As the old saying goes, “You catch more flies with honey than you do with vinegar.”
For my first Condo Adviser post, I wanted to review a recent decision that sets out two key statutory duties imposed on a condo corporation when faced with a potentially aggressive condo owner.
The facts of Ottawa Carleton Standard v Friend, 2019 ONSC 3899, reveal a situation where much vinegar was spilled without catching a single fly. So much so that the Court imposed an interlocutory injunction barring a condo owner’s continued “campaign of aggression” against the condo corporation, its employees and agents.
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In 2013, the Corporation obtained a judgment of some $18,500 against Mr. Friend for charges related to the installation of water meters. Frustrated with this decision, and adamant that the Court was wrong, Mr. Friend began a concerted campaign against the condo corp., its Board, and agents. Amongst other activities, he:
- Acted in a confrontational and aggressive manner, including making derogatory, insulting, condescending and personal comments in expressing his opinions to Board decisions;
- Communicated via repetitive, lengthy, and insulting emails, telephone calls and by knocking on Directors’ doors;
- Attempted (without authorization) to instruct and engage the services of the corporation’s lawyers and accountants thereby raising the costs charged to the corporation;
- Provoked physical altercations with agents of the corporation; and
- Engaged in a number of incidents likely meant to cause undue annoyance, such as paying a debt to the corporation in nickels and insisting that he had the right to leave his winter boots in the corridors of the building to dry.
The Condo corporation brought a motion seeking to prohibit Mr. Friend from communicating with or harassing its Directors, their spouses, its agents and employees.
The motion was granted with costs. All of these activities were deemed to be “irrational” and “legally incorrect.” As such, on an interim basis, the owner was ordered to cease his offending conduct and his communications with the Board and Property Manager were severely limited.
Workplace Harassment under the OHSA:
The Court looked at the condo corporation’s duties under the Ontario Health and Safety Act (OHSA) in the context of “workplace harassment.”
The Court found that pursuant to Section 32.0.7(1) of the OHSA, the condo corporation has a legal duty to investigate and protect its agents from workplace harassment and to remedy any such issues by implementing and enforcing appropriate anti-harassment policies. Therefore, when a condo owner – or an agent of the corporation for that matter – engages in a vexatious course of conduct that is known or ought reasonably to be known to be unwelcome, the condo corporation must take steps to address it.
Injury to an Individual under the Condo Act:
Second, the Court looked at the condo corporation’s duties under the Condo Act.
Section 117 of the act imposes a positive obligation on the condominium corporation to protect against any activity that is likely to cause “injury to an individual.” Numerous decisions, including this one, have found that the concept of “injury” referred to in this section includes psychological harm and verbal and written forms of abuse. Had the condo corporation not acted against the owner, they may have been in breach of this duty to protect.
This decision is a cautionary tale for frustrated condo owners, who may feel that they have been treated unjustly or that their ongoing concerns are falling on deaf ears.
No matter how frustrated an owner may become with the decision-making of the Board or with the day-to-day operations of the Property Manager, there are limits to acceptable behaviour before the condo corporation is required by law to intervene. When an owner crosses that line, the condo corporation has one or more statutory duties to intervene to protect their own agents and workers as well as the other condo owners, be it from harassment, or other injury.
It is equally a cautionary tale for condo corporations when faced with an overly aggressive owner. Had the corporation not taken appropriate action – which in this instance included filing an urgent motion with the court – it could have been found to have been in breach of its own statutory obligations and may have faced some liability.
Aggression in the condo world must always be taken seriously and handled, swiftly and with the utmost care. But even before such aggressions take place, condo corporations should consider adopting (or updating) anti-harassment policies.