Calgary condo owners feeling powerless as they try to lobby for change
By Brodie Thomas
08 May 2018
left, and Hank Van Riesen stand by a small bulletin board in their
condo building. (Brodie Thomas /StarMetro Calgary)
CALGARY—A group of condo owners looking for change in their building
say unfair election rules allow board members to maintain their hold on
power through proxy votes from out-of-town owners.
The group of 60 concerned owners in the Canvas at Millrise complex say
their efforts to contact the powerful voting bloc of owners who don’t
live in the building have been stifled by the board. They have a number
of complaints about the current board members, mainly revolving around
accountability and responsiveness, which they feel powerless to act on.
Condo owner Maryam Benson volunteered to count ballots at last June’s
annual general meeting (AGM), and that’s when she first got an
understanding of the limits on democracy in a condominium.
“The property manager came to tell us that one person has 50 proxies,”
Benson recalled. “I said, ‘What does that mean?’ He said, ‘If she votes
for A, B and C, multiply that by 50.’”
The person with the proxies last June was one of the people already serving on the board.
Carla Trigiani, chair of the board for Canvas at Millrise, said they’ve
done everything by the book and above board. She rejected the idea that
the board is collecting and hoarding proxy votes.
“As the board, we are not reaching out to these (absentee owners),”
said Trigiani. “When an AGM is announced, and the (information) package
is sent out to everyone ... on there we say if you’re unable to make
the meeting, please give your proxy to someone you trust.”
Trigiani said she’s been on the board for eight years, and proxies are
given to her because other owners trust her. She knows them by name —
in some cases, she even knows their pets’ names.
“They feel that level of trust, and it’s always been there,” she said.
little chance for would-be board members to campaign in
Majid Tadayon, another concerned owner, said the nature of the AGM
means there’s little chance for would-be board members to campaign in
advance. Nominations take place at the meeting, and those running have
the chance to get up and speak to anyone in attendance.
There are no ballots made up in advance because nominations take place
at the meeting. Instead, people write the names of their choices on a
piece of paper and hand it in.
Tadayon said he has tried to reach out to property owners who don’t
live in the building but he has no way of knowing who they are. Any
information they get comes through the board.
“They are the only ones who have contact with the property owners,” he
said. “We know nothing about the members running until the day of the
Trigiani said the Freedom of Information and Privacy Act prevents the board from releasing the information of absentee owners.
“To reach people, that’s against the Privacy Act,” she said. “The board
does not solicit people for their votes. We do not ask people (for
their votes) in the way people in this group have been going about it.”
Condo owner Hank Van Riesen showed StarMetro a small bulletin board on
the main floor — the one place he says they are allowed to get their
message out to the people living in the building. But he said their
flyers are often quickly taken down.
In Alberta, condo AGMs must be held every year, or within 15 months of
the previous AGM. Condo boards are required to release financial
statements for the previous year, a report on the reserve fund and a
budget for the upcoming year two weeks before the meeting.
Living in a condo does not guarantee you a vote at the AGM; renters do
not have voting rights. Technically, the bank or lender that holds the
mortgage has the first priority to vote, not the owner of the condo,
although that is not happening in this case.
But the mechanics of how AGMs are held is largely set out in each condo’s bylaws, so rules can vary from building to building.
Tina Faiz, spokeswoman for Service Alberta, said changes could be
coming to regulations on proxy votes, though she could not elaborate on
exactly what those changes are.
“The government is looking at improving how proxy votes are managed so
that owners have more agency over how their proxies are used,” she said.
Faiz said the condo owners’ concerns about not knowing who is running
until the day of the AGM is outside the purview of government.
“Basically, the condo act says that there needs to be a board and it
needs to be constituted according to the bylaws, but it doesn’t create
any further powers for the government to define that further,” she said.
She said owners could change the bylaws to require nominations happen sooner than the AGM.
As for the concerned owners not being able to reach out to absentee
owners, Faiz agreed that the board is not free to release that
information because of privacy legislation.
They can get a list of owners by going to land titles
They can get a list of owners by going to land titles and pulling each
unit’s title at a cost of $10 per title. They could also ask the board
to seek consent for release of contact information. If the owners give
consent, the information can be released.