The Ontario government is set to announce an overhaul of its condominium legislation Wednesday, including new consumer protections for owners and prospective buyers.
The reforms will likely include long-awaited plans to license property managers, require mandatory education for condo board members and create an arms-length office to resolve disputes between those boards and owners. The office is expected to be funded with a new tax on condo owners of a few dollars a month.
The province has spent three years working on an update to its Condominium Act, which was introduced in 1998 – well before Ontario underwent a boom that now sees roughly 1.3 million people living in almost 600,000 condos.
Many say the changes, which are aimed at curbing fraud and costly disputes among neighbours, are long overdue.
"It should add value to the condo living experience and perhaps even to the long-term financial health" of many buildings, said Anne-Marie Ambert, a condo owner who runs the online Condo Information Centre and sat on the government's review panel. "Now you have some condos that are going down the drain that aren't selling any more or have no value and others that are on their way there."
The centrepiece of the government's overhaul is a new dispute resolution service to help mediate the rising number of bitter disagreements between boards and owners over the often numerous and complex rules that govern condo living, which often end up in costly legal battles or human rights complaints.
"There are so many problems right now," said Ms. Ambert of such battles. "It's much worse than people know."
Licensing property managers – who often have access to a condo's reserve fund, handle the building's finances and hire contractors for maintenance work – has become a major issue for the condo sector, which has been hit with a series of high-profile multimillion-dollar frauds.
Last week, police in Halton Region, west of Toronto, charged a property manager with bilking more than $4-million from 13 buildings by forging contracts for maintenance work that was never done and then pocketing the money.
The proposed changes don't go far enough to regulate the property management industry, says Linda Pinizzotto, a realtor who founded the Condo Owners Association, because the licensing plan doesn't include a requirement to license property management firms, just their employees.
"The bottom line is they're employees," she said. "But who does the accounting for the condo corporation? Who has access to the reserve funds? That's all the property management companies. … The companies are getting off scot-free, while it's the little guy, the property manager who is just trying to keep his job," who is bearing the brunt of the changes, she said.
Ms. Pinizzotto thinks the legislation should offer more government oversight of the condo industry, including penalties and fines for boards or condo managers who violate the rules.
The review also avoided the issue of more powers for condo buyers to protect themselves against the poor workmanship of developers, Ms. Ambert said.