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Sudden $600K repair bill stuns condo owners

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Sudden $600K repair bill stuns condo owners

Residents of a condominium complex in Kanata’s Katimavik neighbourhood are facing a giant repair bill that some say caught them off guard.

In March, the 40 condo owners on Stratas Court near Eagleson Road learned repairs to railings and leaking glass solariums at the 40-year-old complex would cost them a total of $600,000.

Though warned last September that a special assessment was coming, the owners said they only learned the amount three months ago, and now have less than three weeks to pay their share.

It’s going to set me back financially for years.– Jonathan Gibson Davis, condo owner

“I was in complete shock to be honest with you. There was tears,” said retiree Lynn Braun, who bought her condominium just one year ago.

Braun said she’d only lived there nine months when she received the letter from Carleton Condominium Corporation 281 (CCC281) informing her that her share of the special assessment is $13,000, over and above her usual mortgage and condo fees.

Braun said she’s now struggling to come up with the money, and was so unsettled by the unexpected charge that she’s weighing another move.

“I can’t live with the fear that they can do this. That’s not retirement living for me,” she said.

Lynn Braun, who moved into her condo on Stratas Court last June and now faces a $13,000 special assessment.
Lynn Braun, left, moved into her condo on Stratas Court last June and now faces a $13,000 repair bill. (Stu Mills/CBC)

Leaky sunrooms

The five three-storey brick buildings on Stratas Court were built in the 1980s. Thirty of the 40 units feature a glass-panelled sunroom that, according to one real estate listing, welcomes visitors to “a bright and airy interior, highlighted by the solarium that floods the space with natural light, creating a cozy and inviting atmosphere year-round.”

That natural light has come with a hefty price tag, however.

A study conducted last year into whether the condo corporation had sufficient cash in its reserves recommended that the cause of perennial leaks in those solariums be investigated and corrected once and for all.

Decaying wooden exterior features and safety barriers that are no longer in compliance with building codes also need to be remedied, the report found.

The letter to owners in March from Sentinel Management, the property manager contracted by the condo corporation, called on them to pony up the $600,000 by June 30. The amount each owner owes is based on the size of their unit.

Some of the $600,000 levied by the corporation will be spent on an investigation and remedy of seals around distinctive solarium rooms.
Some of the $600,000 will be spent to investigate and remedy leaking seals around distinctive sunrooms like this one. (The Agency Real Estate)

Threatened with lien

Residents including Jonathan Gibson Davis have been warned that neither deferral nor instalments will be offered as payment options. He’s been told that if he doesn’t pay his share of about $11,000 by the deadline, the condo corporation will immediately move to place a lien on his property.

In Ontario, that would give the corporation priority over almost every other claim to the unit, including that of the mortgage holder. 

“It seems a little aggressive and a little premature,” said Davis, a single father whose share of the $600,000 is at the lowest end.

“I’m going to have to stretch everything to the limit and take out a loan. It’s going to set me back financially for years,” he said.

But CCC281 insists it needs the amount in full by the end of the month so contractors can be hired in time for the construction season, and before costs inevitably rise. 

“I understand it’s a difficult situation,” said Noah Johnston at Sentinel Management, who added: “Health and safety has to come first.”

Condo boardmember Jane Duplante said the newest special assessment is the third she has faced since buying in 2011.
Condo board member Jane Duplante said the latest special assessment is the third she’s faced since buying in 2011. (Stu Mills/CBC)

Mandatory financial review

In Ontario, condo corporations are required to conduct annual reserve fund studies to determine if it’s sitting on enough cash to cover looming repair and maintenance expenses. 

Rod Escayola, a lawyer who specializes in condo law, said other condo corporations have recently experienced “sticker shock” when it comes to repair costs, with the actual bill often coming in well above the estimates in the reserve fund study.

“At best, it’s a very incomplete science,” said Escayola, who cautioned condo shoppers to always seek a “status certificate” — a recent picture of the financial health of a condominium corporation.

Railings and other outdoor features of the units are deteriorated and not to code
Railings and other outdoor features have deteriorated and are no longer to code. (Stu Mills/CBC)

At Stratas Court, it’s board member Jane Duplante’s third time facing a major special assessment bill since moving in 13 years ago.

Still, she’s sanguine about the $18,000 bill coming due in a few weeks.

“It has to be done, it’s part of buying a condo. You still have to put aside money, you’re part of a community,” she said.

Lynn Braun said she wishes she’d heard that advice earlier.

“Clearly I didn’t do enough research on this,” she said.

This article is from from cbc.ca (CBC NEWS CANADA)

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