This case involving a housing co-operative provides a good (but sad) example of the difficulties faced by a corporation (be it condominium or co-operative) when faced with a hoarder. In this case, the co-operative appears to have taken all required steps to protect the other co-owners and the corporation. It involved the Police Department, the Fire Services and the Health and Safety Department. It properly documented its work and provided the required notices to the owner. If you find yourself in this situation, it is best to involve your lawyer early on and to strategically rely on your corporate documents.
235 Grandravine is a not-for-profit co-operative, incorporated to manage a 190-unit residential building for the benefit of the co-owners. In 2008, a specific owner bought a unit at great discount as it required significant work. By 2012 however, the corporation started to receive significant complaints regarding odours emanating from the unit. Upon inspection, the unit was filled, floor to ceiling, with wood, boxed goods, tool and other items.
In fact, when the police first attended, they were looking for a decomposing body – none was found.
Over the years, the hoarding significantly worsened. The police attended several times. Eventually, the Health and Safety Department and the Fire Services Department were called to inspect the unit on numerous occasions. It was concluded that the state of the unit constituted a fire hazard and contravened the Fire protection and Prevention Act, O Reg. 213/07. As it was, the state of the unit could jeopardize the safety of firefighters, the co-owner of the unit and the other co-owners in the case of a fire.
The inspections revealed that there were excessive material and combustible material in the unit, which negatively affected ingress and egress to/from the unit. In fact, the door could not fully be opened and the inspector had to go through it sideways.
Eventually, a Fire Inspection Order was issued to remediate the situation. This Order was addressed to the board members and the property manager. They were liable to ensure the unit owner complied with the order. The corporation provided proper (and repeated) written notices to the owner and took steps to ensure that he understood his obligations (there was some language barrier). When the owner failed to comply with the Order, the corporation sought three quotes and eventually retained the required expert to empty, clean and disinfect the unit. The assistance of a locksmith and of the police was required to gain access to the unit (despite the fact the owner was inside). The corporation provided the owner with the ability to identify and save items of value that he wished to retain. He was also allowed to retrieve from the bins what he wished to save.
It may be interesting to note that, while the owner acknowledge that there were rims, an old minivan seat and numerous disassembled items in the unit, as well as a mattress on the balcony, he also claimed that the cleaners removed and stole valuable items including electrical appliances, radios, laptops, televisions, DVDs and a suitcase containing $150,000 in cash along with gold and diamond jewelry. The court’s written reasons provide more details on the state of the unit and on the evidence presented.
Thankfully, the Co-ownership Agreement provided the corporation with the tools to deal with this situation. This Agreement, registered on title, provided for the following:
- Owner are to maintain their unit in such a manner as to not endanger persons or property and as to not affect the insurance coverage;
- It restricted what could be stored on the balcony;
- It allowed the Corporation to rectify the matter, at the owner’s costs, if the owners failed to do so;
- It granted the corporation with a right of entry to the unit;
- It allowed the corporation to claim from the owner the costs for this work;
- It allowed the corporation to register a lien on the unit
Most condominium corporation have these powers. When faced with a situation such as this one, it is important to verify what are the corporation’s rights and the owner’s obligations. This will guide the corporation in how to deal with the situation.
In October, the court gave the owner 120 days to pay the corporation some $13,000, which it incurred in cleaning costs. On March 20, 2015, the court also ordered the owner to pay some $33,500 in legal fees. A corporation’s ability to recover these costs will be discussed in another post.
Dealing with hoarding situations are very delicate matters. Involving the proper authorities and properly documenting the situation and the steps taken are key elements to successfully recovering the corporation’s cost and legal fees. Involving the corporation’s lawyer early in the process is paramount as these situations often involve health and legal issues.