If you missed this story in yesterday’s Toronto Star (or don’t want to admit that you read this leftist rag), you’ll want take the time to read what is detailed below.
After hearing about the problems of a certain decrepit condo on Gerrard Street in the downtown core and wondering if/when they’ll ever go from “royally screwed” to legally screwed, I was very interested to hear about the issues at 40 Panorama Court.
This is amazing….and I don’t mean in a good way…
“I’ll Never Buy A Condo Again”: Years of Low Fees Lead to Condo in Crisis
The Toronto Star
May 25th, 2011
Nothing seems to function as it should at 40 Panorama Court.
Not the concrete, which has been falling off balconies and threatening to break loose in the underground garage. Not the elevators, which are prone to breaking down and trapping residents inside. And certainly not the roof anchors, which have been unable to support the weight of window washers for three years now.
But perhaps the most dysfunctional element is the community inside the 32-year-old building’s dirty windows. The relationship between residents and building management is broken as well, with residents making accusations of corruption, whisper campaigns circulating the hallways and condo meetings so heated that the police have gotten involved.
York Condominium Corporation 506, located near Finch and Kipling Aves., is in crisis. The 202-unit condo building needs millions of dollars in urgent repairs — but at the same time, it has an operating deficit of $670,000, a depleted reserve fund and a community that can’t agree on a fix.
In August, a desperate board of directors took drastic action and hauled the building’s unit owners to court.
“YCC 506 is in serious financial and physical condition,” the condo corporation wrote in its court application. It continues: “The situation has become so urgent that even a well intentioned board of directors will be unable to take the immediate and drastic actions necessary.”
The corporation asked a Superior Court judge to appoint an outside administrator to seize control of 40 Panorama Court and whip its finances into shape. Veteran property manager Joseph Vero was given six months to perform the task.
On May 10, Justice George Strathy extended Vero’s term for another year. The judge attributed the condo’s problems to successive boards of directors who have depressed monthly fees while neglecting to make necessary repairs, aided in part by the support or indifference of unit owners.
“(They have been) postponing the inevitable day when the chickens came home to roost,” Strathy wrote. “That day has come and gone.”
Appointing an administrator is a “serious remedy” reserved for the most dysfunctional of condo corporations, said Armand Conant, a condo lawyer and past president of the Canadian Condominium Institute.
“The Condominium Act and condominium governance is based on democracy,” said Conant, who is a court-appointed administrator for two buildings himself. “To take that away and put an arms-length person in — it’s pretty draconian.”
Condos built in the 70s and 80s are showing their age. Conant estimates about a dozen buildings in Ontario are currently in a similar state of crisis, mostly in the GTA. Given that there are 9,000 condos in the province, some are bound to have dysfunctional communities who have neglected to do the necessary housekeeping.
According to the condo corporation at 40 Panorama Court, unit owners are mostly to blame. The court filing states that owners have largely blocked efforts to increase monthly fees, despite a growing backlog of expensive but necessary repairs. There have been minimal or no maintenance fee increases since 2004, the filing claims.
Condo board meetings have also been poorly attended in the past. Owners are mostly apathetic towards the building’s affairs, said Gerard Bisaillon in a court affidavit.
Others become board members expressly for the purpose of working to keep condo costs low, he said.
“They think that every major repair or replacement of the common elements is wasteful of their money,” said Bisaillon, an owner and longtime board member. “Many do not see things outside their own unit. They refuse to look at the big picture.”
Some owners also fail to make payments on time. As of April 15, 46 unit owners were in arrears of their monthly common expenses, some owing several thousand dollars, according to property manager Loucas Solomou’s affidavit.
But many owners at 40 Panorama Court blame the building’s management for getting them into this financial mess.
“We’ve been here 11 years and that’s what they’ve done to us,” said Jenipher Hazlett, who owns a two-bedroom condo on the first floor.
Like many in the building, Hazlett only learned the extent of her condo’s financial woes when she received a notice that her board was taking her and other owners to court.
Up until that point, all Hazlett knew was that she had been dutifully paying her condo fees, in addition to periodic “special assessment fees” for one-time projects, such as fixing the underground parking garage.
In 2001, the building collected $2 million from owners in special assessment fees to repair the crumbling underground garage. But today, hazardous sections of the parking lot remain blocked off, forcing residents to park on the lawn or fight over limited spaces in the visitor lot.
“They have collected money from us in maintenance fees and assessment fees every year,” said Roza Zarik, who owns a three-bedroom unit with her husband. “Where did the money go? Why did we get to this point?”
Suspicions and hostilities in the building are deep-seated. Some residents have accused property management and board members of pocketing the money and receiving kickbacks.
According to owner and building superintendent Visvalingam Kanapathypillai’s affidavit, owners have also used intimidation tactics to bully board members into keeping monthly fees in check.
“Individual unit owners with an agenda to keep common expenses low will knock on your door . . . or corral you in the hallway,” he said. “It can be very intimidating.”
Board members who attempt to increase fees or take necessary action also face the threat of removal, Kanapathypillai said in his affidavit. In 2009, the board discussed taking out a loan, which would require a majority vote from unit owners.
According to Kanapathypillai, however, the idea went dead when one board director began spreading rumours that a $1 million loan had been approved without the owners’ knowledge, prompting residents to petition for the board’s removal.
A meeting called to vote on the boards’ removal ended in shouting matches, threats and one allegation of assault. At the end of the night, police had to be called and have since become a regular presence at condo meetings.
Zarik acknowledges her condo’s community is in disarray but she understands why emotions are running high. Her monthly fees havenow reached $900 per month but at least she isn’t a newly-landed immigrant or low-income parent, like many of the other residents. In his affidavit, Bisaillon also wrote that each unit could be on the hook for almost $20,000 before the condo’s finances are back in the clear.
Those who want out are also having trouble selling their units. Zarik recently saw a three-bedroom unit in the building going for $110,000. She bought hers in 2000 for $124,000.
Both Zarik and Hazlett admit they have failed to pay attention to their building’s finances until this recent crisis. And now that they are, it could be too little too late.
“I feel like even though I own my unit, and I bought a piece of the building, I don’t really own it,” Zarik said. “I can’t leave it and I can’t sell it — I have to see it to the end now.
“I will never buy a condominium again.”
The last time I wrote about a building that was royall screwed financially, I got a letter from a lawyer, and I was forced to post a retraction.
Sooooo……I’m sure glad that the Toronto Star took the opportunity to publish this article!
In my introduction, I alluded to a building on Gerrard Street that is in big financial trouble. This building had a massive special assessment last year in the neighbourhood of $30,000 per unit, and is now tearing out their gym and party room to build three new condominium units to sell on the open market – with the funds going right into the condominium corporation’s pockets. Perhaps this is to stave off BANKRUPTCY?
This building is old, ugly, and very out of date. So add in these massive financial issues, and I think the units are almost unsellable. If the number of days on the market for the units that are for sale right now are any indication, I think I’m being proved correct…
I have nothing against “old” buildings, but I actively try and put my first-time-buyers into buildings that are less than ten years old.
“New” is what sells, and I tell my buyers that while they’re only just buying the unit today, it doesn’t mean that they shouldn’t think of resale potential down the road.
A two-year-old condo is only going to be five-years-old when you’re ready to move onwards and upwards in three years, and that’s a much easier sell than something old and decrepit like the building on Gerrard or the condo at 40 Panorama that is described in the article.
People often look at the “value” in older buildings, but it comes with a risk.
I also advise my buyers to stay away from “boutique” buildings with a dozen units. It might sound cool, exclusive, and unique, but if that twelve-unit building has a problem, the cost is only going to be split twelve ways.
I’m not going to blame the owners of 40 Panorama Court for buying into this building in the first place, but surely that decision has to hold some responsibility for the current predicaments they find themsleves in.
For those playing along at home – there are currently TWENTY units for sale at 40 Panorama Court, or approximiately 10% of the whole building.
Three of the twenty units are under Power of Sale, and six of the units have been on the market for 100 days or more.
Suddenly my life doesn’t seem so bad…