The Ontario Human Rights Tribunal has become an increasingly popular venue for frustrated condo unit owners to bring their grievances against condo boards and property managers. This is thanks to the low cost to file a case, simple procedure, ability to self-represent and obtain free legal advice and help. Most such cases, however, are not made in response to discrimination where a unit owner’s human rights are violated. Instead, most cases brought by unit owners are complaints relating to bad service, poor treatment, insults or rudeness by the board or manager.

While rudeness and insults to unit owners are never be acceptable, the Human Rights Tribunal is quite properly throwing out cases where the bad behaviour does not amount to legal discrimination or actual  violation of human rights. The February 2010 decision of the Human Rights Tribunal in the case of Iourtchak v. York Condominium Corporation No. 201 serves as a good example.

In that case, the unit owner complained to the Human Rights Tribunal that the president of the condo board had treated her poorly by insulting her and instructing the superintendent to provide inferior service to this owner. A number of similar complaints were made by other unit owners on the same grounds.

In finding that the complaint did not disclose any facts or particulars of prohibited discrimination, the Tribunal said the following, which is probably true of a large number of condo-related cases being filed at the Tribunal these days:

While conflict in the context of accommodation can deeply impact those affected, the Tribunal does not have a general jurisdiction to evaluate relationships between condominium corporations and unit owners or to resolve all situations of rudeness, bad treatment or unfairness that may exist in a condominium environment. The jurisdiction of the Tribunal is limited to hearing applications that allege violations of the [Human Rights] Code. With respect to accommodation, s. 2(1) prohibits discrimination because of race, ancestry, place of origin, colour, ethnic origin, citizenship, creed, sex, sexual orientation, age, record of offences, marital status, family status, disability or receipt of public assistance.

While it is clear that the applicant is having difficulties with her condominium environment, there is no allegation of discrimination on the basis of one or more of the grounds protected by the Code.

The Tribunal finds that the Application does not raise matters which the Tribunal has the power to decide. Accordingly, the Application is dismissed.

Even though a human rights complaint may be thrown out, as it was in this case, the story might not end there. A condo and its board or managers may yet face other proceedings in other forums. If unit owners feel sufficiently aggrieved by shoddy treatment and insults, they will likely continue their efforts to seek redress and they may, after a long fight, ultimately be successful.

Condo directors or managers who act disrespectfully or permit disrespectful conduct to take place can and should be held to account.  Similarly, condo corporations whose unit owners permit this type of toxic behaviour to pervade their environment will quite rightly bear the financial cost in some form or another and will suffer from a poor community spirit and atmosphere.

That said, unit owners who feel aggrieved by conduct of board or managers should pause, get legal advice and think carefully before launching any sort of legal proceeding. They should also keep in mind that the mediation procedure mandated by section 132(4) of the Condo Act might be especially well-suited to help resolve disputes where the issues are more social or interpersonal in nature than strictly legal or technical. Condo boards and managers would be wise to actively participate in the mediation process to find a solution in such cases at an early stage, before the issues fester and give rise to disruptive and costly diversions.

Unit owners, directors and managers should also consider whether an alternative approach to the traditional adversarial dispute resolution process might help them find a better resolution of a dispute with difficult people, be they owners, neighbours, board members, managers or others. One suggestion is to check out the famous and award-winning book (shown at right) by Professor Bob Sutton of Stanford University. The book describes a particularly sensible-sounding rule with a name that is unmentionable on this blog but is briefly described on Wikipedia here. This book might be good mandatory reading for anyone who lives or works in close quarters to other human beings.  

Do you think that your condominium corporation might benefit from passing the kind of rule suggested by Professor Sutton?   

Does anybody already have a rule like this?  How’s it working out?