Friday, July 16, 2010

You can't mediate the right to live in your home

Let's mediate whether
 you can live in your home
About a year into this saga, the lawyers for the condo board were writing lies about the leaks being our fault.  They wrote we had not installed a chimney on the main floor properly and that it was responsible for flooding all three floors and both ends of the condo.   Of course, the chimney and fireplace were without water traces but the board hired contractors to secretly remove the chimney and dispose of it so that no evidence could ever be brought to court.  Never mind that the chimney on the main floor might have trouble flooding two floors above!  I never said the lawyers representing the board were smart.

Today, that chimney is still missing and the chairman "has no idea where it is".  The board eventually admitted it was wrong and after two years it replaced the chimney last year (2009).   I guess that is the first step to admitting liability.

But the main point to this note is to summarize a chat that a board member had with us after an Annual General Meetings where our "situation" was discussed.  It was well-intentioned, I'm sure, and the owner-board member asked if we would participate in "mediating" our differences with the board--and he would act as mediator.   I was shocked and after some thought politely declined.    My view was that "mediating" with a party that is preventing you from living in your home is like mediating with a thief about returning your possessions.   It isn't right, it isn't legal and the situation needs to be fixed before anything like mediation happens.

You don't mediate the right to live in your home.   

If this condo board starts acting properly and repairs our home properly so we can move back then they can mediate the level of damages they owe us for three years of renting and all the hardship we've had to endure.  But, we're happy to let a judge figure it out because of the penalties and interest that will likely be applied.  We've got thousands of photos, all the board's emails, communication with the property manager and reports from the experts.   When the last two board members toured our damage they were surprised at the situation and complexity of events.   One said "I hope there isn't a test because there is so much detail I never knew".   That doesn't sound like a board that has any idea of what is going on.  Most have never seen the damage to our place that they have caused--yet our door isn't more than 100 feet from their front doors.

Trying to mediate something that is clearly the fault of the board demonstrates the ignorance and insensitivity of the group.   The right thing to do is admit the faults of Phase 1, fix the place completely as it was in 2006 and stop hurting people.   I'm almost certain none of the board as individuals would act carelessly and flagrantly but under the protection of a board of managers things are different.   After three years where the board has still not fixed our damage but has fixed all the neighbouring units just proves the board is either vengeful or just dysfunctional.  Given the money and contractors involved you can't rule out the possibility that someone is getting an unspoken benefit.  No matter what the motivation, the Condominium and Property Act of Alberta does not prevent it.   The judge and lawyers who work this case can't come to a reasonable decision on how to proceed and the insurance companies (ING, Co-operators) are completely useless and non-responsive.

If we lived in a house instead of a condominium people would be in jail or legal trouble for taking steps to damage someone's home.  Under the CPA, this body of directors can hide behind the Act and do little or nothing with virtually no immediate risk.   Trying to mediate out of this mistake is transparent and a signal that little thought is going into resolving this problem.

Monday, July 12, 2010

The Fallout from poor management

The evidence is now clear.   We have first-hand knowledge of real estate agents in Calgary who have told clients they either refuse to show property in our complex or try to dissuade potential buyers from plopping money down for a unit here.  This comes from having a bad reputation, not maintaining the property, high contribution fees compared to other neighbouring condominiums and a history of leaks that, in our case, only got worse after spending millions of dollars to fix.

A recent resident of our complex did a survey of contribution fees and determined that our complex has the highest fees for the least benefits.  That makes sense because so little has been done on the energy side to control costs since 1995, so much is spent on needless legal battles, contractors that that don't repair their mistakes leaving the insurer or owners to fund the fix.   This means all of the volunteer time is probably going to putting our fires, dealing with complaints, collecting from unhappy owners and other unproductive activities.

When owners aren't happy they sell.  When real estate agents stop people from buying here, prices fall.   The tax base erodes.  The complex becomes a statistical outlier and people ask "why".   The City of Calgary reported to us directly that our complex has had one of the worse declines in value because of the "problems" in our complex.   The news is out and the City and real estate agents know what is happening and knowledgeable buyers are being told to stay away.  

We heard from one resident who has viewed the declining state of the property for the last few years and wanted to sell.  But, when that owner saw the devalued prices it was a big surprise.   We've heard now from a few owners who have decided to stay and try and move the board off this destructive decline and try to turn the property around but that will likely take years and many more dollars of wasted money.

The result of bad decisions at the board level have now hurt owners, property prices and our reputation which will take years to fix.   The news is now driving away prospective buyers and has the attention of the City and Provincial governments.