It’s customary in late December to ponder resolutions for the coming year, especially for the young and idealistic. We’re neither, but we offer the following 7 suggested resolutions for the new Condominium Authority of Ontario. CAO launched only four months ago as the tip of the first big batch of major condo law regulatory changes in over 15 years and aims to be the go-to condo resource.
1. Focus on creating better tools
Though I haven’t yet sampled the new mandatory director training course (it’s my resolution to do that), the information and guides posted on CAO’s website to date seem pretty basic and superficial. To be fair, it takes time to create good materials, but time is ticking. For CAO to earn a reputation as a trusted source of information, it needs to provide it high quality stuff in a comprehensive way and fast.
The situation is urgent. Several parts of the regulations coming in force November 1, 2017 are drafted in a way that’s horrifyingly complex and utterly beyond comprehension of most people. See for yourself. For example, setting a date and calling and holding an annual general meeting (which has typically been pretty simple) is now complex, clumsy and very easy to foul up. An online date calculator to incorporate the various requirements and identifying the various steps would be a valuable service and would relieve condo boards and managers from consulting lawyers for what ought to be simple business.
Another suggested tool might be a “wizard” (like City of Toronto’s Waste Wizard) that might categorize the requested record as core or non-core, list the applicable retention period and suggest which box to check on the new-fangled records request form.
Of course, CAO’s signature work must be the “Condominium Guide” contemplated by the Condo Act Review process. The “buyer’s guide” currently posted on CAO’s website is, we trust, a quick and dirty temporary placeholder for something far more substantial that is presently in the works.
2. Make a great registry
CAO’s condo corporation registry was envisioned to be THE authoritative source to Ontario’s 10,000+ condominium corporations. Not only would the data provide insight into the demographics and geography of the condo stock, but the comprehensive database of condo corporations would make sending requests or serving papers on condo corporations easy, quick and reliable. Condo corporations benefit by knowing that information, requests or legal papers from government departments or other persons will come to the board’s attention promptly, whereas this is presently hit-and-miss.
Of course, the principal reason for mandatory registration permits CAO to assess and collect the levy needed to fund its operations.
Despite early hiccups, CAO has already secured registration of over 7,000 of Ontario’s 10,000+ condo corporations since September 1, 2017 and has quite reasonably extended the mandatory registration deadline to February 28, 2018. This suggests that the database will not come online until mid-2018, meaning that the database can be tweaked to be the best it can be.
The format of the database and the way in which it will be accessible are not yet clear, but here’s our suggestions to make the registry as great as it can and should be:
a. Develop and promote it for use by municipalities, police departments and law firms so that they will use it;
b. Charge fees (either per search or on a subscription basis) to recover costs funded by unit owners’ annual levies;
c. It must replace the obsolete and absurd practice of registering notices on title to units under Condo Act, s.108, which notices are rarely current and virtually never consulted;
d. The manager’s address for service and the corporation’s (if different) should always be accessible but director names or addresses should never be.
CAO obviously faces a time crunch, but setting this registry up correctly the first time will create lasting value and add a notch to its credibility.
3. Stick to business
We recognize that CAO is working hard to increase its nascent profile, but we cringe at some of the meaningless, gushy social media that might turn people off, like this one on sweater weather (which likely invited a flood of the usual yearly complaints about highrise condo buildings switching on the heat while it’s still warm outside) or this one wishing Happy Halloween (without reminding us that condo corporations might enact rules preventing door-to-door solicitation unless you’re running for public office).
To get people’s attention and keep it, make every communication count. Cut the filler and fluff.
4. Talk sense into government
Among CAO’s greatest virtues is its intended role as a permanent, well-connected, well-informed body to monitor reactions, watch trends and advise government on the efficacy of legislative and regulatory changes and to guide future changes. To this end, we expect (and require) CAO to look closely and critically at the 15 new mandatory forms that came into use on November 1.
To put it diplomatically, many of these new forms are problematic for reasons too numerous to list here. It’s understandable that this first batch of forms materialized in a hurry to meet the government’s ambitious timeframe for implementing its condo law changes, but the work to fix those forms begins now and must progress quickly before too many owners become frustrated with them. CAO is well-poised to take the lead on gathering owner input and to making these forms more effective, easier to prepare and more valuable to the owners who receive or use them and to help government get them right.
And since there are still plenty of additional regulatory changes to come, CAO should be positioning itself to advise government on all of them. It is not an option for CAO, a creature funded by condo unit owners, to remain silent or on the sidelines while government rolls out regulations that profoundly impact the operations and budgets of every condominium corporation.
5. Go to AGMs
Even if the top dogs at CAO are highly-seasoned condo veterans as we expect them to be, they should be going out in the field early and often to see what’s happening and collect input from regular condo owners and not just those who call or email CAO with complaints. CAO executives might also attend and observe a variety of condo AGMs to see whether the regulatory changes to date are adequate, overkill or miss the mark, and be ready to better-shape the changes to come.
In retrospect, and given my developing view that the government went overboard with some of the first big regulatory changes, I regret not having invited the ministry team to join me at any of the dozens of condo AGMs I chair each year. That experience might have helped curb the natural government tendency to focus on the extraordinarily-rare horror stories and then over-regulate everyone in the process. Perhaps not. I’ll make amends for this now, however, by offering to take with me any MGCS advisor, CAO director, executive or staffer interested in attending condo AGMs to get a sense of the reality on the ground. Such a reality-check could productively inform the degree of regulation needed for a form of government that has worked pretty damned well for 50 years in our province.
6. Post Tribunal decisions to CanLII
The Condo Authority Tribunal (CAT), Ontario’s first online tribunal, opened its doors to records disputes on November 1, 2017. We have yet to see a decision in any case but expect that a series of decisions will eventually form an informative precedential base that will ultimately reduce the number of disputes being filed. The way in which those decisions are reported is important and must be accessible and authoritative. Luckily, there’s no need to reinvent the wheel, as the B.C. Civil Resolution Tribunal posts its decisions both on its website and on the Canadian Legal Information Institute (CanLII). The CAT might follow this lead or, if it faces an “either-or” choice, should post to CanLII alone.
7. Don’t slow down
CAO brass and staffers should eat their wheaties this holiday season to maintain a blistering pace for the coming weeks and months. Since government provided too little time to meaningfully absorb the new regulatory changes that kicked in on November 1, the CAO must bridge that gap quickly to earn its reputation as the trusted, authoritative source of condo information in this province. These first months and full year are CAO’s best and only opportunity to create a good first impression on its constituency, namely the 1 million+ unit owners who are now paying the freight.
We advocated during the Condo Act review for creating a “Condo Office,” having recognized its tremendous potential benefit to condo unit owners for years to come. We wish CAO well in growing quickly to fill its mandate in 2018 and will watch its progress with interest and with high expectations.
Happy 2018 to all.