It seems like every week a new condominium is going up in Toronto. In the first two months of 2015, the Canadian Mortgage Housing Corporation says 14,000 units were completed, 10,000 of those being finished in January alone. In November 2015, Urbanation, a firm that specializes in analysis of the Toronto condominium market, said the city was on track to reach around 20,000 sales for the year which would represent one of the market’s best on record.
Many experts say this marks a generational shift. Where previously Torontonians viewed condos as a cheap alternative for anyone unable to afford a home, now condominiums are becoming the go-to homeownership option for younger generations. As more and more people opt for the high-rise life, and with people living in relatively close quarters and so much of your personal finances at stake, it’s inevitable that some difficulties would arise. Because of that it’s important to be aware of your rights. This becomes especially important for people with disabilities who could be aided by improved access to buildings.
Under the Ontario Human Rights Code, a condominium corporation is required to accommodate the disability of anyone living in the corporation’s building. That means any person who needs assistance has the right to demand the corporation install things like automatic doors.
"If somebody requests [a change to the building] as an accommodation then the condo corporation does have an expectation and a legal requirement to at least investigate to see if it’s something that they can do,"
says Rosemary Bennett, Senior Communications Officer at the Ontario Human Rights Commission.
Entrance by Chris Tyler
Bennett says there are a few exceptions to this rule. If a corporation can make the point that any upgrade or change to the building will cause ‘undue hardship’ then they won’t have to undertake the improvement.
"It could be that the cost is so high it would effectively either alter the business or cause major financial damage, and the other one is that if there’s too much of a risk to health safety,"
"In both of those cases the bar is really high. So it’s not enough to say it will be dangerous. An organization, if they’re refusing accommodation, would have to come up with a better explanation than that."
There is also an expectation that if a corporation can’t make complete accommodations for a person they must do the next best thing. If the cost of the change is restrictive then they could choose to pay for it over time and phase in the accommodation.
"But the basic deal is when they’re asked for an accommodation based on any of the grounds of the Human Rights Code, condo corporations, just like service providers or employers, have a legal duty to accommodate to the point of undue hardship,"
For any condo owners who have asked for accommodation and don’t believe their request is being met or considered there are other options.
"If they don’t believe they’ve been accommodated they can put in a complaint, which we call an application, into the Human Rights Tribunal, which is part of Ontario’s system. So they can lodge a complaint under the Human Rights Code,"
These accommodation requests apply to public or shared areas. Doors, lobby stairs and elevators are some examples of things that could be addressed.
"The most immediate barrier to access is a big step into a buiding. If a doorway does not have level access, it's very difficult and often impossible for a wheelchair user to get through the front door."
Photo and quote by Casey Lessard
But a 2009 court battle ended with the result that condominiums must share the cost of creating accessible units even when it applies to a private unit. The decision followed a lengthy legal battle after a man with degenerative multiple sclerosis was unable to navigate the front steps of his home. In that case, the condominium corporation insisted the tenant bear the full cost of installing a ramp and modifying his walkway, arguing at the time that it would not be appropriate to expend funds for the sole benefit of one owner.
The Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario released a decision ordering the Halton Condominium Corporation to install an accessible ramp and ordered $12,000 in general damages be paid to the tenant for injury to his dignity.
The decision found that
"unless undue hardship is established, the Code requires that the costs of the reasonable accommodation be borne by the condominium corporation."
So, if the board or corporation is required to provide accommodation for a resident who has a disability, then they can undertake the construction without a vote from the owners, according to this National Post piece. However, if the addition is for any other reason and is estimated to cost more than one per cent of the current annual budget, unit owners must be notified in writing under section 97 of the Condominium Act. Owners need to be told how much it is estimated to cost and how the corporation will pay for it.
Regardless of your role in a situation like this, it’s always important to be aware of your rights and what options you have before you.