Issues with Lawyers

Please also consult the new section on Abuse of Legal Letters and Liens as well as the section on "Harassment" and "Defamation" Redefined.

Overall, 20% of the letters received until the end of December 2013 (or 601 letters out of 3,009) reported problems with condo lawyers. It would be in the interest of the legal profession to encourage higher standards in terms of condo law practice...and help owners rather than protect a few unethical lawyers. And the same can be said about condo industry groups which include lawyers among their most influential members. Such situations give a bad reputation to all condo lawyers rather than the few who might deserve it and contribute to the abuse of owners' rights.

Research Note: Of the 601 letters on this topic, only 293 included the lawyer's name. Of these 293, fully 181 were about the same lawyer (in different cases). Two other lawyers got over 45 mentions each (they probably have fewer clients) and three others a few mentions each. Therefore, it seems that a small number of lawyers are overrepresented in these complaints. It is probable that the same pattern of overrepresentation exists in the remainder of complaints in which the lawyers were not named.

Letter: [This letter is from a lawyer.] I occasionally take clients who need help with condo issues and their need to consult with me stems from their being abused by BODs and/or managers and these two groups are unavoidably in the wrong both legally and humanely. Despite this, the condo corporation’s lawyer defends these individuals and the corporation pays for this defense even though what these persons do to my clients is only the tip of the iceberg in what they do against their owners at large or the corporation.

So what you have that explains a great proportion of the problems that you describe in your Readers Feedback is that these unethical boards and managers are backed up by the legal system while in reality this system should be backing up the Condo Act and the victims of lack of due process.

I can understand that the condo lawyer [name deleted] admitted to a reporter that he prefers to work for BODs. That’s where the money is and that’s where the power is, so as a condo lawyer you follow the power because this is where your next client will come from. It’s also easier because when you really think of it, the Condo Act is more on the side of corporations than owners and these lawyers love to talk about their owners from hell, but we rarely hear them talk about their boards or managers from hell. We all make money from this and I am glad that this is not my specialty, just something I do for already existing clients.

— January 2013, Ottawa

Letter: [This letter is from a condo lawyer and ends as follows:] I would suspect that you might hear about certain firms [condo law firms] more often than others depending on how aggressively those firms pursue unit owners. There are some firms that take a decidedly different approach to dealing with unit owners compared to other firms. In my experience, some law firms act in a way that does not help instill community spirit, fairness and good faith among unit owners.

January 2012, Toronto area

Letter: Our board always has this solicitor either attend the AGMs or chair them. This solicitor is very "creative" (conveniently so for the board to hide their incompetence) in the ways he interprets the Condo Act--he makes up rules as things happen and he sends the president on wild goose chases with his ridiculously false insinuations about any person that the president likes to attack and on-the-spur-of-the-moment ideas and of course he gets paid for his "creativity". He gets paid with our money to cheat us. There should be rules against such solicitors.

January 2012, 905 area, ON

Letter: I have been a manager in Toronto for many years and I don't approve of everything I do but I do it because pleasing the boards that I work with is the only way my company keeps its contracts. When I have an honest board, it's no problem and I can be myself with them. But the current president of my board gets upset at any owner that dares disagree with him, especially when they were persons that had been on previous boards, perhaps because he is afraid that they will come back on the board and he will lose his job as the president.

One thing that makes my life both easier and harder is that as soon as someone complains in writing about something that we shouldn't be doing, the president writes back threatening them with defamation and if they object, as they should, our corporation solicitor quickly sends them a letter and then they have to pay up and if they don't do, the solicitor puts a lien on their suite. The solicitor always writes a letter as soon as the president asks, he does't ask if the president is right -- he never is -- and the president always says that it is on behalf of the board -- and it never is: no one goes against him because he showers them with compliments and he makes them feel so important, so he basically does what he wants. It makes my life easier because what would be powerful owners -- because they are respected -- don't bother us much, because of those liens. The president's way is to create divisions among us but he is doing a lot of harm to this condo because owners stay away. Of course, the president is happy with me and I can do no wrong. But I am mature enough and with enough experience to know that this entire set-up is totally wrong and that one day, I will regret having been involved in this mess. I am seriously thinking of starting my own management company because the demand is so high and I would want to start from scratch in terms of honesty and not abusing owners and subjecting them to the cruelty of some these lawyers.

January 2012, Toronto

Letter: We have such an incompetent manager with a board that is actually afraid of him that I contacted this condo lawyer [name deleted] for help along with other owners. He didn’t want to help out and advised us to move out. What kind of legal advice is this?

August 2009, Barrie area, ON

Answer: Two other letters using exactly the same words were received. The other two letters were from Toronto. If everyone who encountered problems in condos moved out, eventually condos would be empty. Lawyers would be able to do a far better job were the Condo Act improved. Added February 2012: Yet other letters, using fairly identical words, have since been received.

Letter: I am the former secretary of a large high rise and it has come to my attention that the new board is not following proper procedures, including giving untendered contracts and I am sure that this is costing a lot of money that is unnecessary. I tried talking to them but they told me that there is “only one board” and totally rebuffed me. I am very concerned that we are suddenly spending much more than we used to when we were so careful. I contacted the lawyer [name deleted] and he refused to talk with me saying that “we only talk with the president”. Is this ethical for a condo lawyer to refuse to know what is going on?

— October 2009, Brampton, ON

Answer: First, it is an established procedure, at least in Ontario, for condo corporation lawyers to do business only with the president (and not with all current board members), otherwise it might cost a great deal in legal fees if it were a free-for-all. Generally, a board has to direct a president to contact the corporation’s lawyer—even a president can’t do it on a whim. This being said, you were on the previous board and understand what is going on. This lawyer should at least listen to what you have to say if he really wants to serve your corporation and advise the board accordingly. This new board is probably uninformed and does not want to look “stupid.” An issue of pride. The other problem is that a few condo lawyers like to get into the “politics” of a corporation: They generally side with the current board, no matter who is right, in order to retain their contract. Again, it seems that an owner should have the right to seek advice from the corporation lawyer because the latter represents the corporation and not the board... and the owner should pay the fee, unless it can be recouped from the corporation. When Condo Acts are revamped, this should be one of the improvements that should be included because your case is one of many that has come to my attention in Ontario.

Letter: What option do owners have in rejecting that the AGM be chaired by [condo's solicitor's name deleted] who did not object to the proxy abuse by the manager at last year's AGM where the manager collected and filled proxies, a topic this lawyer refuses to allow for discussion, and did nothing all year to resolve the question of legitimacy of the board?

— February 2011, Toronto area, ON

Answer: It's very difficult to prevent a condo lawyer from chairing a meeting if the board decides that he is to do so. Your board seems to have many issues and you might want to replace it. Look into the section on Requisitioned Meetings. And if ever you replace this board, find a more ethical lawyer.

Letter: At the AGM, owners are not allowed to ask questions because the excuse always is, "the topic is not on the agenda." But if we ask to have it put on the agenda, the Board replies that it is a Board's right to decide. If we insist at the AGM, this lawyer grins and says we're out of order and puts that down in the Minutes, with the name of the owner making the request. [name deleted] is paid out of our fees and he is there only to make sure that only questions friendly to the Board are asked. This is a gross misinterpretation of a condo solicitor's duty here.

— February 2011, just north of Toronto

Letter: For the first few years AGM's were dominated by rambling sermons and verbal attacks on the manager and board. A couple of years ago it was decided to bring in the corporation lawyer to chair the meeting. At first it was resisted by some owners but AGM times went from 4 hours to just over 2.5 hours. It also took out personality conflicts out of the debates. Also questions regarding condo law could be answered directly as opposed to a reply sent later to the questioner without the other owners benefitting from the answer.

— February 2011, Ontario

Answer: Yes, this can be an excellent procedure, especially with lawyers who have the well-being of the entire corporation at heart. However, I do receive many letters of complaints from another side of this situation. In some cases, the chairing lawyer intimidates owners and prevents them from raising issues that might make the board look less good; in other cases, board members have even commited fraud by filling out proxies and the lawyer is aware of it. This entire situation then becomes a form of censorship and, as a result, owners stop showing up at the AGM and some are trying to get rid of both board and lawyer.

Letter: We seem to have a good corporation lawyer but the only problem is that he sees his job as "moving on" (words he uses often during AGMs) and fast through the AGM; as a result, we really don't have the time to go into any depth on issues we are raising. He means well, as he doesn't want to have a long meeting, but for us this is the only time in the year that we get to communicate with the board. If someone raises an issue, gets an answer, and another owner picks up on the same topic because the answer is not satisfactory or there might be more facets to it, [name deleted] asks for another question to "move on" to another topic. So we really don't get anything accomplished.

— February 2011, Oshawa area, ON

Answer: As you mention that this is an ethical lawyer, why don't you suggest at the AGM that, in addition to the AGM, your condo hold a yearly "townhall meeting," which is an informal meeting of owners with boards to discuss issues in depth. Hopefully [name deleted] would think that this is a good idea and would suggest it to the board. It is true that persons who preside at AGMs rush through the discussions, in part because they are afraid to lose the quorum, if this discussion takes place before votes are taken. An alternative might be to do the elections early on... and owners who want to discuss things with the board will certainly want to remain.

Letter: We requisitioned a meeting for the removal of the board for [reasons deleted for confidentiality] and at the meeting the board said that there was no quorum, but there was one because over 70% of owners were physically present, and the lawyer agreed with the board. We then all received a letter from the same law firm [name omitted] stating that it was illegal to remove this board for [deleted] reasons. We probably paid a fortune to receive an illegal legal letter.

— February 2011, Ontario

Note: The above owners had followed proper procedures and the reasons for removing all board members were more than acceptable. As well, with such a large proportion of owners in attendance, there was a quorum.

A few condo lawyers in Ontario seem to exercise a great deal of latitude in re-interpreting the Condo Act to suit the needs of current boards and managers rather than the good of the corporation. This is an issue that should be clarified in any future revision of the Condo Act. Indeed, most condo lawyers rightly emphasize that a solicitor's duty is to the corporation, hence the good of the community, rather than to just one "stakeholder." However, the good of the corporation may demand, in some cases, that owners be heard and the board overruled.

Letter: We need help badly. There are all kinds of irregularities going on in our building, like the rules are not followed by board members, there are leaks that are not repaired, my neighbor got refused a status certificate pending his suite being entered and he says that this is not right, board members collect proxies and fill them out themselves, the board constantly ask the law firm really simple questions and pay an arm and a leg for this silly stuff that many of us owners know the answer for, so that we had a bill for over $10,000 in legal fees last year for nothing. It seems to us that the lawyer is taking advantage of our board's ignorance and this [name deleted] is a smooth talker at the AGMs and prevents owners from asking relevant questions and gets paid for this as well. He agrees with anything the board says and I thought that he worked for us all in the corporation. You can tell how dishonest he is. How can we get help to have a better board, a better managerment and a more honest lawyer?

— February 2011, Toronto

Answer: You need to requisition a meeting to get rid of this board, if you think that you will be able to find a better one. Please go into Requisitioned Meetings and read the several sections pertaining to the goal of removing and then replacing a board. It is very obvious in the many letters received on this topic that the more incompetent and inexperienced a board is, the more they have recourse to lawyers, and threat of legal action, in order to preserve their vested interests and hide their ignorance. Competent boards carry on AGMs on their own and seek help only when a thorny or complicated legal issue arises. Added: I would also suggest reading the other letters posted in this section as well as in the new section on "Harassment" and "Defamation" Redefined.

Letter: [What follows is only a small part of a rather long correspondence.] We need to requisition a meeting of owners to get rid of our board [suspected fraud; misuse of condo money; no communication, etc] and we have found very competent and honest replacements but we are afraid that this lawyer who always supports this board, props them up, really, will find more reasons to defeat our meeting.

— February 2011, Ontario

Letter: [This is the conclusion of a very long letter about problems pertaining to board and manager unethical actions supported by the condo lawyer.] I contacted the Law Society of Upper Canada over the phone and they told me that they don't investigate lawyers in condos. After some argument they told me to fill out a form. It's called "complaint form" but it really does not have any space that is relevant to a complaint by a condo owner. This Law Society is totally useless and ends up protecting lawyers that fail in their duties by being complicit with boards and managers that don't follow the condo act.

— February 2011, Brampton, ON

Note to Readers: Several letters have been received from Ontario owners who tried to get the Law Society involved, or at the very least, cognizant of problems created by legal practitioners in condos. They were all rebuffed and told that this is not one of their mandates.

Letter: My term has just expired and this was enough for me. We were a new board and the corporation's solicitor offered to give us a free seminar on general condo knowledge. We jumped at the opportunity and I personally learned a lot. But this lawyer also suggested that we update our by-laws (which had been updated just a few years before and were adequate), have him write letters to "disruptive" owners, that he should review all our contracts, etc, etc. This sounded reasonable but in the three years we did all this and more and this cost us over $55,000. I now know from talking with other condo boards that much of this was useless. I think that some lawyers take advantage of inexperienced but well-intentioned boards.

— February 2011, Ottawa

Letter: I want to add to your presentation that it is difficult for a condo owner to have access to a competent condo lawyer outside of large cities.

— August 2009, 519 area, ON

Comment: Click on Current Problems in Legal Recourse for additional feedback. Also go into Links, non-government section, for referral service. Added January 2012: Since then, letters from owners have indicated that this is a widespread problem, even in a city such as Toronto. The main issue is that there are no condo lawyers who specialize in helping owners only. As a result, most lawyers have either worked for an owner's condo corporation in the past/present or for another condo that has been or is being serviced by this owner's current management company: Consequently, either a lawyer will refuse to help an owner on these grounds or the owner will be poorly advised because of the potential conflicts of interest that this lawyer may have.

Letter: I will not bore you with all the problems I have encountered with my condo suite but I think that had my real estate lawyer and even the agent informed me of the importance of the status certificate and especially of the declaration, I would either not have bought in this condo or I would have been better prepared to face these problems. I think that these real estate lawyers and even agents should themselves be better educated about condo problems. What would you say of a physician who sends patients home with new medicines and fails to tell them how to take them? That’s about how I feel.

— August 2009, Toronto

Added January 2012:

This problem with some condo lawyers is even problematic for me because, not being a lawyer, I advise about 25% of the letter writers to consult a lawyer or a legal referral system. But, in any case, most of these owners cannot afford legal help. So the problems remain.

Nearly all the letters received on this topic also included complaints about boards and/or managers. Therefore, one may conclude that it is extremely rare that problems with lawyers arise when a condo has a hands-on, knowledgeable, ethical, and accountable board. Indeed, in such a healthy situation, neither boards nor owners need to have recourse to a lawyer except for routine legal issues. Therefore, the best protection against unethical legal practice is a good board! Click here for What Is a Good Board? But the best protection should come from a redefinition of condo lawyers' role in the Act.

Two owners also reported the case of two different condo lawyers who told boards that they were wrong and even terminated their relationship with that corporation. As well, three owners have reported that their condo lawyer suggested that they read this website rather than waste their money on consultations!