Condo, Strata and HOA News

Tag Archives: human rights

HOA Literally Does a Crappy Job Whitewashing Hate in Their Neighbourhood

In Parker Colorado partners Aimee Whitchurch and Christel Conklin get to receive free community presents. One day it is “Kill The Gay” painted across their garage door, and another it is a noose laid at their front door.

Most HOA have rules about the appearance of garage doors. So when the HOA came over and painted (I use “painted” very loosely here) over the words in white paint (link to news video showing crappy whitewashing), where the garage door is otherwise brown, and obviously paid no attention to the work (there’s paint splatter all over the driveway, and the coverage is a mess) – it’s the little detail that says “this HOA are a bunch of shits”.

The HOA has a responsibility to make everyone’s lives safe, secure, and supportive. When a unit is targeted by hate (it is hate, plain and simple) – the board should be the first out there to offer whatever they can, and they should step up to the plate. The message should always be tolerance as an HOA is a communal living agreement, with many people, of all walks of life. If you fail to give up on one, you give up on all.

As a bonus gift, they are under constant surveillance from a neighbour who continually keeps a video camera pointed to their house! With such supportive neighbours who are so worried about the two women’s home and health, it should only me a matter of time before the footage is turned over and the culprits captured.

Board Insanity Stories #98457892374 – Only Allowing Rentals to “Families”

I’m not sure I want to even start with guessing what the definition of a family is – blood relationships, marriage, are adopted children ok, how about a two person same sex union, or one lady and seventy-two cats?

Thankfully a condominium corporation has been able to figure that out for me! Carleton Condominium Corporation No. 24 of Ottawa, Ontario, has been able to clarify that challenging definition:

unit owners can only rent to single families, which includes parents and children, married couples or people in a ‘conjugal relationship,’ two or more persons intending to live together permanently, two or more persons who own the unit, or someone who is a caregiver for someone else.

Caregiver? Really – an assisted living support nurse can be family? The intention to live together permanently (really, how can that ever be challenged or proven) is a definition of family – so Felix and Oscar, or Bert and Ernie, those lovable non-gay roommates, would count?

What’s up is Carleton Condominiums attempting to remove student renters from their condos, whom occupy about 20% of the units. The board claims these student rentals are rooming houses renting by the room, with upwards of 8 people per unit. The condominium is close to transportation and popular with students.

I’m pretty sure this will be appealed to either a court or the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario.

As to that definition of family, I love the idea of “conjugal relationship” – does that mean if each of the eight students commit to some sort of regular orgy that they classify as family? Right on – I knew university is supposed to be an awesome experience!

Little Sympathy for Residence Fighting Development for Mentally Challenged Homeless

As a start, I have a condo that is 2 block from a stroll for prostitutes, 4 blocks (the other way) to a homeless shelter, and there’s a long term facility for homeless going up as well within that distance. And I’m ok with that.

Hang with me then, when I indicate little patience for residence who fight the inclusion of a shelter for mentally challenged homeless in their community – and let’s be clear – Astoria, New York, is a large community. Even in Council Member Peter Vallone Jr. challenge to the development he indicates that there are at least 8350 residence within one block. The shelter will house 50. That’s a .006% population increase. It’s nothing.

Having .006% of your population requiring special needs because of being mentally challenged should be considered part of your civic and community based care and support network. It should be something the community says “we live in our community, and every day our community supports and assists people a little less fortunate”. Civic pride, not civic shame.

Banning People with Criminal Records from Condominium Residence

I recently wrote that US Home Owner Associations wield an inordinate and improper amount of ability to pry into the private life of purchasers. Potential purchasers providing inch think stacks of documents to boards, just for the right to purchase a property, seems to becoming (sadly) the norm.

There is a wedge issue would that, if supported, allow Canadian condominium boards the same sort of access to purchaser (and ongoing access to owners) personal information – that condominiums can ban residency and board participation based on a criminal record. Being able to ban on a criminal record would allow boards to start intruding on personal privacy in order to enforce the ban.

Denise Lash of Heenan Blaikie closes in a recent article that –

It is time for condominium corporations to look at taking more extreme measures to ensure that the safety and security of residents is not compromised and put into place restrictions in condominium documentation.  Of course, the documentation will have to be carefully drafted to avoid any potential argument as to its enforceability.

This is a direct call to bring rights of intrusion to privacy into the hands of a board. We all have stories of our boards  with the  powers they currently have abusing privacy, position and status already. Adding additional fodder – and more significantly – responsibilities that are more prone to court challenges and civil suits is a recipe for disaster.

Most importantly, Ms. Lash takes singles out condominiums to go after because they offer an additional level of legislation and rules – the corporation bylaws – as a wedge to invade privacy. At a condominium’s heart is that it is housing. We wouldn’t be able to argue that a community association (single detached housing) could deny the right to residence in their community based on a criminal record – but we do for condominium only because there are additional levels of rules around the management of the shared or common property.

That’s what “extreme” and “carefully drafted to avoid any potential argument as to its enforceability” is all about – it’s the caution that what she suggests is a strong warping of the intention and scope of condominium legislation. I would say she suggests a perversion of condominium legislation and pushes in into a realm of social engineering.

HOA (U.S. Home Owner Associations) Seem To Have Excessive Authority and Privacy Invasion Rights

As I do research for posts, I am finding a lot of stories that refer to HOAs denying the purchase of a unit, as well as demanding all sorts of information from interested purchasers in order to determine if it should deny such purchase.

NYT ran a real estate article about Steve Siddell’s attempt to find a great home in the city. There is one section of the article that caught my attention:

He submitted his application, which included an inch-thick stack of paper, in a neat binder. The co-op board requested 11 more copies …Weeks passed; his frustration grew. After about two months, he was interviewed … A few weeks later, the rejection letter arrived.

This seems both intrusive and abusive. The amount of information required and the type of information, the lack of timeliness in initiating the interview, and lack of timeliness in rejection, and even the right to review the purchaser at all seems, simply, wrong.

As each state has different legislation, there is a multitude of “but that’s not allowed in this state” arguments available but a quick search of the web seems to indicate that board intrusion into private sales seems rampant country wide.

Some states do allow HOA right of first refusal, meaning they can deny a purchaser (without reason) completion of the sale if the HOA itself buys the unit, or can find a replacement buyer at the same price.

While I disagree that such a right should even exist, in states which allow it there is ample opportunity to abuse the system and pry into people’s lives. It opens up all sorts of questions about information that can be requested – and all sorts of strange requests can be built that avoid human rights violations (race, gender, disability, sexual orientation). Many now ask for resumes, job history, references, past addresses, driver licences, social security numbers, credit reports, travel history (in the guise of how much of the year the owner will be onsite), education, marriage status, fiscal equity levels, and tax records (which might show charitable donations reflecting political or religious leanings).

As a kicker – the HOA doesn’t need to generate an explanation why they deny a sale. While racism and sexual preference bias isn’t an allowable right to say no, we know (for example after the 9/11 tragedy, the anti-Muslim expression) that people do act on those feelings. And while they might not be in the position to act on first refusal and buy the unit, they can significantly slow down the review process (say, for months) and the decision (say for weeks) in order to force the purchaser to withdraw their request because of timeliness issues.

In Canada, we have pretty strong privacy laws that would block condominiums – which are set up as not-for-profit corporations – from prying into a purchaser’s life like that.

The sale of a unit is a private transaction between two parties that the condominium has should have no right of access to, and there is no justifiable reason to review the sale and purchaser of a condominium unit.

For those that fear non-payment of monthly condominium contributions – they happen (some buildings have more than 60% delinquency) and have been happening even with new purchaser review. There’s no belief the board is better suited than a bank to determine fiscal ability to pay in the future.

There is no reason for HOAs to pry into the private life of a purchaser.

Owners Throw Hissy Fit Regarding Tenants with Mental Illness

There is an awesome line I once heard – “if you have to spend time explaining what you aren’t, you likely are”. Hence the snicker I had when I read the statement from Michael McMahon of the Admiral Dewey House condominium, in Framingham Massachusetts:

None of us want to come across as ignorant, or superstitious, or prejudiced, but…

Ah, then of course you’re not coming across that way.

The residents of the Admiral Dewey House are upset that two of the units in the building (of 20) have been bought by Cascap Inc – a non-profit that owns and manages properties for state contracts they have. The issue arises that Cascap bought the properties to meet a contract from the Department of Mental Health – to house people with mental illness.

The situation seems pretty clear cut – the units were bought by a corporation, and as such Cascap Inc are not live in owners. The people there will be classified as tenants. Cascap Inc. tenants will have all the same rights, responsibilities and requirements of any other tenant renting a unit from another owner. The corporation and the owners have no extended rights to violate the privacy of these or any other tenants. Neither can they deny the rights to rent, or to inhabit, based on those silly things like race, gender, disability or sexual orientation.

As to the specific issue of these two units being rented by Cascap Inc under contract with the Department of Mental Health – well Mr. McMahon has this to say:

If you think that somebody who is purchasing a unit doesn’t take that into [Cascap Inc’s] acquisition decision, their purchase of a property, then you’re crazy.

Nicely chosen words there Mr. McMahon. Of course you aren’t ignorant, or superstitious, or prejudiced.

Strata Fines Resident $25 for Smoking Creating “activities causing nuisance or hazard to others”

The only organization that should be fined for “causing nuisance … to others” should be the board of the Chelsea Gardens Strata Corporation for such a cowardly use of the by-laws.

The Chelsea Gardens Strata Corporation has been dealing with a series of complaints from a unit owner against their neighbour for smoking. It’s implied that the complaints arise mostly when the smoker is on their own patio, and the second-hand smoke drifts into the complainant’s unit. The complaints have been expressed to the corporation in 2009 and 2010, and recently they have been filed with the BC Human Rights Tribunal. It is scheduled for mediation in November 2011.

What I find interesting is the board’s response, at one point, to attempt to address the situation by fining the smoker $25 for breaking the by-laws though “activities causing nuisance or hazard to others.” The role of the board is in part to help the community live together in harmony and mediate the interaction of residents.

I can see how the board may have felt constrained – smoking is not an illegal activity, but they have a serious of complaints from an owner indicating that their health is being impaired by another resident. A $25 fine though seems ineffectual, token, and something that would cause more harm. It’s an action that seems to say to the complainant that the board is sympathetic to the complaint, but the amount of the fine indicates the response is toothless and meaningless. $25 will not pose a fiscal threat that encourages change in behaviour.

I would think that the board actually puts themselves in a more vulnerable role, especially given that smoking isn’t illegal, and they are regulating that activity. It’s a similar situation to those fatty carcinogenic plumes of bbq beef carcass smoke that fill my unit, issuing from several neighbours balconies and patios this summer.

When I buy into a condominium that allows pets, I assume that at least some of my neighbours will have pets and I will bump into them, sometimes on a daily basis. If I buy into a condominium that doesn’t outline in the by-laws a non-smoking policy on exclusive use common property (including balconies and patios), then I assume that some of my neighbours have the right to smoke there – and will take that right up.

For those that think that this comes from a smoker, I am a dedicated non-smoker. Euuugh – smoker breath.

Condominium Can Not Limit Access to Pool Based On Age

I find some condominium boards draft by-laws that are pointlessly restrictive. These, to name a few, include (quoting from one of my own bylaws):

“No snake, spider, reptile, fowl or livestock will be approved [for residence]”

“use his balcony … flower pots planted with living plants (no silk, artificial or plastic plants except artificial cedars are allowed) … are permitted”

Regarding BBQs: “which if covered, must be covered with a suitable barbeque cover that is in good condition”

“All dogs and cats must be carried on Common Property”

I often wonder how these would be, or have been enforced – if ever. On both boards I’ve served on, we’ve never enforced or even attempted to determine if these, or similar, rules are contravened.  Some seem petty – blocking the ownership of a pet iguana – and more so, I don’t think even enforceable if a board tries to act upon it.

The rule for nothing artificial on balconies except “artificial cedars” seems suspect – it seems to be an attempt to allow Christians to have Christmas trees on their balconies and patios. Either that or the original drafter had a fetish for specifically shaped and coloured plastic flora.

The kicker to all this is the statement in the bylaws that the above and all the other (and there are a lot – just the “owner cannot” section appears to be more than 100 items including subsections) of bylaws have the following purpose (iii) to develop a sense of community.

Forcing neighbours to say hello to each other, hold the elevator doors, offer assistance with carrying groceries, and forcing them to volunteer on committees – that develops a sense of community. Creating arbitrary rules does not create community; it creates norms of behaviour which are completely different. As well, norms fail to allow change and growth in a community. Norms are awesome at attempting to create an environment that is only welcome to a single homogenous group.

Earlier this year, the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario found two condominium corporations (who jointly manage a shared outdoor pool) had gone too far in their rules. At issue was (1) the blocking of children under 2, and those in diapers, from entering the pool, and (2) limited subset of the pool hours that those 16 and under were able to use the pool.

The tribunal found the rules were immediately unenforceable and to be stricken from the bylaws -the rules provided no bona fide safety improvements, nor were they reasonable. There was an additional $10,000 judgement against the corporations as well.

And that brings me back to creating a sense of community. Condominiums need to look at community as a two way street. Creating a long shopping list of rules can establish a framework of reasonable limitations – but that’s all. When the framework allows the owners to express, live, and share a common housing connection in non-harmful, non-evasive ways, the condominium is a much better place to live.

And had the corporations with the pool looked at their rules as a mechanism to build community, they would have long ago removed the age limitations and kept themselves out of trouble. And indeed, it is not just the board at fault for having those rules, but they are at fault for establishing and condoning an atmosphere that didn’t build community. The ruling mentions that the owners took a vote on changing the rules to make them more inclusive, and when they voted the changes down “the audience cheered.” It’s also noted the boards had a Summer BBQ, which specified “Adult Residents Only!”

That’s a failure of the boards to look at building community, inclusiveness, and positive common experience. They should start working on that. Pronto.

PS. Is my Hello-Kitty BBQ Cover “suitable”?