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Courtney Tuckwood, the president of the Surrey condo complex where the Jordisons lived, seen here at his home in Surrey May 29, 2014. (John Lehmann/The Globe and Mail)
Courtney Tuckwood, the president of the Surrey condo complex where the Jordisons lived, seen here at his home in Surrey May 29, 2014. (John Lehmann/The Globe and Mail)

Condo disputes illustrate need for online tribunals Add to ...

Jean Gorman threw eggs at the strata council president’s car and left a public note exposing an extramarital affair. A flare was fired at the president’s car as she pulled out of the building’s parking garage and a note was left on her door telling her how to commit suicide.

The full list of alleged abuses is lengthy, covering dozens of pages over 13 lawsuits. The judge presiding over the trial in 2012 called the behaviour at the Abbotsford, B.C., condo complex “pathetic” and a “complete abandonment of civility.”

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In another case, Cheng-Fu Bea refused to use his designated parking spot after the bylaws changed at his Port Coquitlam, B.C. condo in August 2006. After $173,000 in legal fees and seven lawsuits over nearly a decade, Mr. Bea wouldn’t accept multiple court orders to stop his parking crusade.

Last month, a frustrated judge ordered him to sell his condo, pay the fees and leave.

And in another example of condo-owner conflict, Teresa Gifford sat in the dark after she tiptoed into her condo in Surrey, B.C. for six years.

Upstairs neighbour Rose Jordison and her son had terrorized the building.

If they saw lights below, the pounding and yelling would start. The mother and son engaged in a variety of harassment and abuse over six years, throwing water at neighbours, spitting on them and yelling expletives.

Despite $30,000 in strata fines, the two refused to stop. Ms. Jordison set the precedent – she was the first condo owner in B.C. ordered to sell her unit.

The underlying issues in all three of these cases are what province’s new online Civil Resolution Tribunal was supposed to fix.

Announced by B.C. in 2012, it is to be the first of its kind in North America and was to be launched later this year.

However, some of the parameters have yet to be worked out, and the website is mired in delay. The tribunal, which is to provide an alternative to small claims court, is months behind schedule, delayed by complex website design and plagued by a number of inconsistencies in how the tribunal will operate. The website is now scheduled to be operational by spring 2015.

Phil Dougan says much of the delay has to do with the “technological complexity” of creating a comprehensive website. The lawyer has been consulted in the development of the system.

A spokesman for the Justice Minister was unavailable for comment, but said an announcement on the civil-resolution program would be made later this month.

“As the tribunal is being designed with the public’s needs in mind, some additional time will be required to ensure that the tribunal and its technology will cost-effectively meet the needs of those users,” the ministry responded in a written statement.

The technological challenges are clear. The self-guided online form will need to allow citizens without formal legal education to create a written case that is comprehensible by complete strangers – not unlike how the traditional court system works. The system will also need to prompt citizens to read and understand significant tracts of legal text.

“The sooner this happens the better,” said Tony Gioventu, the executive director of the Condominium Home Owners Association of B.C. “Every time we see one of these court cases that sensationalizes the drama, it only makes another rational argument for why we need this.”

If a resolution between parties can’t be found in the online process, the new tribunal will then lead to a mediator who will seek a compromise via telephone or video chat. Failing that, the process allows for a more traditional body to issue a binding ruling.

“I like the concept. If there is a way for problems to be dealt with early on, for molehills to stay molehills, that’s a good thing,” said Mr. Dougan. “The reason we have so much work is that nearly every building seems to have people who are narcissists, bullies, unreasonable or mentally ill.”

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