What a condominium corporation’s obligations to individual owners with respect to repairs? If an owner is unsatisfied with the response to repeated complaints, are they entitled to damages? When might a condo corporation’s failure to address an issue to an owner’s satisfaction be considered oppressive?
A recent decision of the Ontario Superior Court of Justice dealt with these questions, following a five-year battle between a condominium owner and the corporation.
A Five-Year Complaint History
The complainant had purchased a unit on the top floor of a 15-storey condominium building. Four years after moving in, she began to notice an excessively loud noise emanating from what sounded like an industrial fan or a motor on the roof of the building that disturbed her significantly. She made a verbal complaint to the condominium corporation in 2014 about the noise and when nothing was done, she made a further complaint in writing.
In 2019, five years after the owner’s initial complaint, the condominium corporation replaced two exhaust fans that were located above the owner’s unit. While the noise was still present, the owner said that this helped to reduce it significantly. The complainant brought an action against the condo corporation for failure to meet its statutory obligations with respect to repairs and maintenance, as well as oppression.
What Exactly Are a Condominium Corporation’s Obligations?
Under ss. 89 and 90 of the Ontario Condominium Act, a corporation does have a statutory obligation to repair and maintain the common elements of a condominium:
89 (1) Subject to sections 91 and 123, the corporation shall repair the units and common elements after damage.
90 (1) Subject to section 91, the corporation shall maintain the common elements and each owner shall maintain the owner’s unit.
However, the court, in this case, was careful to point out that the standard of a corporation’s obligation is one of reasonableness. In this case, there was no evidence that the complained-about noise had occurred as a result of a failure to properly repair or maintain the fans that were eventually replaced. Further, there was evidence that the corporation had ensured that the fans were inspected and maintained on a regular basis, going back to before the complaints began.
To address the noise complaints, the corporation brought in a third party company to inspect the fans, and no underlying cause of the noise was found. The same company inspected the fans again six months later, and then six months after that. On the last visit, the company installed new blower assemblies on the fans above the complainant’s unit in an attempt to make them quieter.
In 2018, the complainant hired an acoustic engineer to inspect the fans. His report showed that the fans were old, contained some rust and did not appear to have any acoustic or vibration insulation. However, he did not test the fans beyond inspecting them visually.
Three months later, the corporation retained mechanical engineers to inspect the fans. The engineers recommended some servicing to address a slight bearing noise on one fan and said the other was actually quieter than industry standards. The corporation carried out the recommended service but the complainant said that the sound persisted.
Given the fact that the fans were regularly inspected and maintained, and that the corporation had the fans inspected by engineers specifically to address the complaints, it could not be said that the corporation had violated a reasonable standard of repair and maintenance. Further, the complainant alleged that the noise had been due to a failure to maintain the fans, but also said the noise persisted even after the service recommended by mechanical engineers had taken place.
Was the Corporation’s Conduct Oppressive?
The complainant alleged that the corporation had ignored her complaints and failed to address a serious issue that was highly disruptive for five years. However, the court found that this ignored several steps the corporation took during that time frame to identify and address the noise she complained of. When the corporation eventually did order new fans, the complainant, through her lawyer, objected to the manufacturer’s installation instructions, based on the opinion of a consultant she had retained to review them. The installation was delayed for nearly nine months due to this objection, and eventually, the complainant allowed the corporation to proceed with the original instructions.
While the corporation’s response had some faults, including failing to respond in writing initially, and then providing a memo from the superintendent that was dismissive and sarcastic in tone, overall the response was reasonable in the given circumstances. On the issue of oppression, the court ultimately concluded that:
A unit owner seeking an oppression remedy under the Condominium Act must show both that there was a breach of their reasonable expectations and that those reasonable expectations were breached by conduct legitimately characterized as oppressive. I find that [the complainant] had a reasonable expectation that [the corporation] would comply with its statutory obligations to repair and maintain its common elements. I also find that [the corporation] acted reasonably and in compliance with these obligations.
While condominium owners certainly have a right to expect action from their condominium corporation when it comes to the repair and maintenance of the common elements, the standard of reasonableness must be kept in mind. Prior to initiating a potentially costly and time-consuming action in court, a complainant should carefully consider whether they will be able to establish that the corporation failed to meet the reasonableness standard under the given circumstances.
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