When it comes to condo law reform, there is very little that everyone agrees on.   So when the Minister of Consumer Services announced on July 19, 2013 that introducing condo manager qualifications was the one concept that found unanimous support in the government’s Condo Act Review process, the news was big.

And long overdue.

By any measure, the case for better qualified condo managers is both clear and compelling.   People selling hotdogs or driving taxis are far more closely and thoroughly regulated than the person or firm managing multi-million dollar condominiums which, in turn, represent the vast bulk of the unit owners’ earthly wealth and the centre of their daily existence.

While the details remain to be debated and settled, there is no question that mandating minimum qualifications for condo managers will require an oversight body to devise those qualifications, administer licensing, enforce compliance and prosecute offenders.  It is also highly likely that a code of ethics or conduct and a process to handle complaints and to investigate and mete out discipline will be created and implemented over time.  The form, mandate and governance of this oversight body (whether a newly-created or existing entity) will likewise be subject to debate, and probably intense debate at that.

From some of the press following the Minister’s announcement, most of which is positive and supportive of the government’s initiative, there appears to be significant misunderstanding of the topic of manager regulation, its effect and its significance.  These misconceptions will invariably fuel the debate.

For one thing, describing the move towards imposing mandatory qualifications (which, as stated above, will probably be closely followed by licensing and regulation) as “a baby step” is inaccurate.   Recognition that the public interest is served by condo managers satisfying mandatory qualifications and being subject to a professional licensing and regulatory regime is, in addition to being a no-brainer, a quantum leap from the current, conspicuous absence of the slightest government oversight.   The Ministry’s signal that condo managers are worth considering as a regulated profession is significant and welcome news for the million or so Ontarians that live in a condo.

A further point worth noting is precisely who has been championing the call for manager qualification, licensing and regulation.  Though it may seem surprising to some, the condo managers themselves have long called for better qualifications, stringent ethical standards and oversight.  ACMO called for licensing and high mandatory standards since at least 2001 (as seen from this undated white paper from 2001-2002) and much more so since its 2011 AGM (which we reported here, and the product of which is outlined in this article and this whitepaper issued in late 2012). 

The genesis of these and other efforts by ACMO pre-date MPP Marchese’s Bill 72, Property Owners’ Protection Act, 2012, which was his fourth effort to amend Ontario’s condo law but the first of them to address manager qualification and licensing.   Alberta’s condo managers got started earlier and have gone further, issuing a more comprehensive discussion paper in 2007.

Another interesting concept emerging from the recent press is the objection to condo managers becoming a self-regulated profession.   According to some, the reason condo managers shouldn’t be allowed to self-regulate is that there is no adequate assurance that condo directors (who are elected by unit owners and have the statutory power and duty to control, manage and administer the condo corporation and who ultimately direct the managers) would act sensibly and in the owners’ interests. 

If we follow this line of “thought,” lawyers should not be permitted to self-regulate because their clients may choose to break the law against their advice.  If this is the best argument why condo managers should be treated any differently than realtors, lawyers, accountants, engineers, architects or doctors, all of which are self-regulated professions, then it will be easy enough to thoroughly demolish the objection.   Other objections exist, however.  Some are guided by mistrust of condo managers sitting in judgment of their peers and some, like the argument that lawyers will benefit from the chaos resulting from manager self-regulation, are simply incoherent. 

It is very early days in the movement towards condo managers becoming a better qualified, licensed and regulated profession, but an important milestone has been reached.   Though quick action and implementation are desirable, the debate as to how far the concept should go, what form it should take and how it should be overseen is an important one and is worth taking the time to fully develop.   To implement a half-hearted measure without substantial qualifications and a meaningful, effective enforcement mechanism would be a far greater disservice to the public than doing nothing at all.

Stay tuned.