Toronto·VERTICAL CITY

Condo problems that include 'revenge flashing' and loud music — here are people who can help

Shifting to a vertical city meant more people are sharing the same buildings, hallways, amenities and public spaces — and that's meant a big shift for how Torontonians living in highrises interact with one another. As a result, condo mediation is on the rise.

Living in close quarters has led to an increase in condo dispute mediation

Marc Bhalla, left, and Jennifer Bell, right, are condo mediators whose primary business is focused in Toronto and the GTA. (CBC)

Latest census data shows that Toronto's population grew by 4.5 per cent in five years and 44 per cent of the city's total population is now living in apartments of some kind.

Shifting to a vertical city means more people are sharing the same buildings, hallways, amenities and public spaces — and that has meant a big change in how Torontonians live and interact with one another.

Condos are no longer 'adults-only'

"Historically, condos used to be adults only," says Marc Bhalla, a leader in condo dispute mediation in Toronto.

"But with the cost of housing getting so high, families are finding themselves moving to condos to keep living in the city."

The tension created by the very existence of families and children in condos has led to court battles in Ontario.

In recent years, the Ontario human rights tribunal has heard several cases alleging family and child discrimination in Toronto condos. Issues have focused on everything from children not being allowed in pools to signs advertising adult lifestyles.

According to the Ontario Human Rights Code, it is against the law to discriminate based on age.

Disputes and condo mediation

Living in a close quarters, in some cases with neighbours above, below and on either side, has led to an increase in condo dispute mediation.

So, what is condo mediation?

"It's an opportunity for those that are experiencing issues in their community to sit down and talk, with the assistance of a neutral third party — somebody that doesn't have a stake in the outcome and to really help them dig down to what matters and why," Jennifer Bell, a mediator at Placet Dispute Resolution, says.

There are very subtle differences to our habits can sometimes create a disturbance to our neighbours.- Jennifer Bell

Although mediation is a one way to solve a problem, both Bell and Bhalla say their business has dramatically increased in the last few years. 

Bell says the most common complaint she receives is noise.

"Noise related to differences in lifestyle, different working schedules, or pets," said Bell, who is also the president at the Alternative Dispute Resolution Institute of Ontario.

"There are very subtle differences to our habits can sometimes create a disturbance to our neighbours."

Jennifer Bell, a condo mediator who works mostly in the GTA says noise related to differences in lifestyle, different working schedules, or pets is one of the biggest complaints she gets. (CBC)

Bell adds: "We have the right to quiet enjoyment, but that's a very subjective term."

Bhalla agrees. He says noise complaints often lead to debates among condo owners over "how much noise is reasonable."

Although the condominium board might often try to resolve an issue directly, mediators get called in if those discussions don't work and Bhalla says mediation a "friendlier, faster and more cost effective" process than going to court.

Shared amenities can create problems

Bell and Bhalla also say condo versus condo disputes are growing as more and more buildings create "communities" that share various resources. 

"What's sometimes conceived of at the blueprint stage, isn't always what translates on the ground once construction happens," said Bell.

Mediations can range from issues around noise to incidences of inappropriate behaviour.

Bhalla has seen cases of people "revenge flashing" or exposing themselves to someone with whom they have a conflict.

Marc Bhalla is a condo mediator who says condominium disputes get complicated once matters of human rights become involved. (CBC)

Bell recalls a case in which there was a dispute over garbage not being cleaned up. That dispute turned spiteful, when one of the parties involved started cooking a pound of bacon every day. She said that cooking was done to anger the neighbour, who was Muslim. "She didn't even like bacon," Bell adds.

Both Bell and Bhalla say what complicates disputes is when matters of human rights come into play. 

What makes these disputes unique is that human rights issues emerge as you cannot discriminate against families.- Marc Bhalla

Bhalla has seen cases where condo owners feel there is unfair cost-sharing. For example, if a retired couple is living in a unit similar to one where a family of five resides, both of them pay the same common expenses and the retired couple could become resentful. 

"What makes these disputes unique is that human rights issues emerge as you cannot discriminate against families," Bhalla, a mediator and senior clerk at Elia Associates, says. "Like pets, these types of conflict can also become quite emotional, even more so when they involve new parents functioning on short sleep!"

Marc Bhalla, condo mediator speaks to Dwight Drummond

5 years ago
Duration 3:15
Marc Bhalla, condo mediator speaks to Dwight Drummond 3:15

New condominium authority coming

The role of condominium mediators may soon change, however, as the government prepares to update the Condominium Act, to set up two new administrative authorities.

The Condominium Authority of Ontario (CAO) would have the following roles, among others:

  • Administer condo owner education.
  • Develop a condo corporation registry.
  • Build a dispute resolution system, which will ideally remove some disputes from the courts.

The Condominium Management Regulatory Authority of Ontario (CMRAO) would focus on improving the way condos are managed by administrating a mandatory licensing system for condo managers and condo service providers. It would also be responsible for ongoing oversight of these managers.

Both the CMRAO and CAO would be designated administrative authorities by the government later in 2017, according to a spokesperson for the authorities.

Looking to B.C. as an example

The CAO could borrow B.C.'s model for dispute resolutions, which was implemented just last year. 

B.C.'s Civil Resolution Tribunal (CRT) is the first online tribunal in the world and it has jurisdiction on the vast majority of condo disputes, according to Shannon Salter, the chair of the CRT.

About 5,000 people have used the online help tool since last July and more than 270 claims have been filed. 

"The CRT was developed out of a need, it was an opportunity to pioneer a new way of delivering justice systems to the public," Salter said.

Shannon Salter is the chair of the Civil Resolution Tribunal in B.C., the first of its kind in the world, which focuses on online dispute resolution. (civilresolutionbc.ca)

Similar to issues presented to Bhalla and Bell, the disputes mediated by the CRT mediates range from repairing common property to condo governance issues and bylaw enforcement. 

"It's been extremely successful here and the feedback has been very positive," Salter said. "In addition to using online tools for tablets or your phone, the focus of the tribunal is early, consensual dispute resolution."

Currently, the CAO and CMRAO in Ontario are conducting research on the types of issues that affect condo owners and residents, including the types of disputes they are facing.

Though Bhalla and Bell say the move is a positive one for the thousands of Ontario condo dwellers, they believe there will always be the need for face-to-face mediation. 

Have you ever been in a dispute with your neighbour, or condo management? 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​.

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