Election corruption will not be solved by Pollyanna solutions

In the Globe, Konrad Yakabuski writes that condo dreams often turn into condo nightmares. He writes:

Condo towers are essentially city-states unto themselves, and they’re often engulfed in civil warfare. Board elections are subject to all kinds of abuses. Cases of collusion among cliques of owners to gain control of the board are common. A Globe and Mail report on one apparent instance of undisclosed co-ordination among three investors vying for board seats at several different condo corporations in Toronto comes as no surprise to anyone who has witnessed condo politics up close.

His solutions
Mr. Yakabuski offers two.

The first is increasing condo owners awareness of how expensive nasty and self-serving condo politics can become.
Shawn Pulver, a condo lawyer states: “What really needs to be done is educating owners and prospective owners about what they’re getting into.”

His second solution is to make condo election fraud a criminal offence.
Florida, which is to condos what Muskoka is to cottages, just passed legislation that explicitly provides prison sentences for anyone convicted of committing condo fraud—electoral or financial.

From the CBC news reports
The CBC interviewed condo law expert Audrey Loeb who has advice for condo owners who are concerned that their building could be targetted for a takeover.
She says owner disinterest in board elections can make a building vulnerable.

"Don't sign a proxy. Go to the meeting, Ask questions of the candidates: What unit do you live in? Are you a resident? Are you an investor? Why do you want to sit on the board?," Loeb told CBC Toronto Tuesday.

"See the whites of their eyes."

And if you live in a building that you believe has been hijacked by people who may not have the residents' best interests at heart?
Loeb said any condo dweller has a legal right to call a meeting without the board's approval, providing they have the consent of 15 per cent of the owners. 

Those meetings can result in new board elections, she said.

As well, an ongoing provincial review of the Condo Act could result in changes that better protect owners from aggressive board takeovers, Loeb said.

How practical are these solutions?

It is one thing for the mice to agree that cats need to wear bells and a whole different thing to agree on who will bell the cats. Lets take a look at these suggested "solutions".

The problem with educating condo owners comes down to who approves the curriculum and who will do the teaching? Realtors, condo developers and the industry lobby groups would teach a completely different course than would CondoMadness.

Property managers are often involved in manipulating condo elections so it can't be them. Even some lawyers play games by favouring a condo board, or the director, that hired them.

The biggest problem is that many/most condo owners don't want to be educated. They are not interested, claim they don't have the time, can't grasp the complexities involved or will vote for anyone who promises to keep their monthly expenses low.

Criminal offences
Excellent idea. However, do our police forces have enough detectives to gather the evidence and prepare the cases needed for convictions? Will they be given funds to do this work?  I don't think so.

Don't hand in proxies
Condo managers, boards and candidates love proxies. Low owner turnouts make AGMs easy to control. The condo industry is pushing for condos to allow electronic proxies which will guarantee that even fewer owners will attend their AGMs.

Ask for documents
Examining the documents can be easy enough, or it should be, but how many owners are knowledgeable enough to be able to understand what they are reading? Keep in mind, management is under no obligation to explain what the documents mean, nor do they have to answer any questions.

Read your Declaration
How many owners can read these clauses in a condo declaration and fully understand what they mean? Read this clause:
Section 33—Use of the dwelling units
a) …each dwelling unit shall be occupied and used only for residential purposes, and for the business of providing transient residential rental accommodation on a furnished and/or unfurnished site basis (with or without ancillary maid, cleaning and /or laundry services), through short term or long term licence/lease arrangements, in accordance with the provisions of the applicable zoning bylaw(s) of the Government Authorities, as may be amended from time to time, and for no other purpose whatsoever, provided however that the foregoing shall not prevent or in any way restrict:
ii) any unit owner, or any property manager acting on behalf of any unit owner or group of unit owners, from leasing or renting any dwelling unit(s) in this Condominium from time to time, for any duration and on any number of occasions, and whether in a furnished or unfurnished state, with or without ancillary maid, cleaning and/or laundry services.

This means that anyone can rent their residential unit as a hotel room and no one can interfere or restrict this practice.

Go to the AGM; ask questions
This answer is extremely misleading. Condo elections are chaired by property managers or condo lawyers who refuse to allow the owners to ask the candidates any questions.

Sure the questions can be very awkward. I was at an AGM in May 2017 where there were credible reports that the president did not pay his condo fees for the previous year and there were incidents of cash going missing from the management office, yet the corporate lawyer—who chaired the meeting—would not allow the owners to question any of the candidates about these serious allegations.

Read the candidates' campaign literature
They are often packed with exaggerations and lies. In this case, an incumbent who was running for re-election, bragged about how much money he saved when he was the vice-president of a nearby condo. Read the second bullet point and then the last one:

Which point is accurate? The 28% reduction in fees claimed in the second point or the zero percent increase claimed in the last line? They both can't be true; can they?

How many owners picked up this contradiction? Very few I suspect. Even better, lets look up his previous condo on Condos.ca to see what we find.

  Green line–his old condo's fees      Grey line–the area average fees

Oh my! The Internet tells us a different story. It tells us the condo fees in his previous condo corporation went up every year since it was incorporated. A 44.4% increase in the monthly maintenance costs for an average annual increase of 8.9%. Not so impressive is it?

So you pick up on this candidates BS. So how do you inform the other owners that this incumbent should not be re-elected if the majority of owners vote by proxy and you are not allowed to ask questions at the AGM?

That property manager should be independent of the board, with a good reputation
No manager is independent of the board. The board hires and the board fires and many boards are quick to do so.

A good reputation? How can condo owners determine that? There are no guarantees. Some companies have good reputations, well deserved at that, but individual managers and regional managers can be competent and honest or dumb, incompetent or crooked in the best of management companies.

Conflicts of interest on condo boards
Sure owners need to watch out for conflicts of interest by the directors and the property management. Nothing said about how can the owners can go about doing this. Personal interests are well hidden and it takes a smart and diligent director, or owner, to ferret them out.

Codes of conduct
Meaningless in preventing fraud or unethical behaviour. Used mainly to force minority directors to remain silent about any suspicions they have.

Call an owners' meeting
Sounds easy. Collect signatures of owners of at least 15% of all the units to remove some or all of the current directors. Yet as anyone who went through one of these knows, if the board resists, trying to get enough signatures to force an owners meeting to remove the directors can be both expensive and difficult.

Wait for the new Condo Act regulations
We don't know how much help the new Condominium Authority of Ontario will be. The new Act is far more complicated than the one it replaced and for now it is a wait and see proposition.

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