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Fines for Ontario Condo Rule Breakers?

You're a Condo manager in Ontario, and one of the unit owners in your property won't stop flicking one cigarette but per week on the lower unit's balcony, contrary to a rule. You've spoken with both parties, sent compliance letters and despite promises to stop the owner continues to break this rule.

Unfortunately, in Ontario, further escalation of enforcement would mean having the corporation's solicitor send the offending owner a letter, at the owner's cost. This can cost the owner anywhere from $600 to $1,000 which seems disproportionate to the level of the offence involved, but Condo Managers in Ontario lack the legal ability to charge a smaller fee to an owner who breaks a rule.

Condominium laws in Canada are typically governed at the provincial level, leading to variations between provinces. In this analysis, the condominium laws in British Columbia, Albert and Ontario will be compared, with a particular focus on their approach to charging fines to unit owners. We will also explore the utility of fining condo owners as a tool for maintaining order within condominium settings and why Ontario might consider adopting similar rules.

Condominium Laws in British Columbia:

In British Columbia, condominiums are regulated primarily by the Strata Property Act. This act empowers strata corporations (the equivalent of condo associations) to create bylaws that govern the behavior and responsibilities of unit owners. Condo corporations can fine unit owners for violations of these bylaws. The Strata Property Act outlines the procedures for imposing fines, including proper notice and the right to dispute the fines.

If after following the proper steps, the strata council has determined that a breach of a bylaw or rule occurred, the council may do any of the following:

• give the offender a warning

• give the offender or landlord time to comply with the bylaw or rule that has been breached

• impose a fine against an owner or tenant. Under Strata Property Regulation 7.1, the maximum amounts that a strata corporation may set out in its bylaws as a fine for the contravention of a bylaw or a rule are:

- $1,000 per day for a short-term rental bylaw breach

- $200 for any other bylaw breach

- $50 for a breach of a rule

Fining condo owners in British Columbia serves as a useful tool in maintaining order within condominium communities. It acts as a deterrent, discouraging unit owners from violating bylaws. Fines also help cover the costs of correcting any issues caused by violations. For example, if a unit owner consistently violates noise bylaws, fines may be used to cover soundproofing expenses or other remedies.

Let's consider a case in British Columbia where a condo owner repeatedly disregarded the no-pet policy by keeping a large dog in their unit. The strata corporation imposed fines as per the bylaws. This not only deterred the owner from continuing the behavior but also enabled the corporation to use the collected fines to repair any damage caused by the pet. Such cases demonstrate the practicality and efficiency of using fines as a tool for enforcing bylaws in British Columbia.

Charging Fines in Alberta:

In Alberta, the bylaws of a condominium corporation must specifically provide that it has the legal power to impose fines against owners. The maximum monetary sanction (or fine) that may be imposed for the first instance of non-compliance is $500 or a lower amount set out in the condominium corporation’s bylaws, and for the second and subsequent instances of non-compliance, $1,000 or a lower amount set out in the condominium corporation’s bylaws.

While it is against the law in Alberta to impose fines for violations of board policies or rules, there is at least a mechanism by which the corporation can enforce bylaws.

Condominium Laws in Ontario:

In Ontario, condominiums are governed by the Condominium Act, 1998. This act, however, does not specifically authorize condo corporations to fine unit owners for bylaw or rule violations. Instead, the Condominium Act largely relies on other means, such as charging back owners for costs incurred, seeking court orders or mandatory mediation, to address disputes and violations.

Charging fines to unit owners in condominiums is a valuable tool for several reasons:

• Deterrence: Fines act as a deterrent, discouraging owners from breaking the rules in the first place. This is especially important in shared living spaces where a violation by one owner can affect the entire community.

• Cost Recovery: Fines can help cover the expenses incurred by the condominium corporation to rectify violations. For instance, a fine for unauthorized renovations can fund repairs to common areas.

• Maintaining Order: By enforcing bylaws through fines, condo corporations can ensure a peaceful and harmonious living environment for all residents.

Let's look at another hypothetical case in Ontario. A unit owner repeatedly ignores the no-smoking bylaw, causing disturbances and health concerns for neighbors. In the absence of a fining mechanism, the condominium corporation had limited options. They could attempt to charge back the unit for a related expense, or request mediation or pursue a court order, which can be time-consuming and costly. However, with the ability to fine the owner, the corporation could swiftly address the issue and potentially recover smaller scale costs (including the cost of time and management resources) associated with addressing the problem.

Given the utility and effectiveness of fines in enforcing bylaws and maintaining order within condominiums, Ontario should consider adopting rules that permit condo corporations to fine owners for breaking the rules and bylaws. This change can:

Efficiency: Streamline the dispute resolution process, reducing the burden on the court system and making it easier for condo corporations to address violations promptly.

• Cost-Effectiveness: Reduce the financial strain on condo corporations by enabling them to recover costs directly from unit owners responsible for violations.

• Deterrence: Create a stronger deterrent effect, encouraging unit owners to comply with bylaws and contribute to a more harmonious living environment.

• Consistency: Align Ontario's regulations with those in other provinces like British Columbia, creating a more consistent legal framework for condominium governance across the country.

The approach to charging fines to unit owners in British Columbia and Alberta differs significantly from Ontario. British Columbia empowers condo corporations to fine owners for rule and bylaw violations, serving as an efficient tool for maintaining order within condominium communities. Alberta, to a lesser degree, also grants condominium communities this tool to leverage in enforcing their governing documents.

Ontario, on the other hand, relies primarily on alternative dispute resolution mechanisms which often lead to a loss for the corporation and the condo community as a whole.

Fining condo owners is a valuable tool in the condominium setting, promoting deterrence, cost recovery, and order maintenance. Ontario may benefit from adopting rules that permit condo corporations to fine owners, as this can enhance efficiency, cost-effectiveness, and consistency in condominium governance. By learning from case comparisons and the experiences of other provinces, Ontario can continue to enhance the livability of condo communities and create a more robust legal framework for condos in this Province.

John Recker, RCM | October 13, 2023

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