Who's responsible for COVID-19 protocols in condo buildings?
Some condo owners in Toronto’s City Place neighbourhood recently received an email about COVID-19 protocol, which is raising questions about the enforcement of lockdown rules.
The note, sent by the building’s board of directors, asks people in the property to report any units having parties to bylaw officers through 311. It also stated it would begin implementing and reinforcing safety measures such as only allowing floor FOB access, no inter-unit gatherings (including no visitors), reduced parking access and parcel pickup within 48 hours.
While the protocol may seem extreme — reporting what goes on in the privacy of one’s home — it brings up questions about where the responsibility falls should COVID-19 spread through a condo building.
Mark Weisleder, a Toronto-based real estate lawyer with Real Estate Lawyers.ca, says that any rule made by the condo board that’s made for the intended safety of condo residents goes into effect once it’s passed. If owners object to the rule, they can call a meeting and if there are enough votes, the rule can be overturned.
If a unit is believed to be violating the rules, the board will get the condo’s lawyers involved. The resident in question will receive a letter explaining what rules they believe aren’t being followed and they must pay for an investigation, which can cost up to $2,000. If they don’t pay, a lean will be registered against the unit, which will cost an additional fee, between $1,000 and $2,000. If none of this is followed, the unit could be put up for sale, though in most cases the resident will pay.
“This is the power that the condominium has to go after people violating rules,” Weisleder tells Yahoo Canada.
If renters violate rules, owner is on the hook
If the unit is being rented, it’s the owner’s responsibility. That means, they have to cover the costs of the investigation, and are responsible for attempting to evict the tenant under the residential tenancy laws. While Weisleder hasn’t heard of any incidence like this related to COVID-19 precautions, the property owner would still be responsible for evicting the tenant.
“If it’s a literal safety issue...that’s what would have to happen,” he says. “They’d have to take them to court and the judge would make sure the tenant wouldn’t do this anymore.”
The pandemic has led to other challenges for condo units, such as when and how real estate agents can safely show empty units.
“Condos have an obligation to protect the residents,” says Weisleder. “That’s why buildings have rules like wearing masks in common areas and only letting a certain number of people in an elevator.”
Toronto real estate lawyer Jeff Goldstein says a condo board doesn’t have the power to levy fines against residents who are breaking the rules - unless they institute a new bylaw.
“There’s a set of declarations and bylaws that a condo corporation requires an owner to sign when they buy a unit,” he explains. “There ought be a clause that says you have to comply with all municipal bylaws and if you don’t, there will be some type of penalty.”
In June, a Calgary condo building with 288 suites reported at least 34 cases of the virus. At the time, the province’s top doctor suggested that the virus was likely spread through commonly touched surfaces, like elevator buttons, door handles and mailboxes.