VANCOUVER – When Toronto resident Robert Jerome celebrated his 30th birthday by purchasing a unit in a low-rise condo development about 15 years ago, he was welcomed into a quiet, close-knit community of red-brick townhouses a few blocks east of Queens Park.
He quickly came to see his neighbours as his extended family, often meeting up to chat in their shared courtyard, which would be filled with children in the summer. Every August, they’d all get together for the yearly community barbecue.
And then Natalia Korolekh moved in.
What happened next were five years of frequent verbal and physical abuse that overshadowed the community, ending with a judge issuing an order in 2010 for Korolekh to sell her condo and move.
The case is similar to one currently playing out in British Columbia, where a woman is appealing an order to sell her condo due to neighbour complaints. While rare, it’s a scenario some experts predict will only become more common as the number of Canadians choosing the close-quarters of condo living increases.
In the Ontario case, Korolekh frequently hurled racist and homophobic obscenities at her neighbours, according to affidavits written by Jerome and other residents. A judge accepted those as accurate accounts of the woman’s behaviour, though Korolekh has always denied any wrongdoing.
In one instance, she hit one of her neighbours in the neck, the affidavits said. In another, she tampered with another neighbour’s cable TV service. She appeared to encourage her Rottweiler’s aggressive behaviour, including when children were around, according to the documents.
It took a lawsuit filed by the condo board and a court order to finally put a stop to it.
“It was very simple to me: it was right versus wrong, and what she was doing was wrong,” recalls Jerome, who says normalcy quickly returned once Korolekh was gone.
“Kids are laughing and playing in the back again. You can actually have your windows open and not just hear loud screaming or this non-stop dog barking.”
Three years later, the Korolekh judgment is heavily influencing a court case in B.C.
In that case, a B.C. Supreme Court judge ordered Rose Jordison to move out of their condo in Surrey after years of complaints about her son, Jordy, who neighbours claimed stomped around their unit and harassed other residents by screaming obscenities, making rude gestures and spitting at them.
Jordison has suggested her son’s behaviour is related to autism, though the court hasn’t heard any medical evidence to support that. Her lawyer couldn’t be reached for comment.
The case, believed to be the first of its kind in the province, has bounced between the Court of Appeal and the B.C. Supreme Court, and Jordison is appealing yet again. The Appeal Court heard the case earlier this month but has yet to issue its ruling.
Peter Roberts, a lawyer who specializes in commercial and property law in Vancouver, says it’s incredibly rare for a dispute about a condo owner’s behaviour to result in a court-ordered sale.
He says courts typically attempt to modify an owner’s behaviour before resorting to what he described as “the nuclear option,” but condominium laws — which vary between provinces — allow for evictions if that doesn’t work.
He says whatever happens in the B.C. case will undoubtedly influence other judges the next time a problem neighbour ends up in court, which he predicts will happen with increasing frequency.
“The law of averages tells you that the more people that are living in them (condos) and the smaller the units are, there are going to be more conflicts,” he says.
“And more of those conflicts are going to be of the more serious variety.”
Currently, one in eight Canadian households lives in a condo, either as an owner or a renter, according to Statistics Canada, with condos representing a larger share of new housing starts compared with a decade ago.
Another condo law expert, Ottawa lawyer Nancy Houle, says there’s been five or six cases in Canada in the past 10 years in which a judge has ordered the sale of a condo.
Before that, Houle is aware of only one case in the preceding three decades.
“There’s no question that the higher-density living is resulting in more cases,” she says.
Every province has its own laws governing how stratas and condo boards operate, but they each make it clear that condo owners must follow the rules and bylaws they agree to when they move in.
Houle says life in condos is different than living in detached homes with space between neighbours.
“In essence, you’re signing a contract to behave,” she says.
“There is definitely a recognition that in order to have successful communal living, you’re going to have to have some sort of infrastructure to make sure everyone is contributing to harmonious living.”
Tony Gioventu, executive director of the Condominium Home Owners’ Association of British Columbia, says high-profile cases such as the Jordison one underscore the need for easier ways for owners and condo boards to settle disputes outside of court.
Some provinces, including B.C., provide arbitration and mediation in some circumstances, but even then, decisions that require someone to pay damages often end up in court anyway.
Gioventu says the situation could improve in B.C. with a provincial Civil Resolution Tribunal, which is expected to be up and running next year as part of a series of reforms to the justice system.
The tribunal aims to keep many civil cases, whether they involve property disputes or family law, out of the court system, allowing participants to save money and time.
Ontario, which has seen several cases in which condo owners have been ordered to sell, is currently reviewing its condominium laws, including considering changes to how disputes are resolved.
Still, Gioventu concedes that if a condo owner isn’t interested in changing his or her behaviour, arbitrators or tribunals won’t be the answer.
“Tribunals are about problem solving and finding some consensual solution,” he says.
“When it comes down to the ultimate situation where someone has to be evicted from a home they own, that is going to have to go back to the court.”