New to the Condominium Way of Life: Part 2

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This is our second Q-and-A-style blog post for those who may be new to the condominium way of life or are contemplating moving into one.

In this post we focus on how and where issues that arise within condominiums get resolved with a focus on the Condominium Authority Tribunal and the mediation and arbitration processes required by the Condominium Act, 1998.

Q. What is the CAT?

A. The CAT is the Condominium Authority Tribunal. The CAT is a tribunal that has been created to hear certain types of condominium disputes involving owners and condominiums. A purchaser of a unit or a condominium manager may also apply to the CAT with respect to certain disputes in rare situations.  

Q. When does the CAT get involved?

A. The CAT can only become involved in disputes if it has jurisdiction in the area. The CAT’s jurisdiction is described in a regulation made under the Act and currently includes:

  1. Record disputes related to a request made by an owner or purchaser of a unit to examine records or obtain copies of them, including disputes over the applicable fees for examining the record or obtaining copies of them, the condominium’s reasons for refusing the record, and the penalty for the condominium’s improper refusal.
  1. Compliance disputes about the declaration, by-laws or rules related to any of the following:
    1. Pets or animals
    2. Vehicles
    3. Parking and storage
    4. Indemnification claims for costs related to (a) to (c).

The CAT does not have jurisdiction over a dispute, even if it fits within the list above, if it also relates to section 117 of the Act (an activity or condition that is likely to cause damage to the property or injury to persons), a section 98 agreement (where an owner makes changes to the common elements), or an agreement under s.24.6(3) of O.Reg. 48/01 (where an owner installs an electric vehicle charging station on the common elements).

Q. What are the other types of available dispute resolution processes for condo disputes?

A. If the CAT does not have jurisdiction over a dispute, it does not mean the parties should run off to court. The Condominium Act, 1998, requires mediation and arbitration of certain types of condominium disputes about agreements between:

  1. A declarant and a condominium, including a dispute about a first-year budget deficit under section 75 or a budget statement under subsect 72(6),
  2. Two or more condominiums, such as disputes about the use of shared facilities or the cost sharing obligations for the shared facilities,
  3. A condominium and a unit owner about a section 98 agreement (changes to common elements made by owners), and
  4. A condominium and its condominium manager.

In addition, every declaration is deemed to contain a provision that requires condominiums and owners to submit disagreements about the declaration, by-laws or rules to mediation and arbitration as well. This has been broadly interpreted to cover disagreements about the validity, interpretation, application, or non-application of the declaration, by-laws and rules, as well as damages claimed by an owner or the condominium related to the disagreement.

The mediation and arbitration provision does not apply to disputes involving tenants but a condominium and owner could agree to attempt to resolve the dispute without court by voluntarily using mediation and arbitration.

Some “pure” enforcement issues may proceed to court without mediation or arbitration as there is no disagreement in these cases. The owner simply refuses to comply with their obligations or ignores requests to comply.

There are many situations where court is the most appropriate option, such as a power of sale process to enforce a lien to collect arrears owed by a unit owner. It is important for condominiums and owners to seek legal advice before choosing the forum for their dispute as the improper forum could cause delays and additional costs, and in some cases, act as a bar against proceedings in the proper forum.

Have a question you think new owners need to know? Send it to us and you may see it in a future post.

Special thanks to Zach Powell, summer student at Robson Carpenter LLP, for asking the questions owners want to know and preparing this post!

Can You Arbitrate Oppression Claims Between Condos?

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Today’s post is about a recent Court of Appeal decision regarding arbitration in condominiums. The facts are straightforward. Two condominiums were parties to a cost-sharing agreement. There was a dispute about the amounts owing under the cost-sharing agreement. The parties participated in a mediation, which was unsuccessful. One of the condominiums sought to arbitrate the dispute. The other disagreed that aribtration was appropriate and commenced an application to the Superior Court of Justice seeking various relief, including an order that the conduct of the first condominium was oppressive, unfairly prejudicial or unfairly disregards the interests of the condominium pursuant to section 135 of the Condominium Act, 1998.

In response to the application, the other condominium brought a motion to stay the application in favour of arbitration. The motion judge found that the entire matter should proceed before the court, despite finding that some matters were within the jurisdiction of an arbitrator under section 132 of the Act. The decision was appealed.

For context, section 135 of the Condominium Act, 1998, permits certain parties to bring an application to the Superior Court of Justice if the conduct of another owner, the condominium, a declarant, or a mortgagee of a unit “is or threatens to be oppressive or unfairly prejudicial to the applicant or unfairly disregards the interests of the applicant”. Previous court decisions have found that disputes involving oppression claims do not require mediation and arbitration under section 132 of the Act and the claim could proceed in the Superior Court according to section 135 of the Act.

The Court of Appeal reviewed a recent decision where the Supreme Court of Canada made it clear that a court did not have discretion to refuse to stay claims that were dealt with in an arbitration agreement. The Court of Appeal found that the dispute between the condominiums was clearly covered by the arbitration clause and the motion judge should have stayed that portion of the application.

With respect to the oppression claim, the Court of Appeal did not agree with the motion judge that the “pith and substance” of the dispute was oppression. The core of the dispute was the interpretation and application of the cost-sharing agreement and these sorts of disputes required mediation and arbitration under section 132 of the Act. The Court of Appeal cautioned courts reviewing these sorts of claims at paragraph 25:

In our view, courts should generally be cautious in their approach to oppression claims of the type asserted here. In particular, courts should be wary of allowing such claims to overtake, and potentially distort, the dispute resolution process that lies at the heart of the Condominium Act, 1998, a central aspect of which is a preference for arbitration over court proceedings. In other words, courts should be alert to the possibility that persons, who are party to an arbitration agreement, are attempting to avoid that process by “piggybacking” onto claims made against others: see e.g. MTCC No. 965 v. MTCC No. 1031 and No. 1056, 2014 ONSC 5362, at para. 18; see also TELUS, at paras. 76, 98.

The Court of Appeal stated that oppression claims may be determined by arbitrators if the claim relates to a dispute that falls within the terms of the arbitration clause (in the cost-sharing agreement) or section 132 of the Act. At paragraph 29:

The language of s.135(1) is permissive, not mandatory. It contemplates that, in certain circumstances, it may be necssary to have resort to the Superior Court of Justice to obtain relief. However, s.135(1) does not oust the jurisdiction of an arbitrator to consider the same relief, if that relief is part of the dispute in question that properly falls within the terms of the arbitration provision or within the terms of s.132. In this case, we have already noted the broad language of the arbitration clause. There is nothing, in our view, that would preclude an arbitrator, acting under the authority of that arbitration clause, from considering the alleged oppressive conduct advanced by the respondent in appeal, at least as it relates to the actions of TSCC1636.

The Court of Appeal allowed the appeal and granted a stay of the application. The two condominiums will need to participate in arbitration.

This is an interesting decision. I have had debates with other lawyers about mediation/arbitration for oppression claims. Many take the position that only the Superior Court of Justice has jurisdiction to hear these sorts of claims. It is nice to have a decision that brings some clarity to the issue.

The Condominium Authority Tribunal (CAT)

negotiateThe 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 Process 

The general process for resolving disputes at the CAT is:

  1. Negotiation
  2. Mediation
  3. Decision

Negotiation

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.

Mediation

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.

Decision

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 Rules

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?

Parking Dispute Draws Criticism from Judge

Yet another case has been released where the judge hearing the case has been very critical of the parties, especially their failure to consider mediation or act reasonably. In Couture v. Toronto Standard Condominium Corporation No 2187 (2015) a dispute arose about a parking space.

Here are the brief facts: the condominium has 44 units, but only 32 parking spaces. The declaration indicated that parking would be assigned at the “sole discretion of the Corporation.” It also required vehicles to be licensed, insured, and in good repair. The owner was fortunate enough to have been assigned a parking space when she initially purchased her unit. In 2012, the condominium revoked her rights to use the parking space as it claimed that she was not complying with the declaration because the vehicle was not in good repair or licensed. She removed the vehicle and claimed that as long as she paid the rental fee of $50.00 per month she was entitled to keep the space whether there was a vehicle using it or not. Continue reading