Toronto

'They're taking my life': Elderly couple fighting condo board's order to rip out their garden

An Etobicoke couple say their condo townhouse complex's board of directors is trying to force them to tear up the gardens they've tended for 25 years. Now they're spending $30K to fight the ruling.

Board threatens to make couple pay $30K in legal fees

Mira Ristic sits by her backyard garden, which she has tended for 25 years. Her condo board has insisted she remove it. (Richard Agecoutay/CBC)

An elderly Etobicoke couple says they're being victimized by their condominium townhouse complex's board of directors, which is forcing them to tear up the gardens they've tended for 25 years.

Mira and Dimitri Ristic have lived at 2-3 Bradbrook Rd. for 45 years, according to their daughter Jelena, but they'd never had a major disagreement with the complex's board of directors until a new neighbour moved in and joined the board.

Now, the family says, the board's property manager is insisting that they remove plants and shrubs that have been the retired couple's main recreation for a quarter of a century.

"They're taking my life from me," Mira Ristic, 76, said. "I can't kill anything that's alive, so I'm trying to find homes for the things they want me to pull out rather than cut them off."

CBC Toronto attempted to contact four of the five board members and the property manager at the complex near Islington Avenue and The Queensway. None have responded to those attempts, which included phone calls, emails and visits to their homes.

The Ristics admit that their relationship with one of their neighbours has been testy. But they say the problems only emerged after that neighbour was elected to the condo board.

The Ristics showed CBC Toronto letters from Maple Ridge Community Management (MRCM), the property management firm that takes care of the public areas of the complex, as well as a letter from the board of director's law firm, Elia and Associates.

A photo in a letter to the Ristics from their property management firm indicates what must go. They were given until Nov. 1 to to dig up the plants. (Submitted by Jelena Ristic)

In August, they say, they began receiving letters from the property manager insisting that they remove plants, shrubs and trees from both their front and rear yards. The letter says the front-yard vegetation is blocking service boxes, vents and grates.

The Ristics produced a letter from Rogers Communications indicating that their equipment was not being affected by their garden's location.

At the back of the property, the August letter states, most of the couple's shrubs and small trees need to be removed because they were planted without board permission and are disturbing their neighbour.

Lawyer Audrey Loeb, who is representing the Ristics, says the board should simply grandfather the family's garden. (Shibley Righton LLP)

The couple has also been ordered not to plant any new vegetation without permission from the condo board.

The Ristics say they've removed some shrubs and plants, but the demands from MRCM have continued.

The couple's daughter Jelena pointed to other townhouse owners in the complex who have equally lush gardens.

"Walk around the neighbourhood," she said. "Look at the bushes there. Look at the bushes there."

Mira Ristic with one of the plants the condo board has ordered her to dig up. The board's lawyer says failure to comply could cost the Ristics upwards of $30,000 in legal fees. (Richard Agecoutay/CBC)

On Oct. 9, the board's lawyer was also writing to the couple, insisting that they remove their gardens or face legal repercussions.

"If such further action is necessary, all costs, which in our experience can easily exceed $30,000, will be claimed against you," the letter reads. 

The letter also instructs the couple to pay $694.16 to the board, to cover its legal costs to date.
 
The Ristics have responded by hiring a legal expert of their own.

Audrey Loeb, a lawyer with Shibley Righton, told CBC Toronto she hopes the board agrees to allow the Ristics to continue gardening, on the condition that any future owners abide by condo rules that say permission should be granted before vegetation is planted.

"They basically told her that she's got to get rid of her garden, which is her lifeblood," Loeb said. "I don't find it's reasonable for a new board to say, 'We're going to start enforcing the documents and you must remove the garden,' she added.

"It would be much more reasonable to say when you no longer own this unit or live in this unit the garden has to go."

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