Virtual or In-Person Meetings During a Pandemic: Which is Best?

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Unlike in past years where I would have attended several owners’ meetings in a week during the busier times of the year, this year I have only attended a handful of in-person owners’ meetings since March. Most clients initially deferred their AGMs in the Spring. Since the deadline for holding AGMs will not be extended by the Government of Ontario, most condominiums have decided to hold their AGMs using electronic means or by teleconference (“virtual meetings”).

While the Government of Ontario has indicated that it will not extend the time to hold AGMs, it has extended the temporary amendments that allow condominiums to hold their meetings using virtual means without passing a by-law. The deadline was initially November 21, 2020, but it has been extended to May 31, 2021. As such, all condominiums have the legal authority to hold their meetings using virtual means until at least May 31, 2021.

The question is: Will you hold your meeting in-person or move to a virtual meeting?

Virtual Meetings vs. In-Person Meetings

I have already posted about some of the advantages and disadvantages of virtual requisition meetings: https://ontcondolaw.com/2020/07/13/virtual-requisition-meetings/ Similarly, I did a blog post for CCI’s Grand River Chapter on virtual meetings and recommendations for effectively communicating with owners: https://www.cci-grc.ca/blogs/view/communicating-in-the-digital-age-condo-edition. In short, the pros and cons of virtual meetings tend to be:

ProsCons
Easier for chairperson to control the meeting.Technology can be challenging for some owners.
Less costly if paying professionals (i.e. lawyer, engineer, auditor) to travel to the meeting.Accessibility issues with some of the options.
More flexibility about the time of the meeting (i.e. hold over lunch break instead of in the evening).Costs of hosted virtual meeting can be prohibitive for some condominiums.
Common pros and cons of virtual condo meetings.

In addition to the above, virtual meetings also have the added benefit of minimizing exposure to COVID-19 and other infectious diseases. Even if you aren’t concerned about catching it yourself, you should be concerned about the potential liabilities of your condominium if you host a meeting in-person and someone falls ill because of it.

The most common concern with virtual meetings is a perception that the technology is too complex for some owners to use. Some have concerns about the accessibility features of the virtual meeting platforms. In my experience, in-person meetings tend to be less inclusive than virtual meetings right now. This may seem counter-intuitive, but hear me out. For one, some people cannot attend meetings in person because they are in a high-risk group and do not want to put themselves at risk. Others may have returned from a trip and need to quarantine. Other owners may have jobs that expose them to COVID and they do not want to infect their neighbours by attending the meeting. While the intention with in-person meetings is often to be more inclusive by avoiding the technology required for a virtual meeting, in-person meetings can actually be less inclusive for the reasons above.

There are a number of other considerations with in-person meetings that you should be aware of right now. You need to monitor the restrictions on gatherings to ensure your condominium is complying with any at the time of the meeting. These restrictions change frequently right now, so be prepared to check at least once a day. You will also need to find a large space that will permit everyone to be at least 2 metres apart. You might want to consider renting microphones for the meeting as the extra distance can make it difficult for people to hear each other, especially with masks on. You will also need to enforce distancing and mask compliance throughout the meeting. You should have a plan prepared in the event someone refuses to wear a mask or keep a safe distance. Who are you going to call? What are you going to do? Lastly, while you might have been able to get away with meetings held outdoors during the warmer month, this is not a viable option with winter quickly approaching. You cannot expect owners to sit outside for an hour or two when it is -10 degrees Celsius, raining or snowing, or dark.

In my opinion, the most inclusive type of meeting right now is a virtual meeting through a hosting system that allows owners to call into the meeting using an ordinary landline telephone. This option eliminates concerns about spreading COVID-19 while minimizing potential technology issues with owners who may not be familiar with virtual meetings. If they have called a 1-800 number they can manage to call in for the virtual meeting. Voting can be done using proxies (in paper or electronic format) to minimize technology issues with voting during the meeting, which can be more common if you hold the meeting without a virtual meeting host. Spend the time that you would spend searching for a venue and ensuring all necessary precautions are taken to prepare the owners for the meeting. Send the initial notices earlier than required so owners have an opportunity to download any programs that they may need, purchase a microphone or headset, and speak with their techy family member to get some pre-meeting training. Provide detailed instructions for logging into the meeting. Once the meeting starts, go over the unique features of the virtual meeting system, such as how to ask questions, how to vote, etc.

I appreciate that some of you prefer in-person meetings (I do too), but the best option right now is a virtual meeting. You can return to in-person meetings when it is safe for all of your owners to do so.

AGM: Apathy, Gossip and Mutiny

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The AGM is often the most important meeting of the year for a condominium. The AGM provides the owners with valuable information about the condominium’s affairs with presentations from the auditor, board, management, and other professionals. It also gives owners an opportunity to voice their concerns or ask general questions about issues that might be important to them, like upcoming repair projects, parking, or landscaping. Finally, the AGM allows owners to be involved in important decisions, such as electing directors or passing a new by-law.

Most AGMs go off without a hitch and everyone goes home happy and informed. Some, however, are long and arduous battles that leave people more confused than when they started. The battles are often caused by apathy, gossip or mutiny. Continue reading

Highlights from the 22nd Annual CCI-T Conference

 

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It was a pleasure for the Robson Carpenter team to see and chat with many familiar faces at the conference this past weekend. The conference was full of fantastic exhibitors and informative sessions on a broad spectrum of issues, challenges, and anticipated changes in the condominium industry. There were so many great speakers, panels, and topics in the various sessions that I often wished I could be in two places at once to listen in on concurrent sessions!

In no particular order, here are some of my favourite moments and takeaways from the conference:

Discussion of Security Issues

I particularly enjoyed the Q&A style insights, advice, and perspectives from the panel in “Palace or Prison: Security Through Environmental Design” with security topics ranging from lighting, mirrors, cameras, and signage, to communication systems for communities. Of note, the panel’s emphasis on unique situations and issues for different types of condominium communities from massive high rises to townhouse complexes was very engaging.

Proxies

It was interesting, if unsurprising, to hear numerous speakers and people I interacted with on the tradeshow floor express ongoing frustration with the length and complexity of the new prescribed form. Clearly this form continues to be a source of frustration for managers, boards, and owners. On the bright side, representatives from the Condominium Authority of Ontario (“CAO”) did highlight they have created an information guide as well annotated sample proxies available on their website (link here https://www.condoauthorityontario.ca/en-US/resources/proxy-overview/ ) to assist owners in understanding how to fill out these forms. Hopefully more refinements to the form are planned by the government in the future.

CAO and CMRAO Statistics

Interesting numbers on the 1st Year of the CAO and Condominium Management Regulatory Authority of Ontario (“CMRAO”) – representatives of the CAO and CMRAO shared some fascinating statistics about their respective 1st anniversary of operation:

  • The CAO’s database estimates there are over 11,000 condominium corporations in Ontario. Of those, 85 % have registered with the CAO and 84% have provided the required returns (transitional and annual)
  • Over 2,800 licensees registered with the CMRAO
  • Over 300 condominium management companies with 3 companies employing over 100 property managers each.

The Condominium Authority Tribunal (“CAT”) which currently has jurisdiction over records disputes under section 55 of the Condominium Act, 1998 (the “Act”) already has 127 active cases. We previously posted about some of the first decisions released by CAT here (link).

Quorum

There were some interesting questions and discussions in one session regarding condominium corporations that have passed by-laws increasing the quorum threshold from the 25% required by the Act for the 1st and 2nd attempts to call an owners meeting. My opinion, and one shared by a few other lawyers I have spoken to, is that the most recent amendments of the Act in subsection 50(1.2) have voided those higher quorums (ex. 33 1/3 %) thresholds in by-laws. Quorum can be no more than 25%. If a corporation wants to increase the threshold from 15% on the 3rd and subsequent attempts to call an owners meeting, the quorum increase is restricted to remaining at 25% by 50(1.2) of the Act.

Exhibitors

On a final note, the exhibitors with booths that had a live-magician, hockey memorabilia collection, and handwriting analyst were captivating and very popular draws for many.

If you weren’t able to attend this year’s conference, don’t forget the Golden Horseshoe chapter of CCI has its annual conference coming up in the spring of 2019. We will have a booth and both Craig and Michelle will be speaking.  Definitely something to look forward to attending as we slip into the winter season!

CAT rules on access to proxies

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The CAT (Condominium Authority Tribunal) has released another important decision on the right of owners to access records. Cangiano v. Metropolitan Toronto Condominium Corporation No. 962 is a dispute over the owner’s right to receive “legible and unaltered” copies of the proxies used at the AGM. The condominium refused to provide unaltered copies because the proxies contained personal information, but offered to provide redacted copies for $27.60. The owner sought an order directing the condominium to provide her with un-redacted copies of the proxies. 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

Condo Reform #4 – Governance: Records and Meetings

Condominium communities are small democracies with their own set of unique challenges. Like many democracies, the board of directors is often criticized by the owners for the decisions made, or not made, but are rarely praised for their hard work. Given the wide range of values, interests, and characteristics of condominium inhabitants, it not surprising that governance issues account for a large proportion of the disputes that arise in condominiums.

Given the importance of proper governance to the financial health and stability of condominiums, the working group made several recommendations to improve the governance of condominiums. The recommendations were in five key areas:

  1. Access to Records & Information
  2. Meetings
  3. Directors and Officers
  4. Fines
  5. Owners’ & Directors’ Rights & Responsibilities.

Continue reading

Challenges by owners to the chair, proxies, and voting

Davis v. Peel Condominium Corporation No. 22 [2013] O.J. No. 2594 is a recent decision of the Superior Court of Justice about owners’ meetings, especially voting rights and the role of the chair. It was an application by an owner alleging the chair of the meeting improperly allowed 12 proxies to be used to remove the board of directors. Without the 12 votes, the requisition to remove the directors would have failed.

The Court dismissed the application. Continue reading