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The condo act, board powers, registration, etc..

DSC

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Since I can't officially start a thread yet, may I ask the experts the following four questions here?

I will give my 5 cents worth...(in BLUE)

1. Our Property Manager is insisting we hire a lawyer to get Proxy to allow Beanfield in our building, which is something supported by the majority of owners (per an informal Facebook poll). I don't see this stipulated anywhere in our Condo Declaration. Why do we have to pay a lawyer to draft up a proxy when the provider would be optional to owners (residents can continue to use either Rogers or Bell) and owners support it anyway. I don't get this at all?! Can someone please explain? A proxy for this seems very byzantine to me. In our Building we are in process of being 'wired' for fibre by Bell (Beanfield was not interested as we are small). We certainly ran the Bell contract past our lawyers (Bell paid about 50% of cost) and, as we suspected, were told that the original Bell draft ("It's been approved by all the big condo lawyers") was filled with clauses that constrained our rights and made it very hard to get out of it at a later date. We got a better contract as a result. From my experience it is generally best to pay lawyers to avoid a problem than pay them much more to get out of something later. It is not 100% clear if the Corporation has RIGHT to enter a Unit to install fibre - in our case we are treating this a an upgrade to the building's infrastructure (which we DO have a right to do); we got legal advice on how to deal with this too.

2. Our Hydro bills are through the roof (we paid $9400 more in 2016 than in 2015!). The board has installed LED lights and motion lighting in the garbage, locker and bike rooms (garbage chutes too) and have even removed some aesthetic lights in the hallways. We are thinking of reducing hallway temperature but not sure to what (anyone have any advice on this? It's now set to 18) but would like more ideas on how to conserve energy so we don't have to increase our maintenance fees too much. Anyone have any solid tips they'd care to share? We have converted all our 24/7 lighting to LED and most of the rest are now done too. We also now always buy energy efficient pumps, motors etc and changed our pool heater from electricity to gas. You WILL see lower Hydro rates in 2017 as the Province has just removed their 8% part of the HST from hydro. You can certainly decrease common area temperatures and/or install programmable thermostats. You do not need to heat a lounge in middle of the night! Energy costs are very temperature dependent and as 2016 was FAR colder/hotter than 2015 it is probably inevitable your (and our) hydro bills were higher in 2016. (If you use GAS do you have a contract? Probably a good idea.)

3. On a similar topic, can the board make residents purchase low flow shower heads? I doubt you can FORCE owners to do this (or install low-flow toilets) but you could consider encouraging them to do this by offering a subsidy. Water is going up by 3% this year, after several years of 8% to 9% increases.

4. Our property management company does a pretty average job of keeping the board informed but that is not the case with residents. We constantly have to ask our PM to send out emails regarding garbage, noise, repairs, etc. and practically have to write each announcement ourselves, too. Is this normal? On a similar note, does anyone have any resources they could share regarding communication tips/strategy/templates, etc.? If anyone has hired a communication strategist, how much have they paid? Property managers have many skills but communicating with residents/owners is usually not one of them and is certainly not always top of their priority lists either. As a small building we do not have a full-time PM and, very good though she is, she simply does not have the time to write Newsletters or run websites. We have condo website (which, as Secretary, I created and run) and send out (and post on web) a 2-4 page 'newsletter' after each monthly Board meeting. We have also now got 100% of our owners to agree to accept all communications by email - this not only saves lots of $$$ but means it is quite easy to send out info. Toronto Condo News had quite a good article on communications last April. See http://tinyurl.com/jggvhk6

Cheers, Maxine

Re hallway temperature--just not sure what they set it to. Ideas?: "How did the Toy Factory Lofts condominium reduce its maintenance costs? Some of the reduction is due to well-thought out building adjustments, such as reducing hallway temperatures in the winter. Such cost saving initiatives should be applauded and encouraged as a way of keeping condominium living more affordable." If I remember right, the Toy Factory Lofts 'saved' $$ by reducing their Reserve Fund contributions - it seemed, a nd seems, a rather risky thing to do to me!
See my comments interspersed into your questions.
 
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DSC

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I can help with #2 and #3 but I am not sure I understand #1. It does sound weird to me as well. That said, I run a lot of things through our lawyer because better to pay $300 an hour now rather than $30,000 later.



HYDRO:

I know nothing about the age, size etc. of your building. Are your units individually metered? Are your walls insulated? What are your windows like? Do you have balconies? What about exposure?

Tell me about hydro bills going through the roof! Because they are part of the CEF in our building, people think electricity is free.

We are an older building and our units are not individually metered and can't be because of the nature of our heating system which is electric. It's radiant ceiling heat and, if I were to lower my thermostat, they would feel the cold upstairs. So metering would mean we would try to save money when, say, we go south for the winter but the little old lady upstairs would freeze.

We have very few options.

We are working very hard on education, complete with "light shows" demonstrating the difference in hydro consumption between LED, and CFL, halogen etc. We show people how to save in other ways. We encourage the use of ceiling fans. We even tell them to wear fuzzy slippers and sweaters!!!

I think that, as our older owners die off or move out, it's getting better as the newbies come in and renovate with new HE appliances. Plus they tend to be more conservation-minded, especially the downsizers who grappled with hydro bills. (When we moved in we were doing time-of-use laundry and dishwashing until we discovered that the building was paying bulk rates.)

The older folks were mostly the originals, who moved in 40 years ago and may have never owned houses. They may have never seen a hydro bill.

We are slowly replacing all our common area lights. We turned down the pool temperature 3 degrees. We have motion lights in some other rooms, like the bike room. But we have a huge parking garage and three stairwells and those lights are on 24/7. The expense to flip over to LED will be enormous. This year we have budgeted $20K to continue doing that and we hope to make it back soon.

The building installed all new windows about six or seven years ago. Had I lived there at the time, I would have fought the choice of windows. They went cheap. We are heating the outside. Drives me nuts. (We try to encourage people to get and use energy-conserving shades like Hunter-Douglas Duettes.)

Hydro keeps rising despite our best efforts.

We had a Green Committee for a couple years to help with the planning and education. It was a great group, including three retired engineers, a former HVAC man and myself. We did a lot but Hydro kept raising the rates.

Our corridors are not electrically heated, BTW. They're gas/hot air and that's pretty cheap.

Wish I could help more. Ask to look at the bills. Is the consumption increasing? Or the rates? That should tell you a lot.

COMMUNICATIONS:

I have endured three property managers and I have to say that every single one of them would have failed high school English. I end up writing 95% of all letters, notices, etc. It's a lot of work but I consider it my job as other Board members bring other expertise to the table. Mine is communications.

I also maintain a blog -- sorry it's confidential/private -- where I post the news and notices as they happen. I have fun with this. It's my thing. One of these days, I will get around to creating a full-fledged website. It's a freebie WordPress site.

We also have a monthly 8-page hard copy newsletter put together by an owner and myself, with contributions by our neighbours. It gets printed in the PM office and distributed by volunteers.

Anyway, depending on the building, sometimes PMs just have too much on their plate. Since Board members will bear the brunt of complaints for lack of transparency, they should (at least IMO) assume responsibility for communications.

I have to say that, when we first moved in, people were bitching about the Board because nobody knew what it was doing or why it was doing what they did know about. Now, aside from confidential matters due to privacy legislation, they know everything. If there are complaints, they have not gotten back to us.

I really think transparency is key. It also serves to show how hard the Board is working (or not.) A transparent hard-working Board will get more respect from owners when they see how much it does on their behalf.

We like having happy campers.
I agree 100% that COMMUNICATION with owners and residents is probably the most important thing and something that really cannot be left to a Property Manager Even if they have the necessary skills they seldom have the time and generally do not know the 'personality' of a building as well as the residents.
 

Ex-Montreal Girl

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So many issues to pick up on.

I'm also not sure just what you mean by #1, but I can't see any reason you would need a vote (is that what you mean by proxy?) to bring Beanfield in. If there is nothing about specific providers in your declaration (for example, if it said the building would only be served by Rogers -- although I can't see a declaration stating that), the board should be able to enter into a contract with Beanfield or any other provider. You aren't entering into an exclusive contract, you're offering an additional choice. You may want to have a lawyer review your contract with Beanfield (or any other contract though) -- sometimes lawyers pick up on little things in contracts that can cause a lot of grief down the road.
We have a deal with Rogers for TV that may well go back to Day One. Cable is specifically mentioned in our Declaration and it is included in our CEF. Everybody now gets all the channels (except TMN, HBO and all the premium pay channels) plus two digital boxes. Most people in our building get Rogers Internet. Many also switched to Rogers phone. We were on Bell since 2002 and didn't want to change for a number of reasons, including getting continuing service in a blackout. We renewed our 5-year Rogers contract last year and we had a lot of debate about it as the younger demo doesn't watch TV and is into streaming blah blah blah. Rogers did a major upgrade 3 years ago but I don't think it fibre to the unit. I see a lot of coax around. A few months ago, Bell offered us a very attractive deal to rewire our building. The Board split along age/tech-savvy lines with one director and myself wanting to take advantage of it. What was there to lose? He and I already were on Bell (not the others) and we were getting speeds of 100 MBps with super duper modems that crashed through our concrete walls. So, as always, we referred our questions to our lawyer and it turned out that, in order to do this, we had to call an official meeting of owners, get a quorum, and go through the full legal catastrophe.

We plan to do it but we haven't yet gotten around to it. Other priorities. Part of our reasoning for letting it slide: the Rogers upgrade was so messy, so invasive and so disruptive that a new upgrade would never pass a vote even though it would be far less intrusive. We need to let some time for the memory to fade and those who suffered through the Rogers mess to gradually move away.

COMMUNICATION:

I wish we could do e-blasts but, again, demographics. From our surveys, half the owners are not online. As for those who are, many "don't do" Facebook. I have a Facebook group I started as soon as we moved in for my friends in the building but other residents are not yet included.

I have noticed many buildings have FB groups and websites. Some are more active than others.

We are looking into digital screens but, part of the problem is, even when we put up giant notices in the bulletin board cases in the lobby, laundry room, elevators, on the parking garage levels etc., people either don't bother to look or they enter via a stairwell and skip them or claim to miss them. And when we do put out important notices nowadays, we do hard copies, leave them at the Front Desk where you have to sign for receipt. And even then ...

In announcing the last Town Hall, we did that. One of "The Dirty Dozen" as I call them (the complainers, gossips, pains in the neck etc.) cornered me in the elevator and demanded to know why he had to sign for the letter because it was "so officious." This was the exact same guy who, the year before that, berated us for not giving notice so that he could show up and berate us at the mic.

We always err on the side of covering our butts.

LIGHTING:

Our gym lights are on timers.

The pool lights are turned on and off by users. Same with our change rooms (LED) and laundry room.

During the day, the gym, laundry and pool lights aren't needed as there is a lot of natural light.

At night, most people are pretty good about turning the pool lights off. They're LED. Some of us, including myself, like to swim in the semi-dark with the light from outside spilling in.

We are re-doing both our gym and party room this year -- if all goes well -- and plan to find ways to save energy.

An energy audit is a good idea. Hydro also has some programs worth looking into for multi-residential buildings.

MAINTENANCE FEES:

That Toronto Star article last year about the Toy Factory was, to our mind, downright irresponsible. It was nothing but a plug for the guys who claimed that they could come in and reduce maintenance fees. I think that, if you Google, you will see their website is 404.

Here is what I know about maintenance fees:

(1) They should always go up, if only because most RFS that I know of add in an inflationary increase every year to the RF contribution.

(2) On rare occasions, or some surprise reason, there's a surplus from last year. This can be applied to reduce or eliminate the increase. But surpluses usually indicate bad budgeting from years past. Not always though. Say you planned to create a brand new amenity where before there was none -- saunas, for example -- and you overbudgeted for them. There's a surplus. Hanging on to large surpluses is not fair to owners.

(3) Boards that tend not to raise fees really just want to be popular, or get re-elected. That is always a reason to be suspicious. You can't afford to be cheap.

(4) Maintenance fees affect sales. The higher the fees, the lower the unit price -- as a general rule. But there's a catch. A few years down the line, they even out. Give equal units in two equal buildings, one at $500K with fees at $500 and the other at $600 with fees at $350, in 3-5 years, the amount invested is the same. (This is a very very rough example/guesstimate.) People seem to have a HORROR of maintenance fees and would rather pay more for a unit (the predictability?) with lower fees than less for a unit with higher fees.

CONDO MADNESS:

Love it.

ETA: Just saw DSC's message about communication. Agreed. Also: A PM has no interest in communicating anything that might put management in a bad light.

ETA2: Again, just saw another DSC post about fibre. That pretty much describes our plan.
 
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DSC

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Lots of issues from Ex-MG. Here is my 5 cents on them.

We have had a Rogers contract in our building for about 15 years. When it came up for renewal about 3 years ago the Board suspected many residents would not want it renewed. We had an email vote and 41 of our 51 said YES and only one said NO. I was quite surprised. The Bell Fibe wiring we just agreed to will, maybe, offer us some competition to Rogers when the Rogers contract comes up for renewal next time.

The Board was keen to get our building "Fibre Ready", though few residents have raised this. (It has been asked by potential purchasers.) As I noted above, we ran the draft Bell contract past our lawyers who made several improvements to it. We are currently in midst of rewiring to bring Fibre to the Unit and so far so good. Whether any or many owners then sign up for Bell Fibre we do not know, that's between owner and Bell. I assume a few who stream a lot will but ...

Our building demographic is older but we have used email for all communications for at least the last 5 years. Under the Act you need to get the OK (in writing) from an owner to use anything but hard copy for "official business" (AGM notices etc). We ask and nag to get this OK from an owner and for at least last 2 years have had 100% there too. (We keep these OKs in the appropriate Unit File.) This really reduces our office costs and makes sending out info fairly simple. Both our manager and I (as the Secretary) have an email mailing list. She usually sends out most communications, I send out the 'newsletter' so it is clear it comes from the Board.

We have some lights on timers, some on sensors and all that should be on 24/7 are LED. (By law you need SOME lighting in a pool area at all times, even if it is not open 24/7/)

We try to keep about 1 month of fees in our Operating Account and use any excess (from surpluses) to do new things (the Reserve can only be used for repairs and replacements) or just move it into Reserve Fund as an additional contribution. (That way when next RFS is done we are already a bit ahead. I agree that one should expect fees to go up each year by AT LEAST the rate of inflation. Low fees, as you say, tend to mean low maintenance or 'cheapening' and that is not a good long-term strategy.

Thanks to our communications we have found that owners are MUCH more sensitive to WHY fees go up and our AGMs now seem to last 30-45 minutes rather than 3 hours! At the end of the day the building belongs to the OWNERS not the Board (and certainly not the Manager) and they (we) need to be informed if we are to make rational decisions or at least understand why they are made. Our only 'secrets" are salaries, relations with staff or owners, legal matters and bids on projects. (Though a PM may have no interest in communicating anything that might put them in a bad light the same also applies to Boards!)
 

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Another thing we do for communications is publish our minutes on our web portal. We do two sets of minutes, one confidential set that documents individual suite issues and then the general set that gets published.

We have also got a significant number of owners to agree to receive communications electronically. It saves a lot at AGM and budget time. We have a majority of off site owners and using the new GetQuorum tool, developed here in Toronto, has been really helpful.
 

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Another thing we do for communications is publish our minutes on our web portal. We do two sets of minutes, one confidential set that documents individual suite issues and then the general set that gets published.

We have also got a significant number of owners to agree to receive communications electronically. It saves a lot at AGM and budget time. We have a majority of off site owners and using the new GetQuorum tool, developed here in Toronto, has been really helpful.
We used to publish an edited version of our minutes but it was done in a rather sloppy way (not by me!! :->) and looked like a redacted government document with blank spaces etc so now we produce (un-distributed) minutes and a newsletter. Of course, under the Act an owner can request any Corporation document and it must then be released in full (with only personal details etc) redacted. We have had one request in 7 years and person then apologised as they saw that the "newsletter' had said was identical to the minutes about the issue that bothered them!
 

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We didn't want to do the redacted thing so that's why we do two sets. A number of our owners read them regularly, and we don't have to deal with requests -- we just direct them to the website.
 

Ex-Montreal Girl

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Lots of issues from Ex-MG.

We have some lights on timers, some on sensors and all that should be on 24/7 are LED. (By law you need SOME lighting in a pool area at all times, even if it is not open 24/7/)
Oh there's emergency type lighting always so we're covered. I just hate the bright overhead lights. The way we like it is with the emerg light and all the brand new LED ambient light coming in from our patio and grounds.
 

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Being on a Condo Board is 'interesting' and is actually something all (well, many!) owners should do. If you want an idea of the kinds of things Board do, take a look at some of the many Condo blogs (e.g. http://www.tocondonews.com/ and the many legal blogs like http://www.lashcondolaw.com/ and condo columns like the Gerry Hyman one in the Saturday Star.

The time commitment can vary enormously; in our (small, 50-unit) building I have been on Board for 9 years. At first we met every 3-4 weeks for 3-4 hours but at that time we had a very poor Manager (or series of Managers) and a poor Management Company - and a rather 'hands-off' policy. Then the PM and the Company got worse so we took over more and more of the daily tasks (getting quotes etc) so it took even more Director time. Then we hired a new Management Company and a new Manager and things improved greatly. We now have meetings every 6-7 weeks and they last about an hour (we do also have email 'conferences'; we do not need to constantly discuss the same issues as we are able to get 'facts' and quotes promptly. Also, because the Manager is on top of things and is proactive our Super is much more effective (with the old Manager(s) he never got responses to issues so basically decided it was not worth reporting potential problems). Basically, Boards set and monitor the Budget, approve quotes over $x, supervise the Manager and discuss how to deal with issues that can range from 'improvements' to problem residents to new services like installing Bell Fiber. All this needs to be done within the rules and regulations set by the Condominium Act, the Corporation's own by-laws and, of course, the Corporation's Rules. Being a Director can be quite fun and the occasional interactions with unpleasant residents (all buildings have some) are greatly out-numbered by interactions with the others, who appreciate what the Board is doing. We have found that keeping all residents informed of what is happening and what is not feasible has really helped to make life in our building better, and our lives a s Directors much easier and more pleasant.
Appreciated. Lots of information that I needed
 

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Hi Ex-Montreal Girl , PinkLucy and other experts,
I am new to this blog and nice to hear your experience. I wish my board has someone like you. My board requested me to pay a charge-back, but there are no loss or damages I have caused. The board required me to replace a part inside my unit as it claims it caused some very minor issue to other units. Nevertheless, they have suggested a simple solution as there are no damages. When I asked a bit more information with the issues and some paper work, they then asked me to pay for the full inspection fee. I wish to see if anyone else may have similar issues that can share experiences.
 
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DSC

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It is hard to answer this without more details of the problem BUT, if something inside your Unit is causing problems for other owners (and would thus probably be against your Rules) your Board CAN ask you to 'make things right." It is not unreasonable, IF this is your fault, for you to be charged for some or all of the investigation expenses. (Why should other owners have to pay for this?) It should be noted that condo corporations cannot charge 'fines' - only the costs incurred.
 

SunshineToronto

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Thank you DSC for sharing your insight, very much appreciate. The issue was actually related to some water source that relate to a new technology of faucet. I wish to ask for more details, but was not provided. They originally informed me I can keep the part, just make sure it was closed off properly after use (which it was because the unit was actually vacated for most of the time). I thought the issue was resolved. But when I asked for more information because I was thinking to replace it , the office got rude and then ask me to pay for the check-up fee. It's really not that I don't want to pay, but need a reason to pay. I think I should logically get a second opinion from the faucet manufacturer, if they said yes, there is a potential problem, then no issue, I pay. But if it turns out it's not the main issue of the problem, then am I really entitled to pay for everything? All I want is to understand more and help the issue, but ends up being treated rude.... Thx again for sharing.
 

DSC

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I think that the board (or more likely property manager) may be on thin legal ground expecting you to pay for a fee you were not asked/told about in advance. In our building we would do an 'informal' (free) investigation (by Property Manager) and if s/he found a probable problem s/he would write to owner saying 'it needs to be fixed (by you) OR it's OK and nothing to do with you OR it needs a better investigation by a plumber or expert and in that case, if a problem that you caused is found we will charge you for this investigation AND expect you to fix things". This gives owner chance to fix things and avoid an investigation. If I were you I would talk to PM and say that you should have been advised IN ADVANCE that you might be charged and are happy to fix the problem but not pay for the investigation.
 
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SunshineToronto

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Very logical, I wish our board or PM have the same reasonable and logical mindset, and a good communicator. I will definitely try to have a chat with them (they refused my meeting request once, and mentioned the plumber WO clearly stated the issue and demand me to pay). I already responded to them I followed the instruction (as per their investigation) to turn it off when not used - in order to keep the part and no need to change, hope I can resolve this in a good manner, so everyone is happy. Thank you DSC for your time and expertise sharing your thoughts, and wish you continue success!
 
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