If you don’t like it, then do something about it.
The only thing worse than a board of directors at a condominium who spends the condo corporation’s money on inappropriate items, is a person who comments, complains, critiques, but doesn’t run for the board, or offer any support.
The board of directors in your condominium are like the elected city council of your city; they’re there to serve your needs, to push their own agendas.
Well, in theory, at least…
Maybe I’m a jerk.
Or maybe I’m boring.
Or maybe I’m just too cynical for words.
But when I see the bulletin in my elevator advertising the “End Of Summer Barbecue,” I can’t help but wonder why the condominium corporation is spending money on that, rather than adding more man hours for the superintendent so the garbage chute doesn’t get full on weekends.
A client of mine, who shall remain anonymous, told me he’s experiencing the very same thing in his building.
His words: “These barbecues are put on by people who have no friends, and think that the condominium is some sort of adult playground where you can meet people. If you want to make friends, join a club.”
Harsh! Now I don’t feel like such a jerk.
But there’s two sides to this argument:
1) A condominium is a “community” of individuals, and as such, there should be an effort made to ensure that people get along, are able to meet one another, and have a forum for interaction.
2) A condominium is shared living among individuals, who own their own units. All expenses that the condominium corporation incur should be related to maintenance and upkeep of the building for the good of ALL residents; not a selected few.
To be honest, I’d probably have to agree with the latter.
Maybe the BBQ only costs $500, but I still think that’s discretionary spending. You don’t need to spend $500 on hot dogs and baby carrots, but you need to spend $500 on a service call for the elevator when it breaks down.
While I don’t want to live in a building of hermits where nobody says, “Hello,” I also didn’t move here so I could play checkers on Thursday nights with the guy on the 20th floor, especially if the condominium corporation is paying for it.
The argument has a parallel to politics, where the government can spend money how they see fit.
For example, let’s say the municipality spent money on an art festival, rather than repairing roads.
One person might suggest that not ALL money should be spent on infrastructure, and some of the money has to be spent on culture.
Another person might suggest that to pay off-duty police officers to stand around and direct traffic around a major intersection where hippies are playing bongos, rather than laying tracks for a new subway, is waste of money.
I guess by the way I describe it, you know where I stand.
And the parallel to living in a condominium, and having the board of directors “govern” with your money, is a solid one.
I’ll admit – a condo board has a thankless job, that is very difficult, and only made harder by people that are always complaining. And if you want to purchase a new piece of equipment for the gym, you can’t wait for 500 people to vote on the matter.
But I suppose the overall agenda of the board is apparent in many buildings, and that’s where you run into trouble.
Think back to the email I received, and blogged about, from a resident at 77 Lombard Avenue. He told me (his words, not mine, and not to be taken as pure fact) that the board of directors was obsessed with making the building look “new” again, and they wanted to “compete” with younger buildings, that were flashier, and had superior amenities. Apparently, the board here spent a ton of money on their amenities (both facilities and common areas), and maintenance fees were raised as a result.
If you, or the person down the hall from you, didn’t agree with the direction the board was taking, there’s only so much you can do about it.
On the flip side, you have buildings where the board of directors refuses to spend a penny, and the common areas suffer as a result.
I can think of a few buildings in my area that haven’t been touched in twelve years.
The carpets in the hallways, the wallpaper, the light fixtures – they’re all ugly as hell, and extremely outdated. The board refuses to spend a nickel.
Now is that a bad thing? Or is it what you want?
Again, every condo owner is different.
I wouldn’t want my condo spending money like 77 Lombard is rumoured to have spent (again, unconfirmed), but I also wouldn’t want to see the same features in my building that were present in 1998 when the place was completed!
There is no “official plan” of how to run a condominium.
There is no handbook, nor a guide book.
The board, whether it’s made up of five experts, or five novices, must fend for themselves, with input from property management, and plot a course of action.
Now we all remember what happened at The Printing Factory Lofts earlier this year. Facing a $2 Million repair bill, and with a lawsuit pending that would likely see them victorious in 2018, the residents voted, at the behest of the board, to borrow $2 Million from Laurentian Bank to pay for the repairs now, rather than issue a special assessment for the $2 Million, or around $10,000 per unit.
That decision ended up causing the three major mortgage insurers – CMHC, Genworth, and Canada Guaranty, to blacklist the building for a period of time (apparently now you can get insurance).
The decisions that the board of directors make aren’t always refined to whether to purchase a treadmill or a stationary bike, and sometimes they can have major consequences.
For the most part though, it’s just about simple budget management.
I was in 318 King Street East last week, and I was pleasantly surprised to see that they have a part-time concierge at the front desk.
The hours made sense. The concierge doesn’t need to be there from 2am to 6am during the week, since virtually nothing goes on during those times. You might get one person leaving for the airport, but what really goes on during those hours?
I don’t have the hours in front of me, but let’s assume that they equal out to about HALF of the 168 hours in a week. Assuming a concierge makes at least $20 per hour, the condo is saving $1,680 per week, or $87,600 per year.
That’s a LOT of money for a building with only 215 units, and with virtually no amenities in the building, I don’t know if a 24/7 concierge is warranted.
Now just to argue the other side of the coin, because I can – let me suggest that to some residents, you are paying for “peace of mind” and security. Having a concierge 24/7 makes you feel more secure, and thus you don’t mind paying for it.
Personally, I think that’s silly. You have a lock on your front door, an in-suite alarm, and a lock on the front of the building. What is a guy, who is probably texting on his phone, going to do to stop “something bad” from happening?
Again, to each their own.
Some people think that a 24/7 concierge is a massive “plus,” and some would actively seek out a building with no concierge at all, if it meant fees were kept low.
I’ve seen some buildings scrap the concierge altogether.
Look at 138 Princess Street. You walk into the lobby, and there’s a massive desk, but nobody sitting at it! Clearly the developer assumed there would a be a concierge, but alas, the building decided not to have one.
Not all condominiums are the same, and nor should they be run the same either.
But the board of directors at your building is entrusted with the power to make major decisions, both financially and in terms of rules and regulations (ie. they changed the party room hours so it closes at 12pm now instead of 2am), and you won’t always agree with those decisions.
If my building decided that “steak and lobster make-a-friend night” was going to be a bi-weekly event, then I’d have a serious problem with it. But for now, if they want to spend a few bucks on get-togethers, I’m not going to mind.
But by the same token, I worry about buildings where they’re obsessed with keeping fees low, or not raising them at all.
Just as certain as the fact that we get a year older, every year, you can be assured that “stuff costs more.”
The rate of inflation might only be 1%, but doesn’t that mean that condo fees should go up 1%?
Water, natural gas, labour – these things go up every single year, so if a building sees their expenses go up 5% each year, then why don’t fees rise in tandem?
A colleague of mine asked me the other day, “My friend is upset that her condo is raising fees by 4.5%, and she’s getting a group together. What do you think they should do?”
My response: “Go see a movie.”
That’s a group activity, and it’s more productive than complaining about fees increasing in a time when virtually every expenditure in every building is going up as well.
If the board of directors in my building tried to appease residents with some sort of “maintenance fee freeze,” I would worry that they don’t understand economics and finance, and don’t know how to read a balance sheet.
A board of directors that spends unnecessarily is just as bad as a board of directors that believes freezing fees has no consequence.
I guess my cynical side will say, “The average condo owner only lives in a building for 3 1/2 years, so it can’t be that bad. You’ll move out before anything really affects you.”
Remember that you can request the minutes for every single board meeting, and as per law, the board has to hand them over. So if you want to see how the board spends your money, you can. But you can also see how they voted, and what they talked about.
Or, you can just relax and live your life. The choice is yours…