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From the Winter 2023 Issue

Role of Boards, Directors, Managers and Owners

The Manager Shortage

Select a Category || By Patricia Elia

Being a participant in a condominium community as a Director, a Manager, and or an Owner requires a significant amount of knowledge, patience, curiosity and understanding. As people come together under the one roof of “the condominium,” it is easy to forget the delineation of our roles.

As a Unit Owner, Director, and industry participant (I practice condominium law), I see how we need to look at problems from different perspectives. This can be time-consuming and even annoying at times. Knowing the boundaries of our roles and staying within them can be difficult because of our own interests, but we must be able to do so.

As a Director it is important that we respect our role in guiding the community. Directors are the stewards of the Corporation in the path of managing the assets of the Corporation. Sometimes the title of Director goes to our head, and we can forget that we are in service of a greater good, which is that of the Corporation and are part of a team, The Board of Directors. We are also not professionally designated Property Managers trained to operate a condominium Corporation. We also forget that we must focus on the best interests of the Corporation, not on our personal agendas. Finally, as elected representatives, we need to know and appreciate that our values are not the only ones that matter. The collective majority of Directors’ values and decisions are what matter.

Knowing your boundaries as a Director can be hard to appreciate when you live in the condominium and it is the biggest investment of your life. However, this boundary must be respected. The Condominium Act, 1998, S.O. 1998, c. 19 provides guidance under Section 37, as to how we perform our duties, which interest (that of the Corporation) is to be served. In today’s information-abundant world, Directors can take guidance on how to behave from a Code of Conduct and a Code of Ethics, which are passed ideally in the form of a bylaw by Unit Owners approved by Owners. (Thus, ensuring that the voice of Unit Owners as to how they would like their community run) These two tools are very helpful in keeping board members in their lanes. The demand for confidentiality, civil behaviour, and inquiry, are just a few of the things contained in these valuable tools. When board members do not adhere to a Code of Conduct or a Code of Ethic, they actually take the Corporation backwards and cost Unit Owners time and money, (often, in spite of their own opinion, of how great or right they are). This is not in the best interest of the Corporation. A Board of Directors is expected to participate as Directors at a duly constituted meeting, but is also expected to:

  1. Be curious and do the necessary inquiry;
  2. Participate in a free-flowing discussion;
  3. Provide direct instruction to property management; and
  4. Execute their duties professionally.

In order to do so effectively a Director must do their homework in advance of every meeting. As well, Property Management must ensure that the packages provided to Directors are robust and complete.

In the role of an industry participant, such as a Property Manager, I have noticed in my years as a Director, that the Property Managers who excel at their role understand their role thoroughly. They do not need to be micromanaged, they earn and maintain the respect of their board members and are put in a place of trust for how they run the Corporation’s day-to-day operations, specifically in the course of managing assets and its community member’s needs. I have worked with many Managers in Ontario of the highest caliber and I have learned that it takes hard work to make the Corporation look like it runs effortlessly. I recently had a chance to speak with some of the great Managers about evolution in the industry and what is interesting is that they are all protecting and building their communities. They are committed and they are kind and patient. They have excellent human resource management skills in dealing with Unit Owners and Board members. Many great Managers are also logistical wizards in terms of organizing both operational demands, together with long term project demands. There is a fine balance to be struck in being accessible to Unit Owners and getting things done. This can be a real juggling act especially when directors or Unit Owners overstep boundaries and micro manage. Directors and Unit Owners can be very demanding on a day-to-day basis. So how do successful Managers overcome it? From what I see, they prioritize and create lists of tasks; they do not get distracted from their objectives; they set reasonable expectations on when deadlines or questions will be responded to; they have great resources behind them (sometimes we forget that the on-site Manager has to be backed up by a great team in the back office for administrative and financial matters), and they also understand people well. They understand, when people just want to be heard, are confused or vulnerable or maybe even just do not even understand what a condominium is. I have seen a great deal of patience exercised together with a willingness to teach others.

Unit Owners also have an obligation and responsibility to understand their condominium documents. Spend time highlighting key sections via your community’s newsletters. Bring to a Unit Owners attention why learning to clean dryer is key to avoid a fire. The CAO needs to explain that if you are going to buy a condo you need to understand what exactly your rights and responsibilities are and your obligations to the Corporation. In an era where we have seen a lot of investment into condos for rental purposes, this can sometimes make Unit Owners detached from the actual inner workings and costs of the condo. This can be very problematic if you do not understand the role of the Unit Owners in a condo, how the condo operates and fails to inform your tenant of how that is to happen and what their expectations are. Simply, tenants are held to the same standard as Unit Owners. At the same time, the time and cost of operating business by Unit Owners (landlord) in a condominium should not fall to the Property Manager, or the Corporation, or to fellow condominium Unit Owners. This has been a great concern to me as I see insurance costs starting to stabilize after having seen a huge increase over the last several years. We need to reduce our risk in condos and as Unit Owners we must take responsibility for our actions. The key here for Property Management and the Board is communicating the practical economic realities and legal obligations to Unit Owners via lost effective methods like websites and newsletters.

As we evolve, we have to get better. “When we know better, we can do better.” – Maya Angelou

Patricia Elia is a senior lawyer with Elia Associates and has practiced law for over 25 years in the areas of condominium law and corporate law, in large and medium firms and the boutique specialty law firm of Elia Associates. Patricia is passionate about the condominium industry because of the important role condominiums play in the lives of real people.

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