Condo conflict: Mississauga woman's bitter battle with condo board not uncommon, experts say

All Alexandra Isa wanted to know was why the boiler in her brand new condo was replaced after less than four years. She thought it was a simple question, but seven years later, she's now locked in a bitter and costly dispute with her own condo board.

Alexandra Isa says she’s struggled for years to get information from her condo board, but isn’t satisfied

Alexandra Isa is demanding information from her condo board about a 2010 renovation. The board says it has provided it. (CBC)

All Alexandra Isa wanted to know was why the boiler in her brand new condo was replaced after less than four years.

She thought it was a simple question.

But seven years later, Isa says she still hasn't received a proper answer and is now locked in a bitter and costly dispute with her own condo board.

"This is the biggest investment I make in my life. And not being able to ask questions about my investment is quite concerning," Isa said in an interview.

The building's property manager, Brookfield Condominium Services, on behalf of the board of directors, has a different story.

Regional manager Laurie Adams, in an email to CBC Toronto, said that all of the information requested by Isa has been provided.

In some cases, Adams wrote, "the same information was requested over and over again … and provided accordingly."

The same information was requested over and over again.- Laurie Adams, Regional Manager, Brookfield Condominium Services

"It is after much effort, time and energy over several years that the Board of Directors must, in cases such as this, concede to the fact that there will be no satisfying this individual," the email said.

Isa agrees; she isn't satisfied. And so she remains at loggerheads with her own board in a complicated dispute that experts say isn't unusual as the number of people living in condominiums continues to grow.

Concerns about boiler

Isa, 44, works in genetics and cherishes her one bedroom condo on Kimbermount Avenue in Mississauga.

In well organized folders, she keeps hundreds of pages of documents and correspondence with Brookfield, her condo board and their lawyers.

Isa moved in when the building opened in 2006.

But she says less than four years later, in March 2010, the building's boiler was replaced.

Just some of the many documents Alexandra Isa has collected in her seven-year struggle to get answers from her condo board. The board says it has provided Isa with all the information she has requested. (CBC)

According to Isa, the decision was made without consulting owners and at a cost of $200,000 pulled from the condo's reserve fund.

"The original boiler was still under warranty. So what happened to that?" Isa said.

According to Brookfield, the original boiler was inefficient and the new energy-efficient boiler has resulted in savings and is more environmentally friendly.

Isa describes the process of getting answers about the boiler project as "very difficult and challenging."

Struggle for information

Isa accuses the board of not being transparent in its decision-making and she points to a letter from May 2016.

In response to Isa's demands for information and documents relating to the boiler project, the May 26 letter from the board president reads: "The Board has no obligation to provide you their rationale or detailed explanations of their decisions nor is the Board required to give you request for proposals or documents of proof costs versus savings and costs versus investment returns," the letter said.

Isa felt like she was getting stonewalled by her own board. She hired a lawyer but was forced to let them go because she couldn't handle the cost.

Alexandra Isa's condo on Kimbermount Avenue in Mississauga. The building opened in 2006. Isa wants to know why the boiler was replaced in 2010. (CBC)

The condo board has also sent Isa several invoices for the law firm it hired to respond to her concerns.

Isa paid the first bill, but isn't sure if she'll pay the others. She says part of her condo fees go towards a legal fund.

"I've paid for those for the past 10 years. And now I'm being asked to pay again, for the corporate lawyer. How is that fair?"

Condo mediator 'extremely busy'

Fights between condo owners and boards are becoming increasingly common.

Last year, the Ontario's Ministry of Government and Consumer Services recorded 998 complaints, incidents and inquiries regarding the condominium industry.

"It's extremely busy," Marc Bhalla, a chartered mediator with Elia Associates, said in an interview.

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)

Bhalla's firm helps settle condominium disputes, which he says cost owners a great deal of stress, time and money.

"People are finding themselves living in condos and in that type of environment conflict is natural. It's how you handle it that makes the difference."

More serious disputes can wind up in arbitration or court, which Bhalla says can be very expensive for individual owners.

Mediation is another option, Bhalla says, but it requires at least some desire to compromise between the parties.

The government solution

But some legislative changes may help fix the problem in the future

One of the key pieces of the 2015 overhaul of the Ontario Condominium Act was the establishment of a Condo Authority Tribunal for dispute resolution.

In consultations leading up to the changes, the province found "a frequent power imbalance during disputes between condo boards and owners."

It also identified the current options for dispute resolution — arbitration or courts — as "time-consuming" and "expensive".

The tribunal's aim will be to "streamline" dispute resolution by making it more accessible and affordable for condo owners..

According to the Ministry of Government and Consumer Services, two not-for-profit corporations — the Condominium Authority of Ontario and Condominium Management Regulatory Authority of Ontario — were incorporated in July of last year.

"Implementation work is underway and the corporations are preparing themselves to be considered for designation as the administrative authorities," a government spokesperson wrote in an email to CBC Toronto.

"The ministry is working as quickly as possible and is making significant progress on the development of regulations for the amendments to the Condominium Act, 1998. The ministry plans to post those to the Regulatory Registry for public comment soon," the email said.

trevor.dunn@cbc.ca