue that it was not fair for them to be responsible for their tenant. In response, the court said:

[36]           The simple answer to the questions raised by the Sandhu family is that section 134(5) of the Condominium Act makes the unit owner responsible for the financial consequences of her tenant’s actions. If a corporation is awarded costs in an order which is made against an owner or an occupier of a unit, the costs, including the legal fees of the corporation, are added to the common expenses of the unit. That is simply the law of Ontario.

[37]           There are very good reasons for that law. One must consider the nature of condominiums and the rules that are necessary to regulate them. A condominium draws many strangers to live together in a single building. For many unit owners, the purchase of their condominium unit will be the largest financial investment of their lives. It is essential that the building is managed in a way that preserves the value of the property and maintains a sense of fairness for everyone.

[38]           The sense of fairness is created by imposing strict responsibilities both on unit owners and managing corporations. Unit owners are responsible for paying their share of the common expenses and for the conduct of any one who occupies their unit. The corporation is responsible for collecting the common expenses and notifying the unit owner of any troubling behaviour by a tenant. The purpose of the legislation is to ensure that the actions of a single unit owner do not give rise to additional expenses for all the other unit owners.

The court, while sympathetic to the owner’s situation, granted judgment in favour of the condominium and granted it possession of the unit so it can sell the unit to recover the amounts owing under the lien.

 

 

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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Update: Improper Use of the Indemnification Clause

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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.

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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