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Condominium tribunal doing an effective job: Howden

More than a year into existence, Ontario’s Condominium Act Tribunal (CAT) is working effectively, Toronto employment lawyer Deborah Howden tells Law Times. 

Howden, partner with Shibley Righton LLP's Toronto office, tells the publication that while the tribunal only handles issues of access to records, that is the most common area of dispute between condo corporations and unit owners. 

“What’s distinctive about the CAT is this is a new tribunal in Ontario, and it’s a designated authority, and there’s only a handful of such authorities in the province,” Howden tells Law Times. 

“It’s our first and only online adjudication body.” 

She tells the legal publications that prior to the Ontario Condominium Act being amended, an owner with an issue had to have a reason related to the condo corporation to access to a particular document. 

A reason is no longer necessary for a purchaser, condo owner, or mortgagee of a unit to access that information, provided the record doesn’t relate to an exemption under the Condominium Act, Howden says. 

She cites a 2018 case where an owner, wishing to challenge election results, requested unaltered copies of proxy forms. However, the condo board refused access to un-redacted proxies, arguing that each form identified unit numbers, and was exempt from production, Law Times reports. 

The condo owner argued that a narrow interpretation of the legislation would restrict a proper audit of the results, background from the tribunal's ruling shows. She further stated that “legible and unaltered copies of the proxies” were necessary for her to challenge the election results. 

The tribunal ruled that owners had alternative methods to verify the proxies such as requesting an owners’ meeting to discuss irregularities. They could also ask for the registration sheet at the meeting, Howden tells Law Times. 

“It confirmed that with respect to proxies, even if you’re challenging election results, you still don’t get to see identifying information,” she says. “It’s a decision that confirms that privacy and confidentiality of the voting process" are still protected under the legislation. 

Howden also points to another case from 2018 that demonstrates the tribunal’s value. 

In that instance, an owner requested legal invoices from a settled small claims court case, arguing that because the matter had been resolved, the litigation was no longer privileged. 

The tribunal denied the request. 

“It helps as these decisions come out, they’re not earth-shattering, but they tend to reinforce what we’ve known all along,” Howden tells Law Times. 

Matteo Guinci, a Ministry of Government and Consumer Services spokesman, tells Law Times that the Act “gives the [tribunal] authority to make rules, including about orders for costs.” 

“The Condominium Authority Tribunal has authority to dismiss applications without a hearing if it believes the subject matter of the application is frivolous or vexatious or that the application has not been initiated in good faith or discloses no reasonable cause of action,” Guinci says in a prepared statement to the legal publication. “Most disputes relating to condo corporation records must go to the tribunal for resolution. The CAT hears certain disputes primarily between condo owners and condo corporations and is intended to help resolve certain disputes in a cost-effective manner.”

In an interview with AdvocateDaily.com, Howden says that although the tribunal is dealing with its applications in a timely manner, the cost of defending cases typically does not make it any cheaper for corporations when compared to the Small Claims Court process.

“A condominium corporation is likely to spend just as much, if not more, on a CAT records dispute that goes the distance."

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