Condo Hell?

Have you read the article in Maclean’s this month entitled “Condo Hell?”

It was brought up at our weekly office meeting, by somebody that asked, “Is this stuff true?”

Believe it or not, folks, not everybody has lived in a condo, and not all Realtors have enough experience to know if an exposé like this represents the day-to-day goings-on in a condo, or perhaps some of the worst incidents, all wrapped into a nice tagline.

If you haven’t read the article, do so.  It’s lengthy, but it’s worth it.

As for whether or not this is the norm, there’s only one way to find out…

Macleans

(Read the article on Maclean’s website HERE)

Sooooo……whaddya think, folks?

Is this a great article from a fantastic publication?

Or is this the garbage we would have expected from Toronto Life?

The article itself is great, don’t get me wrong.  And I’ve spoken to the columnist a couple times on the phone, and I think she’s a great writer too.

But the cover of this magazine is not what I’d come to expect from Maclean’s.

“WHY CONDOS ARE A LIVING NIGHTMARE”

Then, just for good measure, a photo of Jesus to the left…

This is like the Toronto Sun’s daily headline-play-on-words.

It’s simple-minded, and only serves to catch eyes, and sell magazines.

Would Maclean’s publish their well-respected university-ranking issue and headline:

“WHY UNIVERSITY KIDS WON’T GET JOBS WHEN THEY GET THEIR B.A.”

Probably not.

So, yes, as you can tell, I have an issue with the headline here, and not because I’m a Realtor, but rather, because I’m a condo owner.

I know the drawbacks to condominium living, believe me.  Don’t ever accuse me of being a “homer” and pushing my own interests.  After all, Toronto Realty Blog does more to expose the pitfalls of condos (and all real estate…) more than any publication I know!

But my problem with this article is that it’s fear-mongering.  Or as one blog reader wrote to me, it’s “alarmist.”

It’s telling the absolute worst stories, which I’m willing to bet were accumulated during months and months of research, through court cases, lawsuits, police reports, and after dozens and dozens of interviews with people who were lined up to tell their stories.

It’s that old adage – you’re five times as likely to give negative feedback than positive.  If you have a good experience, you usually enjoy it and move on.  If you have a bad experience, you can’t wait to share it!

So I have no doubt that spurned-condo-owners were lined up to tell their tales for this story.  But I don’t feel like the whole story was told.

Forgive me if I’m being too defensive, but I found the article to present a blatantly-one-sided account of what could happen while living in a condo, under the absolute worst circumstances possible, under exceptionally rare circumstances.

So yeah, I guess THAT is condo hell, and it happens to about 1 in 100,000 people.

The article begins with a story about woman who dealt with loud footwork on the floor located one storey above her, but I believe exaggerates when it reads: “….Dyke’s neighbours moved out and rented their condo to a dancer, who turned the unit into her full-time dance studio.”

Was it in fact a “dance studio” by definition?  Is that to be taken literally, as in this person was running a business out of the condominium?  Or was it said tongue-and-cheek, like “I’m so hungry I could eat a horse?”

The article doesn’t specify, but my fear is that readers of this piece might be led to believe that a condo-owner CAN turn their unit into a dance studio, or a tattoo parlour, or a motorcycle gang headquarters, or a place where cute puppies are yelled at…

I find the whole article to be exaggerated.

But then again, you can easily accuse my blog of being exaggerated.  The only difference is: I make no bones about the fact that I am one Realtor, giving his opinion, which is offered with a little humour, a lot of cynicism, and a fair amount of bias.  I’m writing to an audience that is often well-informed about the subject matter.  The Maclean’s article will be read by thousands of people who have never lived in a condo, have never had a friend that lived in one, and who take the word of this article as gospel.

As I said at the onset – a Realtor in my office asked aloud, “Is this really what goes on?”  She’s an old bird, who has sold upscale houses for forty years.  She has no clue what goes on inside a CityPlace building, nor will she ever.

But people who pick up Maclean’s, and read the tagline, “Why Condos Are A Living Nightmare,” might not understand that this has more to do with selling magazines, and less to do with providing a realistic account of condo living.

There are some great parts of this article, don’t get me wrong.

The quote about condo board presidents is priceless:

“Each one has a king. Many of the people who get elected to the boards have time on their hands, and this is the only place in their world where they have power. Unfortunately, that starts to go to their heads.”

I’ve said this time and time again.  The condo board president is usually a little 5’4″ lawyer or teacher, who has a Napoleon complex, and who LOVES to hear the sound of his own voice!

But then the article transitions back to more one-off stories about:

“……spraying the words “cow” and “pig” on a car, throwing eggs, dislocating a resident’s thumb and tampering with a scooter.”

Ahhhh…..maybe I’m being unfair.

Maybe this is what people want to read, and the publication just gave it to them.

It’s not like a headline reading, “Condos Can Be Great or Not-So-Great” would sell copies.

All in all, it’s a pretty good read – all 4,000 words of it.

Agree or disagree, I think if you have an interest in real estate, you’ll be intrigued by the anecdotal stories told in the piece.

It’s just the cover of the issue, and the headline I take great issue with.

I’ve written not shortage of blog posts about the troubles I, and my clients, have had with condominium management, concierges, security guards, or condo boards.

But these are usually little items, like your condo board trying to close the gym from 12-1pm every day for cleaning, when that’s the time most people would use the gym – on their lunch!

Every condominium is going to have its troubles, no doubt about it.  Human beings were not meant to cohabitate (don’t tell my wife that….), and especially not 500 people in a building, being essentially self-governed.  It’s impossible to live in harmony without issues, but 99.9% of the time, these are minor items, that don’t cause any undue stress.

I might bitch and complain about the fact that my concierge no longer allows me to leave packages for non-residents.  But the Maclean’s article talks about $60,000 legal judgments like they’re routine.

I guess, in the end, it’s up to the reader to decide on condo living.

Then again, with the way Toronto house prices are going these days, it’s not like most Toronto residents have a choice…

25 Comments

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  1. Gale Leitch says:

    My condo building in West Vancouver is from hell. If you have any problems or complaints, the last people you can go to are the president and board who practice favouritism, cronyism, intimidation, scapegoating, and downright bullying. My next-door neighbour is a psychopath who enjoys making my life hell. And, after complaints about her, she now enjoys the support of the board to continue her abuse and harassment of me! Chastised by a lawyer’s letter paid for by the board, my voice has been silenced. As a newcomer, and a single, you don’t have the witnesses or support system necessary to convince the nepotistic board and president that your longtime resident next-door neighbour is a problem. I have been told not to make any further complaints. This happens in Canada? Yep. So much for justice and democracy! Oh, and at the AGM, seven people ran for board positions. The residents voted, the goal was to elect five people. Inexplicably, all seven people are on the board. Democracy in action! I feel sorry for anyone who buys into this building. It’s not a strata. It’s not a co-op. It’s something a little different and, unfortunately, there is no government agency to protect the shareholders who live here and are victims of their neighbours and the board.

    1. Darcy says:

      I wonder we are living in the same building. Exactly how I feel about the board in my condo. Horrible people making up things with no proof, I am going to install video camera all over my unit to protect myself in the future.

  2. Cindy says:

    My feeling is Condos are not designed for the Various Lifestyles moving into buildings. One has to know there are Bylaws for anything & everything. (Read the minutes to know which are enforced)
    My understanding of the Article is they were both breaking a Bylaw. (one had a Dance Studio; the other had a second unit for an Office)
    If you read through the comments Condo Living problems are very real for some. — I currently live in a Building where Noise & The Budget are issues. (what’s noise to one is living to the other) (low Strata Fees are attractive to New Owners – As the years go by, we find out “it’s not in the budget”. (to keep the fees low; owners are expected to look after what they use and building shows it)

    From experience; don’t rely on Bylaws to tell you if your lifestyle fits the Building. (i.e. if the neighbours don’t have barbecues, you probably shouldn’t either. If you are looking at a quiet Unit, don’t expect to have a Theatre Sound System or have children running around. OR Vice Versa)

  3. Sabrina says:

    In light of the recent Toronto news about hoarders and the amount of time and money that it’s taken the owners of detached houses to deal with their neighbours, I find it puzzling that Macleans chose to pick on “condo living” instead of writing a well-balanced piece on living in a crowded city. The whole of life is a roll of the dice. I don’t know why people can’t get that into their heads. Before I bought my condo, I lived in a house on a respectable street. Every weekend (with very few exceptions, such as when his mother died), my neighbour next door would get drunk and stand in the middle of the road screaming obscenities. This occurred between the hours of 2 and 4 on Sunday morning. Sometimes, he would get violent with his sister and nephew; other times, he just stood there alone, expressing himself. Summer was difficult, because he did this right outside my open bedroom window. Often, the police would show up, but they knew him well, called him by his first name and encouraged him to go inside. Only a few times did they take him away. When some other neighbours took up a petition to “do something about it,” I refused to sign. What was the point?

    With regard to the article, though I was heartened to see mentioned what I believe to be the most salient issue and that is the fact that young buyers and older buyers appear to be at cross purposes. The banks (and, yes, realtors) have sold the young on the notion that they can buy something with relatively little money and make a profit on it without putting anything into it. They’ve, somehow, confused real estate with the stock market. So, you get these comments at board meetings, like “Why did the fees go up ten dollars?” and people applaud a board that seems to function Rob-Ford style. The idea of being prepared by saving for future events and repairs is new to them and, apparently abhorrent. The building, for them, is a way station and not a home and I have seen several treat it as such. It is very disappointing.

    1. Joe Q. says:

      If the building is merely a “way-station” for the young, all the more so is it a “way-station” for investors, who apparently (by many accounts, though statistics are scarce) account for a very large fraction of unit owners in many downtown condos.

      Would love to know if there is any correlation between condo financial dysfunction and investor ownership, one way or the other.

      1. ScottyP says:

        In February 2013, the chief economist for the British Columbia Real Estate Association had this to say about the “mythology” of foreign ownership in Canada:

        “The mythology is that there are hordes of investors coming in Vancouver and driving up prices… The only data that we have available suggests that there’s anywhere from 1 to 4 per cent of sales across Metro Vancouver that are foreign investors – from all sources. A couple of per cent, in terms of exposure to foreign investment, is not going to drive any investment.”

        http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/british-columbia/scant-evidence-behind-myth-of-vancouver-real-estates-foreign-buyers/article9000860/

        I don’t see things having changed that much in the past year… though there is that recent Sotheby’s International report which claims that almost half of Vancouver’s new luxury home sales made in the first half of 2013 were made my foreign buyers:

        http://blogs.vancouversun.com/2014/05/20/new-yorker-magazine-zeroes-in-on-vancouvers-foreign-ownership-problem/

        So, maybe the “foreign horde” myth really is becoming a reality, at least in the high-end market? It’s tough to say; few messages in RE are as mixed as the “foreign investment” narrative. It’s too bad that there appears to be so little data available which could confirm one way or the other where things really stand.

        1. Joe Q. says:

          In this case I’m not so concerned about “foreign” investors as I am about investors in general. I would just be interested to know if there is any relationship between condo-board penny-pinching and investor representation on the board (or ownership in the building).

    2. jeff316 says:

      Agreed.

      This issue here is that people who grew up in the burbs are now moving to the city and don’t realize that life in the city puts you in constant contact with your neighbours, whether you like it or not.

      They’ll blame it on their condo now, and blame it on their semi later. But as long as you’re living on a lot under 30 feet wide, you’ll have the same problems maybe with just a few extra feet of buffer space.

  4. WEB says:

    I don’t think the article is much of an exaggeration at all. From my experience (and from my friends’ experience) condo hell or at least condo aggravation is very real. I can attest to about 10 condo units that either I’ve lived in or friends of mine have lived in. Of these 10, I would describe 2 as clear condo hell. These 2 included an upstairs neighbour playing loud music all night – and the problem is unresolved after 2 years. Another includes neighbours putting racist notes on the door of a friend of mine – it was so bad that the friend moved out.

    Of the remaining 8, 5 of them would have included incidents that were fairly aggravating and lasted for a series of months. This would include one neighbour who turned the volume on his TV way up – it was so loud you could almost figure out what program they were watching. Go outside in the hallway and it was so loud, it was kind of unbelievable that anyone would actually turn their TV up so loud.

    Another was a person who lived above me who would scrape their chair on their hardwood floor and it was so loud, it almost made visitors jump when they heard it. This scraping would happen a dozen time an evening. In this case, I decided that I’d buy some of those felt pads and bring it up to the person above me and ask nicely if they could put it on the bottom of the legs of the chair. When I knocked on the door and asked, I was greeted with a F*** Y** and the door was slammed in my face. He was a class act.

    There was a funny or even unsettling story for me as well – this was a situation where I had a series of incidents where things were left at my door. On one occasion, there was a knock at my door. I answered it only to see a chocolate bar left for me in a bag. On another occasion, a magazine was left for me. I had no idea who was leaving these things and so it felt kind of creepy. I can’t remember what the other objects left for me were.

    I moved to a detached house a few years ago, and it is 100% better. I’ve gone from a 10 minute walk commute to a 35 mins bus commute. So, I spend 50 more minutes per day commuting (which I use at least half productively.) I also have to spend more time with maintenance and repair. But I am a million times happier in the detached house.

    There are alot of ***holes in TO….and so living so close together is going to be a problem. And it just seems to me that there is a bull market in the number of ***holes in TO, so I think these problems will only increase.

    Great article by Toronto Life – telling it like it is.

    1. Cliff says:

      I think we’ll be hearing a lot more “condo hell” stories in the future. Houses will continue to skyrocket in price because poorly built condos with poor management, boards and neighbors will be unbearable. I know of several people who moved downtown and have moved back to the suburbs.

  5. Cliff says:

    Hardwood in condos is really dumb. wood on concrete slab is a nightmare and developers shouldn’t be allowed to build condos with hardwood until they use the appropriate soundproofing. Owners also shouldn’t be allowed to rip up carpet and put down hardwood either. Better building code, improved Condomium Act would get rid of a lot of problems..

  6. joel says:

    http://news.nationalpost.com/2014/05/20/judges-ruling-smacks-down-wealthy-forest-hill-families-for-acting-like-children-in-feud/

    Here’s a great article about living in Forest Hill. There are bad neighbors everywhere you go!

    1. ScottyP says:

      Forgot to thank you for the link, Joel. It made my day.

  7. A Grant says:

    A couple of anecdotes about some bad experiences does not a condo nightmare make. The article itself makes this abundantly clear in the first paragraph, which focuses on the exception (dance studio) rather than the rule (13 years of “blissful” condo ownership).

    As for the following question – “Are Canadians-long accustomed to detached houses and backyards-ready for a world where … our neighbours may always be too close for comfort?” – I would suggest that the detached home and backyard is a relatively recent phenomenon. Let’s not forget that the it wasn’t until the post-war housing boom that this became the norm in cities/suburbs. I mean, if the author thinks condo living is a nightmare now, she ought to try reading some Dickens. I would also argue that most new condo dwellers have lived in a world where the neighbours are “too close for comfort” – growing up in either a semi-detached in the core, or in the fishbowls that are the newer subdivisions.

  8. Alex says:

    It’s sad that all we see are the two extreme sides, but like you said that’s what sells papers/magazines. I’m so sick of all those condo jingle radio ads (whoever writes those jingles deserves to go to music hell) and made-up pictures of condos that don’t show any of the buildings around them, and turn things like the gardiner into a giant park. Plus showing the extremes is the only way to get people to pay attention to it. Toronto has so many condos we may soon need some official tribunal to help people resolve differences without litigation, and articles like this are the only way to get that. Or maybe free courses for people on property management and how to handle finances so that condo boards can learn how to properly run things.

    I’d argue that houses get the same treatment as well. Consider how many articles there have been recently on hoarders that have ruined entire neighbourhoods and have had to have their houses forcibly cleaned up by people in hazmat suits. Condo or house, you can get unlucky and get bad neighbours.

  9. Paully says:

    Despite all the negatives, living in a non-condo attached dwelling could be a lot worse. For example, what happens when you live in a free-hold townhouse and your neighbour’s roof develops a leak that runs along the roofing boards under the shingles and then pours water into your home. How do you compel the neighbour to undertake the repair? Heck, how do you even prove where the problem is. Without the protection of condo rules & regulations, a professional property manager, reserve fund for common elements, etc., you could be left flapping in the breeze.

    I lived in a condo for eleven years and loved it most of the time. Issues can arise, but mostly, it is a good and efficient way to house many people.

    If you are thinking of running for a position on your condo board, I would suggest instead that you poke a sharp stick into your eye…it will be more pleasant and satisfying than being on the board.

  10. Carolyn says:

    Nightmares can occur anywhere. I had a horrible experience in a highrise condo too, but my worst experience was in a suburban bungalow where the house next door was owned by a member of a biker gang. I now live in a 1000 sqft condo in a low-rise where my neighbours are all elderly dears. Bliss.

  11. Tim says:

    A note on Ms. Dyke’s situation: her case against the condominium corporation was reported, and according to the reported decision her upstairs neighbour was actually using the unit as a full-time dance studio and teaching dance classes. That part, at least, does not seem to have been exaggerated (at least based on court records).

  12. frank says:

    Barring all of the extenuating circumstances described by this article, living in a space as confined as a condo would be challenging unless you:
    1. are single
    2. have minimal material possessions
    3. are a senior citizen
    4. have no regular sized furniture
    5. are so lazy that you prefer opening the fridge from your couch

    1. Gale says:

      A single person should NOT live in a condo. Why? Because there are a lot of sociopaths in a condo and condo owners need a WITNESS to the goings on. Without a witness, your evil neighbours and corrupt board president and members will scapegoat you for any complaints you make and make life such a misery that you will want to leave. It happened to me! Condos are NOT a wise choice for singles.

  13. Long Time Realtor says:

    Macleans is an anti-real-state, overly hyperbolic sensationalistic rag.

    Anyone recall this cover story from Jan. 2013?

    http://www.macleans.ca/economy/business/crash-and-burn/

    or this gem from Jan. 2012:

    http://www.macleans.ca/economy/economicanalysis/what-happens-when-canadas-housing-bubble-pops/

  14. George says:

    Alternative headlines:
    1. Condos: A Commuting Dream Come True!
    – How living near your office saves you hours a week and spares you the aggravation of sitting next to Fartmaster Joe on the GO Train.

    2. Houses: Got a spare million?
    – How spending 10x your wages on a home can cripple your finances

    There are not a lot of media publications that will present both sides of an argument and let the reader draw his or her own conclusions. That’s too bad. We are assumed to be too stupid to know what to think when presented with facts.

  15. crazyegg says:

    Hi All,

    Thanks for the link!

    I would beg to differ and state that this story is a GREAT COUNTER BALANCE to all the other condo “lifestyle” ads that are the norm with builders: ample sexy women, champagne dreams, happy hipsters sipping Americanos and hot bodies in the yoga studio common area. Wait a minute is that Tom Vu is see in the background? ;-))

    Not everything is rosy 100% of the time especially when compounded with high density living. Great read!

    Regards,
    ed…

  16. Dan says:

    It definetly shows the absolute worst signs of what could go wrong. It’s sensationalist and I take no issues with a magazine trying to write stories and advertise them to entice readers.

    Re: the dance studio – Maybe I am misinterpreting, but
    “Ontario judge fined the condo board nearly $60,000 for failing to enforce its own noise regulations. Dyke “is entitled to live underneath a residential apartment unit and not underneath a professional dance studio,”

    1. Gale says:

      I am living in condo hell. I have an evil next-door neighbour who has been slamming her door for four months. After making complaints about her noise, I realized that I have no rights in this building because the morally corrupt board practices nepotism, favouritism for longtime residents, ageism, and cronyism. In fact, they scapegoated me and their lawyer told me that my complaints about her were harassment and that if I didn’t stop, they would fine me or terminate my lease (I am a shareholder in a co-op corporation)! How dare they! But that’s what happens when you try to exert your rights to quiet enjoyment of life. Condo life is not suitable for single people because they have no witnesses to the extreme behaviour that goes on. I do not recommend condo life for anyone.

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