Abuse of Legal Letters and Liens


Of the 601 letters received since July 2009 about problems created by condo lawyers, fully 413 were from owners reporting receiving an unwarranted letter from the lawyer for which they had to pay and many of these had a lien put against their unit for not paying this letter quickly enough. Others were late in their monthly fees for only a few weeks and for the first time; they never received a phone call or a letter from management warning them and had a lien put against their unit. Others had a lien after management refused their cheques or post-dated cheques. In other words, there is a great deal of abuse regarding legal letters and liens and what liens cover.

Readers might also want to read other letters in the sections on Issues with Lawyers as well as "Harassment" and "Defamation" Redefined and even Noise Issues.

Letter: To be brief, we have suffered under a board that has no respect for owners and for our property, was vindictive, lied to us, used the solicitor to send horribly threatening letters to several owners and forced them to pay under the threat of liens, spent too much money, and after years we finally decided to replace the board and organized a requisitioned meeting for this purpose. We followed your recommended steps to the letter but the board and the manager told us that this was not valid and the lawyer [name deleted] of [firm's name deleted] sent all signing owners a letter threatening defamation for what we wrote, but we only wrote the truth which was that each diarector disregarded the budget [and he/she lists the proof the remainder of this letter has been placed in the section on Issues of Condo Money and Fees].

— January 2013, Brampton, ON

Letter: We have a board of directors that messes up with everyone’s mind when we try to bring a problem to their attention. Most of the time we don’t receive a reply (and I say "we" because several owners have written to their special email address) and that’s the same if we approach the manager, in fact it’s as bad because she does not take kindly to any request that we make. But when there is a complaint against us after we have complained about something, she really brings it on and so does that board that does not even follow the rules that they want us to follow and it’s the same for their husbands and wives. Y’d think that we have a board of 10!

Sorry about this long story. One evening Saturday we had guests come over for dinner and we were in total 6 and they didn’t do much noise, just sit and talk and laugh. They left at 10 p.m. A week later we received a letter from the corp. solicitor informing us that we should stop noise at night and also that we should stop disrupting the good functioning of the board and the manager. The letter also stated that we had to pay for it or we would have a lien and there was an attached bill.

What should we do? The letter stated that we made noise on several days and nights (note not the evening of the party) and did not specify what kind of noise or anything. We are very quiet people and go to bed early because we leave for work early in the morning.

— January 2013, Scarborough, ON

Letter: [What follows represents only a few quotes from this owner's several letters.] I have asked a treasurer at another condo where they had the same problem and got a quote from two plumbing companies and there is no way that this work [carried out in his/her condo] could have cost us over $60,000. Around $35,000 would have been more like it. That's only one example of the excessive amounts of money that our manager/board say we need to pay. I know for a fact that they never tender these new jobs and this is worrisome because our condo is less than10 years old and our fees are going up over 10% each year, or 50% in 5 years. So I wrote the board and asked to be allowed to see the quotes for the last job. Within one week, without their being in touch with me themselves, I received a letter from [name omitted], the condo's solicitor, where he told me to stop "harassing" the board and if I continue he would take me to court. Then I was billed $650 for this letter and now this same lawyer just put a lien on my unit because I refused to pay for the letter.

— February 2011, general Burlington area, ON

Answer: In several cases such as yours, the corporation's lawyer chooses to blindly take the word of a manager or a board, stands by them, and goes on the offence on their behalf. The Condo Act will have to clarify the duties of condo solicitors: Their allegiance should not be with the board or the manager, but with the corporation. Victimizing an owner just does not cut it. Charging an owner for a letter requested by the manager when all that this owner has done is simply asking for information is absolutely wrong. Putting a lien on your unit in simply unethical and probably illegal in such a case. You are not in breach of any rule, you are paying your fees on time, there is no court order against you. The lien is totally unwarranted. And there is no reason to take you to court: He is only trying to scare you... and this, unfortunately, happens a lot while, in reality, he should be protecting you for the good of the corporation. This lawyer is beyond the bounds of the Condo Act and you should seek court redress under section 135 of the Act ("Oppression Remedy")... with the help of another lawyer. (For all Readers: Please also see the section on Issues with Lawyers. There may also be an issue of conflict of interest in this case. Click here for Fraud, Kickback and Issues of Conflict of Interest.

Letter: I am a new board member and I had always thought that our board was a good one in the sense that these people appeared nice and friendly. But I am concerned about several issues [and only two are mentioned here] ... and it seems to me that this board is very inexperienced and so am I. I noticed that the board always asks the corporation solicitor for advice on very basic items, on the agenda of board meetings, on basic letters. That's very costly, you know. We could use this money elsewhere. But what bothers me the most is that every time that someone complains about something, the manager tells the board and the board asks the lawyer to write a letter to that person and that person ends up having to pay for it. I really am not sure if this is legal and even if it is, it does not seem fair. I would hate to receive a letter like that just because I complained because it seems to me that if we go on the board, we should be able to deal with owners' complaints and it also seems to me that this costs a lot of money to our owners and most are not all that well to do.

— February 2011, Ottawa

Note: It was first suggested to this board member to read the chapter on Boards of Directors.

Letter: We received a letter from our condo's lawyer ordering us to stop throwing furniture down the garbage chute because it blocks it. The letter also stated that the manager has contacted us several times about the issue. In addition, it included a bill, including the GST [this was just before the HST arrived]. But there were several problems here. First we never threw any "furniture" down the garbage chute and I just can't see how someone can do this, it's not possible because these chutes are just too small. Second we had taken pictures of all our possessions two months before this in case we needed this for our insurance company and these pictures show exactly the same furniture we have now, and none is missing, so we couldn't have thrown furniture down the chute. So we approached the manager and she said that she left several messages on our voice mail and even wrote us two letters; we tried to explain to her that it must be someone else doing this and showed her the pictures and invited her to our suite; we said that she must have had a wrong number for us and that we never received her letters. Nothing worked. I must add here that this manager has been nasty to us from the time we asked her if we could see the latest financial statements as this had offended her a lot and she had replied that this was illegal.

To make this long story short, before we could even pay the lawyer's fee, we got a lien put on our suite from the lawyer's office. How can a lawyer representing a condo do this? Don't they check facts before they send a letter to an owner that is actually being victimized? We could easily have hired a private detective to see if furniture had actually be thrown down, and so on, but I can't tell you how much we wanted to leave; we got out of there fast. We will never live in a condo again. We had gone into your website to see what could be done and we would appreciate it if you posted this letter because, although your website discusses some of the problems coming from managers such as ours was, there is not much that speaks of the fact that there seems to be something wrong with the way some condo lawyers practice their trade and especially how some abuse liens to back up bad managers. I think that it's a well kept secret...

— February 2011, just north of Toronto

Note for all Readers: This is a very sad situation and another example of cases where condo lawyers become the lackeys of boards and managers in order to retain their contract with the corparation. Basically, they don't check the facts and just blindly comply with a board's or manager's request. Now, under normal circumstances, a lawyer would be totally correct in sending a warning letter to an owner who is allegedly throwing furniture down a garbage chute and, if the owner failed to comply and failed to pay the fee, to lien him or her. However, before reaching such a drastic and costly (for the owner) step, a lawyer should independently assure himself/herself of the validity of the manager's complaint.

As well, "furniture" thrown down the garbage chute is truly an emergency that needs to be immediately investigated lest it causes catastrophic consequences. It does not seem that the manager truly investigated the situation.

There are several situations where a lawyer should be asked to write an owner and charge this owner for the cost of the letter. If the owner does not comply and does not pay the legal fee, then there is no other recourse but to lien the owner in question. These situations include owners

  • who are noisy and disturb their neighbours (whether from their suite, their balcony, the common elements),
  • whose smoking penetrates in other suites,
  • who speed on the property,
  • who throw stuff down the balcony

— all situations that are against the good of the corporation.

However, before a letter is written by the lawyer, the manager and board have to be able to show that they have investigated the noise or situation thoroughly and ethically, that they have talked to the owner or resident in question, and that they have written to him or her on more than one occasion. Only then, all things having failed, should a lawyer intervene. Under no circumstance should a lawyer play the role of board or manager: His or her role comes when all else has failed. And, at that point, if the owner fails to pay legal fees, it is correct to put a lien on the unit.

Here, one can suggest that this discussion be pursued with a reading of the section on "Harassment" and "Defamation" Redefined where the issue of legal letters returns.