Top-10: Subtle Annoyances For First-Time Condo Owners

Okay, here we go – time to vent, complain, and kvetch.

If you’re an 8-year reader of TRB, then you’ve probably seen most, if not all of these.

But if you’re a would-be condo owner, perhaps renting right now and looking to get into the market, then consider this a huge favour!

Condo living is fantastic, but there are always subtle annoyances that you experience as you get settled in the building; none of which could have ever been explained to you in advance.  Until now, that is…

First time buyer concept.

A first-time buyer asked me the other day, “What are some of the things I need to know about owning a condo?”

I immediately launched into bullet-points about mortgages, maintenance fees, ownership structure, et al.  But the buyer stopped me in mid-sentence, and said, “No, I mean when I’m living in there – what do I need to prepare myself for?”

He’s been living at home with his parents for three years after finishing school, and he knows that condo-living is quite different from mom-and-dad-living, which comes with both pros and cons.

“Gimme the dirt,” he eventually said, and I realized he didn’t want a Realtor-inspired tutorial on maintenance fee math, but rather the nitty-gritty and “what to look out for.”

I realize that many of these topics have been covered on TRB before, but if you’re new to the blog, or if you’re a first-time condo buyer, or if you’ve just never lived in a condo before, here are my top ten “subtle annoyances,” most of which you can expect to experience yourselves…

10) Speaker In Your Bedroom

You’d better know this one in advance, because I sure didn’t…

Who knew there would be a speaker in the ceiling in my bedroom?!?!?!

I was in bed one night, asleep, possibly in REM sleep, when all of a sudden I heard somebody in my room!

I freaked out!

I jumped out of bed, got into a han-kokutsu-dachi stance, and prepared to battle.

Evidently, there was nobody in my room.

It turns out there was a goddam loud-speaker in the ceiling of my room, next to the smoke alarm, whereby the concierge, or fire marshal, could yell directly at me.

Did you know this the first time you moved into a condo?  Because I was entirely unprepared.

It took me one more 4am false alarm before I got out the ladder, unscrewed the face-plate, and cut the wires to that speaker.  Remember: don’t do as I do, do as I say.

9) Mail Return-to-Sender

Tell me I’m a nerd, and so are all my friends, and I won’t be upset.  But a year after I had been in my first condo, and I was out for drinks with all my friends, we played a game of “who lived in your condo before you.”

It was amazing – all four of my buddies were able to recite the name of the previous occupant.

“Bob Michael Smith,” yelled one of my friends.

“John Forsythe,” said another.

You get mail for these people for years and years after they’ve moved out, and it’s basically a monthly reminder of who cooked in your kitchen and sat on your balcony before you.

For the first few months, we all write “RTS” on the envelopes, and put them back in the mailbox.  But after a year, you see that the envelopes are no longer from banks or insurance companies, and instead they’re from car dealerships and charities.  That’s when, although nobody wants to admit it, the envelopes end up in the garbage…

8) Parking Garage Standoffs

Do you play golf?

If you do, then you’ll get this analogy.

Every golf foursome, through the history of the sport, has always thought that the group ahead is playing slow, and the group behind is playing unnecessarily close to them.  Nobody ever wants to admit that they are the problem group.

In underground parking garages, it works the same way.

Every car driver thinks the person ahead of them is doing something they shouldn’t be.

It’s the other driver that’s driving too close to you, or in the middle of the lane, or is pushing you too close to the concrete pillar.

So who is to blame in your case?  I’m not sure.  But I can guarantee you won’t be prepared for the twice-daily stand off with other people in the parking garage, whether it’s the car ahead of you that annoys you by waiting for the door to go all the way up to the top before proceeding, or the oncoming driver who insists on leaving eight feet on either side of the car while insisting you back into an empty space to let he or she pass…

7) Pets…..And Pet Owners

The very first time you decide to take the stairs down to the ground level from your new 3rd floor condo, you see it: a heaping, stinking pile of crap.

Who in the world would let their dog crap in the stairwell?

Um, well, many people, as it would seem.

Don’t ever underestimate the laziness and selfishness of mankind.

In the winter, many pet owners couldn’t be bothered to bundle-up, brave the cold, and take their pet outside to do their business.  So instead, they take their pet into the stairwell, and hope that the cleaning staff finds the bomb in due time.

Amazing, eh?

When you were shopping for a condo, did you ever expect this?

6) Hallway People

You move out of your mom and dad’s house so that you no longer have to deal with your mom sticking her head out the bedroom door and saying, “Keep your voice down!”

So it’s ironic that now you are the one who wants to stick your head out into the hallway of your condominium and ask whoever the hell is out there to kindly show some respect.

As soon as people leave their own unit, or as is the case many times – a friend’s unit, they seem to forget that all those doors lining the hallway are entrances to people’s homes.  They seem to be quiet as they leave their friend’s place, but then their voices gradually rise as they move down the hall, until they’re in a full-fledged yell.

Alcohol only magnifies the situation, and many condos in the downtown core are home to a younger demographic, who seem to be very familiar with alcohol.

So throw a clueless, drunk, non-resident of the building into the hallway, and you’re going to get yelling.

Most of the time, you simply wait for the yelling to stop, as the people leave.  But sooner or later, you’re going to open the door, step outside, and shake your fist like a cartoon character…

5) Elevator Politics

You love the rules when they favour you, and you hate them when they don’t.

It bothers you how often one of three elevators is put on “service,” meaning you have to wait longer for one of the remaining two elevators,, but yet you can’t figure out why you can’t move on Sunday!  What’s so special about Sunday anymore?

Of course, you might end up living in one of the few buildings where residents have to hire a security guard, at a cost of $90-$120, simply to use the moving elevator.

And then when one of the elevators breaks down, you get to watch property management update the notice on the elevator door each day, always promising to have it fixed “in the next couple of days.”

4) The Buzzer

How can something so simple, and so common, frustrate so many new condo owners?

First and foremost – you might want to check and see if your building can connect the buzzer to any phone, or just the home phone.

Wait…….what is a “home phone?”  Well, it’s something people used to have in the 1980’s and 1990’s, that has no place in 2015 – especially in a condo.

Believe it or not, some condominiums can only set up the intercom to a “land line,” and thus you’re on the hook for both the cost, and the apparatus itself as it sits on your kitchen counter.

Another common issue are those stupid buildings where the names of residents are listed in random order, rather than alphabetical, with the expectation that the resident you are going to see has told you in advance what his or her buzzer code is.  That’s one of my biggest pet peeves.  It’s far, far worse than the buzzer systems that are so slow to scroll from one name to the next that it could take your guest five minutes to get from “Anderson” to “Davis.”

3) Property (over)Manager

In university, it was your “don” that lorded over you.  Yeah, that 4th year student, who lived among 1st year students, and for some reason was put in a position of power.

After university, it was back to having mom and dad watch your every move back at home.

Just wait until you move into a building with an over-bearing, inner-demon-exercising property manager who rules with an iron fist.

Some buildings really, truly need active supervision and problem-solving, but then many don’t, and they still seem to get it from a property manager who can’t wait to use what he or she learned in the last “Property Manager Conference” at the Grand Ballroom in the Howard Johnson by the airport…

Property managers come and go, and this can worth both for and against you.  Losing a great property manager is awful, but having a terrible one come along is even worse.

2) Cigarettes, Garbage, & Water on Your Balcony

One cigarette butt on your balcony is too many.

But imagine two?  Or ten?  Or FIFTY after you sweep up after a long winter?

I always try to picture “that guy” who smokes on his balcony and casually flicks the butt over the edge, like there’s a giant pit below, or at least a minion that collects those butts.

I figure he’s really gross, greasy, and his condo is filled with leather, and photos of himself on trips.  He also has coffee table books on luxury cars, and at least a dozen types of cologne, all facing label-out on the bathroom ledge, even though the rest of his bathroom is disgusting.  Oh, and if this is 2015 we’re talking about – he has a man-bun.  You know man-buns.  They’re worn equally by normal, nice guys who make them work, or dirty, swarthy dudes who just look even more gross.

As a first-time condo owner, I bet you didn’t know you’d be on the receiving end of a winter’s worth of cigarette butts, did you?  Have fun sweeping them all up, as well as a few beer cans, and whatever else blew away in the Fall.

Another, albeit lesser offence on the balcony or terrace is that incessant water dripping down from your neighbour who is always hosing down the three plants she has on the very edge of her balcony.  How much water can a plant take?

If you didn’t shower this morning, don’t worry.  Just go stand outside, and you’ll be soaking wet in no time…

1) Garbage

As I said above: never underestimate the laziness, pettiness, selfishness, and carelessness of another person.

As a first-time condo owner, you should be happy that you have direct access to a garbage chute.  It’s way better than whatever you did in your rental building, or having to collect and store your garbage for two weeks while fighting off raccoons in mom and dad’s house.

But once you gain access to that coveted garbage chute, you start to see just how awful people can be.

People will fill that little garbage chute room to the brink of explosion when the chute is out of service, and while I’ll be the first one to complain that the chute is full, or out of order, I’m not going to leave a bag filled with my dog’s sh!t on the floor of that room for my neighbours to find.

People will also throw items down the chute which clearly don’t fit, ie. the infamous ironing-board incident that one of my clients photographed and sent to me.  Seriously – who puts an ironing board down the chute?

A clogged chute can take days to fix, and it could be avoided by an elevator ride to the garbage room in P1, and about three minutes.

But then comes the frustration with constant “Out of Service” icons, and the chute never working on Sundays as “the guy who changes the bins” doesn’t work that day.

You wouldn’t think garbage would be such an issue in condos, but consider it’s something that every single person in the building deals with, every day, and it’s not surprising that it can cause so many problems.

Living the condo lifestyle is fantastic, don’t get me wrong.

Underground parking, elevators, concierge; no snow to shovel or leaves to rake, no leaky basement, no raccoons in the attic, and no repairs needed.

But there are a lot of subtle annoyances that we condo owners experience on a daily basis, and many first-time owners are caught off guard.

If I’ve missed anything – use the comments box below!

27 Comments

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  1. Joe says:

    You forgot the overly hot gym with little to no circulation that the evil management refuses to address or do anything to make improvements on.

  2. Firedoor says:

    We have a tenant in the basement that continually props the fire door open with the fire extinguisher. They’ve been warned, but continue to do it. Guessing to allow their child to ride his/her bike in hallway. If there is a fire on their side, and it jumps over to the other half of the building, when this door is open, will nullify our insurance. What can we do?

  3. floodedsky says:

    What I’ve learned as a newbie condo owner… Seniors are entitled to do whatever they want due to sympathies garnered for their advanced age, and are exempt from all rules and bylaws. Co-op boards are comprised of at least one megalomaniac and/or control freak. Deaf neighbours can’t hear how much noise they are making. Strata and co-op board members need their positions to protect their investment and hide various of their behaviours that are contrary to rules and bylaws. Some of your neighbours may be in the preliminary stages of Alzheimer’s or dementia, but only you have experienced their odd behaviour. Always have your finger ready on a video or voice recording button.

  4. Free Country says:

    On balance, houses beat condos every day of the week. Having said that, I echo two of David’s advantages of condos — no snow to shovel, no leaves to rake — with an additional advantage: Condo owners do not have hot water heater sales people or gas people or Christian evangelists (yes, even in Toronto in 2015) knocking on your door in the middle of (i) dinner (ii) House of Cards (iii) sex (iv) absolutely anything else – trimming my toenails is more important than those people knocking on my front door $^%$&^%!?!?!*&*$&*($

  5. bugeyedbrit says:

    re the annoying speaker, strong packing tape muted it nicely, till inspection time…

    I once opened the garbage chute door to find the whole chute wedged solid, so went and got a broom and proceeded to push and shove till the garbage moved, it was like that scene from ‘the money pit’ where Tom Hanks threw a log on the fire and watched the entire chimney whoosh past, the stack took about 10 seconds to clear, with all manor of smelly crap flying past.

    We had a parking neighbour who would park awkardly in their spot, making it nigh on impossible to actually use our space, and swore when politely asked if they could park slightly straighter.

    I can’t say I miss my condo much, but it served a purpose and made money for us (sorry David, but this was possible a while back), I am glad I am the master of my own destiny in a House.

  6. joel says:

    One complaint I had was the amount of dust and debris that covered the patio. I think many condos are in prime areas where every developer is looking to build, which creates so much construction dust that our patio was disgusting and had to be cleaned every time we wanted to walk out there.

  7. William R says:

    In 1995 we bought a brand new condo townhouse and lucked out. At that time i was nieve to location etc but how we lucked out! Perfect location and the same nice neighbours on either side since inception.Even better luck with a great condo board, the place still feels new 20 years on.

  8. Wut says:

    “Living the condo lifestyle is fantastic, don’t get me wrong.

    Underground parking, elevators, concierge; no snow to shovel or leaves to rake, no leaky basement, no raccoons in the attic, and no repairs needed.”

    —–
    not a very convincing list, lol. underground parking sucks, elevators suck, and repairs you may not have to do yourself but you certainly will pay for them.

    add this to your list:
    doors. i used to live in a condo on the first floor so i’d walk the one flight from my parking spot to my unit. 7 doors later I’m in my unit. So much fun when carrying things.

  9. BRBB says:

    Adding to my last point, I remember that the fire department began to fine us for every false alarm they had to respond to. When that started to happen, magically, our false fire alarm problem began to go away!

  10. BRBB says:

    I taped together several layers of cardboard or paper stock in the shape of the speaker and taped it over the loudspeaker with masking tape. Doing this reduced the volume by 50%, making it semi-tolerable. Each time maintenance had access to the unit for whatever reason, they took it down. Each time they did, I replaced it. It is totally crazy how loud it is.

    I lived in 99 Harbour Square, and at one point, I referred to the building as 99 Fire Alarm Square because at one point we had a false alarm once a week between 2 and 4 AM!

  11. James Deen says:

    I lived in the Lost Horizon condo when it was completed. My neighbour was in a two bedroom unit similar to mine..except that I couldn’t tell who the neighbour was, as each day a different set of tall, Eastern European girls would be in an out of the unit, and they would receive at least half a dozen gentleman callers. I reported the activity to the condo board, as I correctly surmised that they were running an illegal math tutoring service not regulated by any provincial agency.

    1. AndrewB says:

      I read halfway through your comment and thought “escort service” but then you threw me for a loop. The South Beach Condos and Marilyn Monroe towers in Mississauga are well know for escort services.

  12. Kyle says:

    I think one’s condo experience will mostly be shaped by the small percentage of nut bars they share the building with. My brief condo living experience really changed my perspective on humanity. I’ve learned most people are generally fine, but there are some f’ed up individuals living amongst us.

    1. 99% of people are pretty friendly and will say hi when getting on the elevator, but there was one person who refused to say hi to anyone. Even if you stared right in her eyes smiled and said hi to her, she would just ignore you. Made for some seriously awkward elevator rides.

    2. You never know what you’ll run into when you use the gym, or sauna. People do some seriously inappropriate things in those rooms when no one is around. It’s like they forget or that everyone else in the building also has a key and could come in at any moment.

    3. My neighbour below me would come home every single Saturday morning at 3:00 am with friends from the bar and continue to party until 7:00 am out on his patio.

    So glad i don’t live there anymore

  13. Johnny says:

    Condo living sucks for families – nothing fantastic about it unless you are a bachelor or lucky enough to be in a building without the riff raff.

  14. amy says:

    i haven’t been in my condo long..it’s a smaller building and the property manager is really good. My favourite is how quick he will have a car towed that’s illegally parked in our spaces.

    1. condodweller says:

      See that I would chalk up to the manager overlord. In my experience, people parking in the wrong spot is an honest mistake. Most condos are pretty reasonable and will let you park in visitors while it gets sorted out. I had someone park in my spot before and I recognized the car from two spots over. I left a polite note, parked in visitors and let security know. Next day he parked in the correct spot and the universe was restored. I usually use nearby cars as reference, and don’t know my spot #. I have come home when none of the surrounding cars were there and it took me a while to figure out which spot to park in. I have pulled into the wrong spot before and realized something was off before moving to the correct spot. Not to mention when relatives/friends house sit and mix up spots. I would really hate to have my car towed due to a mistake.

      Unfortunately, there are people out there who love to cause grief to others and your manager seems to be one of them. It’s all about getting along with each other, and giving the benefit of the doubt. For some reason people get really offended and use terms like “illegally parked” when someone parks in their spot. Pay it forward, how would you like it if your, or a relative’s car was towed because they made a mistake and parked in the wrong spot? You probably wouldn’t. As David would say do onto others….

  15. Chroscklh says:

    This good article. Good comment too. Is important for people to know this thing. I hear too many time of downsizer sell house, get condo, hate it, go by house again. Pls be to know that vodka-fuel all night party with russian dancing and which end in fist-fight (not serious – just few face punch) get serious bad look from neighbor in elevator. Also, busy-body condo board make up the stupid rule. Why we volunteer restrict ourself like prisoner?! When I live condo, I get minutes from condo board meeting – someone say Chroscklh (me) should be ask sell condo and leave because I intimidate. Someone say neck & face tatoo mean mafia because I from Russia, got neck tatoo before it cool hipster thing – I mean, is true but condo board bring up my choice of body modify? F*** off man.

  16. condodweller says:

    It’s a good list however you missed some of the biggest issues including the most frequent complaint which is noise from neighbours. Here is my list:

    1. Noise from above and I don’t mean hall people but usually people above or beside your unit. Some of this may be real, but I caution people who move to a condo from a farm house where your nearest neighbour is half a mile away that you will never hear, that you may be in for a shock and you need to adjust their expectations when they move in with several hundred people in close proximity. I heard of some neighbours from hell generating all kinds of real noise, be it tap dancers, musicians etc.

    2. Noise complaints about you. You might say that’s not going to be a problem and that’s what I thought until I started receiving notices to quit making noise on a regular basis and finally received a notice that they are taking legal action sticking me with the cost. (this will qualify as its own problem down the list). Some overzealous lawyer wrote a lengthy letter that made it sound like I was having non-stop parties. It took some convincing my property manager that that considering I was working 8-12 hour days, slept 8 hours, and visited family and friends in the little free time I had, I was practically never home and the small amount of time I was home I was not doing any extraordinarily noise generating activities that would warrant a complaint. I had to threaten the complaining neighbour, who was on the board of directors, with legal action to stop harassing me. I read somewhere that a large proportion of noise complaints are unrealistic expectations from people.

    3. Property manager/builder entering your suite for various reasons. This can be real bad if you bought a new construction condo where the builder enters your unit on a regular basis to fix warranty items requiring multiple visits each. Once to inspect the problem, once to apply the band-aid solution, once to show it’s still a problem, once to fix it the second time, once to clean up the mess they made or finish the fix if they had to come the second time. This could go on for years. In my last condo, it took about 5 years to finally fix a water leak from the outside which involved replacing the flooring twice in different years because it only manifested itself during heavy rain periods. It gets a bit better in latter years but you still have your regular smoke detector testing, fan coil maintenance etc.. In extreme cases management has access to the roof through your unit and has to come through with engineers inspecting various things, or window washers need your suite to access to do their job. Plan ahead for this one.

    4. Adding costs to your maintenance fees. While management can’t fine residents for contravening condo rules what they can do is take legal action, do surveillance to prove you are doing something against the rules and add the costs to your maintenance fees. If you don’t agree with these charges and don’t pay them, they will put a lean on your unit and in extreme cases can force a sale of your unit to recover their costs.

    5. Window condensation, or more accurately window frame condensation. This must be one of the best-kept secrets out there otherwise something would have been done about this by now. Builders like to blame owners that they have the heat too high, not ventilating their place enough, or run humidifiers in the winter. Contrary to popular belief the problem is not the actual window but the uninsulated metal frame. As long as the window is not defective it should not condensate. However, the cold frame will condensate and the water will pool either on the window sill or the floor damaging both. I first noticed water damage on my window sills and didn’t know how it happened as I never had condensation on my windows. It turned out to be the frame where I did not see condensation forming due to the white/grey colour. I’m no scientist/engineer, but I’m pretty certain the cause is lack of insulation as the surface temperature of my window frame is ice cold tot the touch when it’s -20C or less outside. I think this needs to be solved by updating the building code to mandate proper insulation of the frame.

    6. Pot smoking. As it gains popularity and legal status more and more people are smoking pot on their balconies. Be prepared to have the smell fill your suite on a nice warm summer day/night. I had a neighbor once who constantly smoked it and even indoors with all my windows closed my place was filled with the smell because whenever they opened their front door, the hall filled with the smell which was promptly pulled into my suite with the positive pressure in the halls which is designed to keep your smells in and supply fresh air.

    Of the ones mentioned, I think the property over lord is the biggest issue for me. I recommend reading the condo act and learning how it applies to you as much frustration can be avoided knowing that what management doing is usually allowed by the code. I think most managers will not do anything against the rules, however, be ready for when they apply it to the letter of the law and don’t expect them to have common sense when they do. Although they will come up with interesting interpretations to make your life miserable. For example, nowhere does my condo rules say we are not allowed to have Christmas trees however they interpret it as a fire hazard and therefore it is not allowed. If you disagree, you may find a present added to your condo fees!

    The speaker in the bedroom is pretty obvious when you move in, and shouldn’t be too hard to figure out what it’s there for and since it is there for your own safety, yes it can get annoying during false alarms, you should be glad to have it. I would definitely not recommend disconnecting it. What you may want to do is find a building that has the silencer button which makes a huge difference so you don’t have to listen to the siren while the problem is being investigated.

    Regarding the letter from the previous owner. If that kind of thing bothers you and can’t just drop it in the recycling bin below your mailbox and move on with your day, do yourself a favour, do not buy a condo because the rest of the stuff will drive you insane.

    The parking issue I never found to be a problem. I lived in two buildings for 16 years where my spot was on the bottom level and I had to drive through the entire parking garage to get out and I never had an issue. If anything, we had a problem with people driving too fast and dangerous. The one possible issue is some buildings have a turn on the ramp which is narrow and people hit the wall trying to avoid the oncoming car. To this I say either learn to drive, trade in your full-size pickup truck, or wait until the ramp is clear.

    1. condodweller says:

      I forgot the tiny parking spaces. Some new condos have really narrow spaces sometimes between two walls where you have to be a contortionist to get in and out of your car if you managed to park it without scraping off the side in the first place. Be sure to look at the parking spot to determine it’s suitable for your vehicle before signing on the dotted line.

    2. AndrewB says:

      #6 really bothers me.

      My biggest pet peeves are:

      1. People leaving garbage in the chute room like it’s a damn hotel.
      2. People leaving messes in the elevator floors leaving beer cans, etc.
      3. People who capitalize, abuse and park their own car in visitors parking instead of buying or renting a spot and thus there’s never enough parking for visitors.

  17. Condo dweller says:

    Can’t the condo management tell if you cut the speaker wire?
    Asking for a friend.

    1. hoob says:

      Cutting the wires or otherwise modifying the life safety systems of a MTU building is a severe no-no, I hope that David is joking saying he personally cut the wires in his unit, and hope for his legal integrity that he’s not advocating other people do this in theirs.

      Annual fire alarm and life safety inspection would (should) find this problem and it will be fixed at the owner’s cost, a cost that might be surprisingly high.

      1. Boris says:

        Nanny nanny nincompoop!! Holy shit the mother hen attitude lives strong!

        Cut those goddamn wires, Fleming!

    2. Darren says:

      Yes they can. I install fire alarm systems. If you cut your wire there will be an alert on the panel. They will know what floor it’s on and investigate. They will find it and give you the very large bill for it.

      1. Wut says:

        Couldn’t you wire in a resistor to trick the panel?

        1. Darren says:

          Generally no as the systems are usually class A. You could do it on a class B system, but then you’re deactivating the others down the line. If there was a fire and people didn’t hear the alarm and they died, I suspect a healthy prison sentence would be your reward.

  18. Francesca says:

    David, so many of your items rang true to me. We lived in a one bedroom condo for a couple of years and I remember having a neighbour who used to sweep her dog poo on to our balcony every day. It got so bad that I had to take daily photos to send to the property manager so they could take action against this neighbour. Also another warning to your client is look into the demographics of the building they are considering seriously as it’s not just young drunk people making noise in the hallways but also young kids who used the hallway as theirs personal playground. The condo that we lived in had a very high ratio of Asian immigrants with lots of small kids crammed into small apartments so the hallways often became an extension of their units. Also speaking of parking, make sure the condo has plenty of visitor parking spots as we found owners often parking their second vehicles there and then there would be no spots left when visitors actually needed them

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