May 5, 2011 marks the 10th anniversary of Ontario’s Condominium Act, 1998 coming into force.

While the Act received Royal Assent in December 1998 (hence the Act’s name), the government of the day felt that a short transition period (of 2 years, 4 months and 17 days!) was needed to ease everyone into the new regime. To be fair, the 1998 Act was a near-complete overhaul of the prior version which existed in substantially the same form since 1979. The 1979 version was the first revision since the proclamation of Ontario’s original Condo Act in 1967. The 1998 Act, then, was only the second major revision in 30 years of condominium law in this province. 

Like most legislation, the effect of the 1998 Act was generally positive but mixed, largely because it solved a lot of problems but left some unaddressed and created a few new ones. The Toronto Chapter of the Canadian Condominium Institute (CCI) and the Association of Condominium Managers (ACMO), which together played a tremendous role in developing the 1998 Act, have led the charge over the past ten years for additional changes to the Act. They have mounted a herculean effort and gathered input from all sections of the “condosphere” to prepare and propose legislative changes intended to simplify the lives of condo developers, unit owners and directors and help balance the competing interests of these stakeholders.

Those efforts, like the 1998 Act itself, have met with mixed results. While CCI and ACMO have attracted some significant attention from the sitting government in the last couple of years, the efforts to fix the problems in the 1998 Act during the first several years were largely ignored, apparently on the basis that the Act was relatively new and therefore a less pressing priority for government. In addition, the government that came to power in 2003 was completely unfamiliar with CCI and ACMO and their efforts in shaping the 1998 Act. This changed after a sustained and significant focused effort but has not yet led to any major revisions to the Act.

It is true, however, that there have been numerous small amendments to the Act over the past decade. Most were inconsequential or simply housekeeping in nature. We reported on all of the most recent ones here and here.

One major success achieved by CCI and ACMO was to secure a regulatory amendment that grants condos an additional five years to top up their reserve funds. While seemingly positive, the practical value of this change is small, since nothing in this portion of the Condo Act would ever cost taxpayers a dime and, further, this deadline would never be enforced by government anyhow. Truth be told, the amendment was given as a token gesture to help offset the major financial impact of the Harmonized Sales Tax on condominiums and unit owners. That said, the fact that government listened to CCI and ACMO, recognized that the Condo Act and regulations can be amended to help people and that they actually did something about it is, by itself, an important achievement.

Much more is needed to be done in order to make meaningful change in our condo law and to give real relief to condominiums and unit owners. Unfortunately, the condo industry’s movement to persuade government to review and revise the 1998 Act will soon pause as Ontario moves towards a general election this fall. Then it lies with the voters to determine who sits in government. What will become interesting to watch is whether and to what extent condo-related issues factor into the election and what result might come from that.

While condo issues have never figured prominently in party platforms during provincial election campaigns, the 2010 Toronto mayoral race may be a sign of things to come in a few ways. First, the concept of “value to taxpayers” which won the election for Rob Ford and which rings especially loudly for condo unit owners could manifest itself as a province-wide mantra this fall in the provincial campaign. Second, organizations such as CCI-Toronto, who held a brilliant mayoral debate on condo issues, might schedule similar events to help bring condo issues to the forefront in the provincial campaign. These sorts of events would help remind condo dwellers to consider the good of their condominiums when making their choices at the polls, as they should, and get candidates and their parties to think seriously about these issues while on the hustings. This will increase the odds of meaningful things getting done after the election.

Another reason that condo issues can and should be a larger priority issue in the upcoming election is the sheer numbers. CCI estimates that over 6,700 residential condominium corporations exist in Ontario which collectively house more than 1.2 million people, including at least 800,000 voters. With thousands of new units coming online in the near term, this number of condo-dwelling voters will only increase over time. It follows, then, that issues confronting condo unit owners will likely influence their decisions come election time and will have a greater impact in our elections. Consider, for example, that the impact of the HST, rising energy prices and smart-metering is likely affecting the bottom line of every single condominium (and, as a result, their unit owners’ pocketbooks) in a material way. Politicians would be insane to ignore these sorts of issues that lie near and dear to the hearts of so many unit owners and voters.

One of those issues that might come to the forefront could be the much-needed revision to the Condo Act.

The current government’s willingness to seriously consider further amendments to the Act is unclear at this point but the opportunity to reveal its plans will certainly present itself during the upcoming election campaign. The opposition, on the other hand, has already publicly stated its intent to review the Condo Act if elected. At CCI’s Golden Horseshoe condo conference in April 2011, Niagara-area MPP and PC Leader Tim Hudak addressed a crowd of over 300 condo owners and directors. He promised changes to update the Condo Act “to reflect modern realities” and also to address the cost of energy, which is one of the largest budget items for almost any condominium.

Hudak was a last-minute addition to the conference agenda and appeared to score major points for the promises he made in what rang out clearly as an election campaign speech. While some balked at the blatant partisanship, the fact is that the sitting minister in charge of the Condo Act was invited to appear at this conference but did not attend or send a delegate in his stead. Such decisions, which seem to smack of indifference, will become increasingly costly to any politician or party, given the rising number of condominium owners and their potential to organize as a voting bloc. No politician or party can afford to alienate this growing constituency.  [Update: Minister Gerretsen has responded to that point with a letter to clarify the issue. His letter can be viewed here.]

With politicians’ recognition of the growing importance of the condo voters and with the skillful and persistent continuing efforts of CCI and ACMO, there is cause for hope that our Condominium Act will be much more mature by the time it turns 20.