Vaughan, Ont. condo board was following legal procedure in conflict with resident: expert

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WATCH ABOVE: Vaughan condo shooting: Gunman went on shooting rampage day before eviction hearing – Dec 20, 2022

The board of a Vaughan, Ont., condo building where a resident killed five people Sunday night appeared to be following the right procedure to resolve an ongoing conflict with him, an industry expert said.

York Regional Police said Francesco Villi opened fire at three different units in the highrise, killing five people including three condo board members, before he was shot and killed by a police officer.

The gunman was involved in a lengthy dispute with his condo board, court documents have shown.

Documents show Villi was expected in court Monday regarding his contravention of a court order intended to shield the board and building staff from harassment and threats. The board had sought to have the court force Villi to sell and vacate his unit as a penalty for being in contempt of the order.

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Based on the information available to him about the case, Toronto condo lawyer Jonathan Fine said that from a legal perspective, the condo board appeared to be following the right procedure as it tried to resolve its conflict with Villi.

“I’m not sure that from the lawyer’s perspective that anything could have been done other than what was done,” he said.

Lyndsey McNally, president of the board for the Toronto chapter of the Canadian Condominium Institute, said condo boards generally can’t take extreme measures like obtaining court orders unless they have exhausted other options within their power such as warning letters, arbitration or mediation, or seeking resolution through an independent tribunal.

Often the declaration and bylaws of a condo board will say that the board has to try and resolve a conflict outside of court first, though there are exceptions, said Fine.

The correct procedure varies depending on each case, he said — the severity of the individual’s actions and also whether they are recurring.

“Sometimes the conduct is either too egregious, or too ongoing, and steps to abate it don’t work. So you have to go to court,” he said. “The more egregious the conduct, the more likely there’s going to be a stronger order.”

The independent tribunal, created in 2017, has a more limited scope than the court, said Fine, so whether or not a condo board goes to the tribunal will depend on the nature of the dispute.

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McNally said it appears the condo board at the Vaughan building had sought expert advice as it attempted to resolve the ongoing issues with Villi.

“If a condo corporation found themselves in this type of scenario, they would need to engage experts, lawyers to help navigate this process for them,” she said. “I think that’s really important.”

Given they ended up taking the severe measure of requesting a forced sale, she said she would expect the board had explored all other options first.

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It’s a rare occurrence for a court to force a condo owner to sell their unit, McNally said.

She said there are only a handful of cases in Ontario where the court actually agreed to force the sale of a condo unit, with past examples involving residents creating unsafe conditions through living habits, routine harassment and gang-related activities.

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Orders to restrict communication and other interactions, like one placed on Villi in 2019, are more common than forced sales, said Fine, though he’s been involved in cases that ended with the latter.

Fine noted that he has been receiving more complaints and cases from condos in the past couple of years concerning similar behaviour.

It also makes him more concerned for his own safety as a lawyer who is often on the front lines of these conflicts, he said.

When something tragic happens, people always want to look back and look for a potential solution that could have prevented it, said Anita Szigeti, a Toronto-based mental health law specialist. But it’s never that simple.

It’s almost impossible to predict whether an individual will commit violent acts, she said, though often people see what appear to be warning signs in hindsight.

Lawyer David Russell said it’s important to note that mentally ill people aren’t inherently more violent than others, but rather that mental illness can exacerbate pre-existing tendencies.

– With files from Tyler Griffin, Jordan Omstead and Liam Casey.

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