Toronto·Vertical city

Here are your biggest complaints about living in Toronto condos

High heels. Toddlers. Black labs. Cigarette butts. Property managers. The list is just a small fraction of the problems you’ve told us about when it comes to living in condos.

Noise, flying cigarette butts, owners who don't pick up after pets are realities for many

Forty-four per cent of people in Toronto now live in highrises, according to latest census data. In CBC Toronto's 'Vertical City' series, we'll examine the challenges of living in highrises. (CBC/Paul Borkwood)

High heels on hardwood floors. Toddlers on the move. Dog owners who don't clean up. Cigarette butts raining down. Property managers who don't answer calls.

The list is just a small fraction of the problems you've told us about when it comes to living in condos — from loud shoes for the neighbour below, to kids running in the halls, from smoke seeping into units, to cigarette butts burning holes through patio furniture.

Over the next few days, CBC Toronto will be examining the challenges and solutions that come from an increase in condos and highrises — as we all adjust to our vertical city.

According to latest census data, 44 per cent of people who call Toronto home live in an apartment of some kind.

With more and more people sharing walls, ceilings and amenities in Toronto, navigating the challenges in a close-quartered community isn't always easy. As a result, there's been a boom in business for condo mediators.

When it comes to living side-by-side, here are the big five issues you've told us about.

Man's best friend is creating some tension for condo dwellers — it's one of the biggest pet peeves reported by condo residents.

When owners don't clean up after their pets in the hallways or parks, it becomes frustrating for the entire community.

"It's not hard to pick it up. I walk 20 dogs a day… so I know it's not hard," says Cole Courneya, a dog walker in CityPlace. "If people just picked up after themselves, it would help a lot, especially in this area."

Cole Courneya is a dog walker in the CityPlace neighbourhood. She says people not picking up after their pets is a big problem. (CBC/Paul Borkwood)

On the other extreme, Jessica Tavares had an issue with her upstairs neighbour whose dog urinated indoors. The spills would sometimes drip into her unit through the ceiling and wall.

Pets are also one of the top complaints for condo mediator, Marc Bhalla.

"These types of disputes often become emotional for the pet owner as their pet is viewed as a member of the family," he says.

Cigarette butts are a problem in many highrises, according to residents across the city.

There isn't a month that goes by where residents don't post their frustrations to the CityPlace neighbourhood's Facebook page about smokers throwing their butts from above — many landing on balconies and terraces.

This is just a collection of the cigarette butts and garbage Jenna Glatt collects off her CityPlace balcony weekly. (Jenna Glatt)

Jenna Glatt says she consistently picks up cigarette butts off her balcony, and she's just "hopeful [they] don't start a fire." She has contacted management about the situation, but said not much has changed after notices were sent out.

Just last month, a cigarette butt flew into a flower pot on a resident's balcony in a Fort York building, catching fire and scorching the unit's balcony and windows.

This is what's left of a balcony after a discarded cigarette butt caused a fire inside a plant pot at one Fort York condo. Luckily, no one was hurt. (Facebook/Vicki Trottier)

"It's serious. People can be injured and property can be damaged," Vicki Trottier, a condo board member, says.

"If we can identify them, we can make them responsible for the costs of cleanup or restoration, but it's almost impossible to find. So we all pay for it through condo fees … we all pay for it in the long run."

Vicki Trottier says she's heard of cigarette butts landing on furniture, and once on someone's pet. Recently, a fire in her building damaged an entire balcony. (CBC/Paul Borkwood)

Her building is trying to become "cleaner and greener," which could mean going smoke-free.

It's something many buildings are considering, lawyer Brian Horlick says.

Horlick says cigarette smoking is a difficult issue for condos, because the Smoke-Free Ontario Act only covers common elements like hallways and party rooms — not private balconies.

What complicates the matter is identifying the culprit throwing the cigarette butts. "It's the exception, rather than the rule, when you can catch them," Horlick, senior partner at Horlick Levitt Di Lella LLP, says. When that person is caught, he or she can be found in breach of Ontario's Condominium Act.

Whether it's coming from above, below, outside or next door — noise was another big complaint.

It's also tricky to navigate because it often "becomes a debate as to how much noise is reasonable," Bhalla says.

Sara, a CityPlace resident told us her "thin walls are pretty bad, the music and voices … You pay a lot and you expect not to have to deal with that stuff, and it sucks."

Courteney Anderson says she had an issue with a neighbour who started kicking at her door one night and was screaming down the hallway. After complaints to management, she was told nothing could be done.

Andrew Uzunewe says noise is just part of the game, when it comes to living in a condo in Toronto. (CBC/Paul Borkwood)

But for Andrew Uzunewe, noise is just part of the condo game.

"You're not living privately, it's a community … so sometimes, you expect some noise. If it's too loud though, you need to report it to security," he notes.

The people who manage day-to-day operations of condos didn't score too highly among Toronto highrise dwellers.

"It took calling the city to have garbage looked after," Laura Holloran says about her building's management. "The dumpsters at the side of the building attracted raccoons, possums and coyotes."

Stephanie Eldred says the building she lives in had troubles with management since the day she moved in.

"Everyone individually has their own experiences, but it's been a history of years and years of people raising issues and  being ignored or being threatened with lawsuits from management," she says.

"We'd like to do something about it but we don't have the resources to fight a lawsuit so we just shut up and take it."

From pools to gyms, elevators and hallways — highrise dwellers have to play nice with shared amenities, and that can sometimes lead to escalated disputes, Bhalla says.

Marc Bhalla helps settle condo disputes as a chartered mediator. He says his firm, Elia Associates, is extremely busy with more and more people choosing to live in condos. (CBC)

"Personal animosity amongst board members can come into play," he says, especially if some residents feel like they have been footing more of the bill.

A common complaint among residents we surveyed was that few people treat the common space the way they do.

Have you encountered problems in your condo? Share your story with us.

About the Author

Alexandra Sienkiewicz

Journalist and Producer

Alexandra Sienkiewicz is an award-winning TV producer with over a decade of newsroom experience. She started her CBC journalism career covering national news before moving over to the fast-paced world of local. She believes every news story starts at the local level and those are the stories she most loves to tell. In her off-time, Alexandra​ dabbles in food and wine, furthering her education ​as a sommelier​.

With files from Ali Chiasson, Carly Thomas

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