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Harassment in Condos: A Troubling Trend and Its Impact on Condo Managers and Property Management Companies (pt. 2 of 6)

A black and white image with an upset condo manager and the blog's title

In our first article of the series, we introduced the shocking events that served as a spotlight on the harassment in condos, and even the spike in violence that our condo industry is facing. This safety crisis has shocked our community, and caused us all to loudly call for change.

But, beyond these news-worthy events, what does this troubling trend really look like within the walls of our condo corporations?

How exactly is this troubling trend rearing its ugly head among our communities, and what's its impact on condo managers and property management companies?

We asked Deborah Howden (Condo Lawyer and Partner at Shibley Righton LLP) to share what harassment in the industry typically looks like, and how it’s often dealt with. “I very often have to step-into scenarios in which abusive language is directed at management or corporation staff.  It’s actually quite shocking the manner in which some people speak to management in particular - use of profanity, hurling insults and shouting.  I also often see discriminatory and derogatory comments being publicly posted against condominium managers, directors, and vendors, which is equally unacceptable”.

Another aspect, albeit lesser known, is that harassment can also look like a resident incessantly bombarding property management with communications and expecting responses in an unreasonable timeframe. Howden explained that a “common basis for harassment is a resident sending persistent and repeated communications, in the form of emails or phone calls, to management demanding information.  Some people do not realize that this conduct may constitute harassment and that  there is no legal right to demand answers from management.  Let me emphasize that: an owner's rights do not include the right to make written interrogatories of management and then complain when answers are not provided in what the unit owner considers to be a timely manner”.

It’s clear that the issue of incivility (or worse) is pervasive in the condominium community as a whole, but how is it affecting particular key players, such as condo managers, directors, staff, vendors, and residents? We’ll dive into these consequences as we continue our series on this subject, but for now, let’s continue down today’s path regarding the state of the industry as it pertains to condo property management.

Harassment in Condos: The Personal Impact on a Condo Manager

Property management companies are increasingly having to spend time dealing with on-site conflict and negative situations, and ensuring that they have the right policies and processes in place to protect their employee’s mental health and safety. Sometimes, this may even mean considering the termination of a contract if the site becomes too toxic, or if the condo manager refuses to work for the problematic corporation going forward. 

In an industry as small as ours, reputation is everything - and a corporation’s poor treatment of its workers may spread to other property management companies and condo property managers, too, making it increasingly difficult to find service providers willing to work there.

Nicholas Chirametli (President of City Sites Property Management) shared that “there have  been many circumstances where managers have approached me requesting support, intervention or even a transfer to another property under management due to persistent harassment behaviours from an owner, group of owners and sometimes even certain Directors”.

To consider the impact that harassment has on corporation staff, let’s zoom in a little further into property management companies, and look at the experience of a licensed condo property manager. 

The Typical Condo Property Manager is Already Burned Out, and the Bigger Battle Has Begun... Literally.

S.G. (a condo property manager, who prefers anonymity for safety concerns) recalls “one resident who would call the management office incessantly with the same questions to which the same answers would be given. The resident was guided to the proper channels for logging her complaints . . . the resident then took to waiting in areas daily to accost the staff with the same questions while on their duties. The situation became so toxic that we changed our routine and avoided the areas where this resident may pop out. The resident subsequently lodged a complaint with the CMRAO, which was proven to be baseless, however, the workplace had become so toxic that it was uncomfortable to be on site”. It is no surprise that S.G. and several staff at this site quit their posts, unsurprisingly, for the very same reason.

This situation further demonstrates that a condo corporation is simultaneously an employee’s workspace and a resident’s home, and the related proximity makes it easy for the resident to wait for, or find, the employee in the common elements (or office) to further accost. This leaves the employee feeling like they’re stuck in a fishbowl with nowhere to go, a feeling that can cause a great deal of anxiety and fear for one’s health and safety.

S.G.’s experience is an important example of the impact that harassment in condos has on a condo manager, and it stresses Howden’s earlier point: “an owner’s rights do not include the right to make written interrogatories of management and then complain when answers are not provided in what the unit owner considers to be a timely manner”. 

Another condo property manager, “D. Smith” (name changed for safety concerns) recalls being harassed in the on-site workplace, and notes the same bombardment of emails by a disgruntled resident who riled up an entire group to attack property management and the Board. Before we dive into that exact experience, let’s start at the beginning of Smith’s role in condos, which began when he was a security guard. Tasked with keeping the building secure, he encountered a resident who demanded to be an exception to the corporation’s rules and was disappointed by Smith’s equal enforcement of the condo's rules. Consequently, the resident “proceeded to continue to push, and when met with the same result, threatened [Smith and his job]”. Security is often the front line for residents, and, unfortunately, guards are no exception when dealing with the brunt of harassment and incivility in condos.

Later, when Smith was a condo Property Manager, he encountered a similar situation where he had to enforce Covid rules (amenity shut-downs) with another entitled resident. Smith explains: That resident “took up a personal vendetta against me. I was told she pays my salary, and that I have to listen to her . . . That resident later formed an angry mob of residents that kept monitoring staff and director movements. In one case, a drone was used to spy on a board member, to physical assault occurring. I was personally accused of hiding my personal belongings in the walls of the closed amenities. Daily, I was sent numerous questions that required an obscene amount of time to investigate and respond to. Action was taken to send a cease and desist letter, but no repercussions really happened against this owner or to make the staff feel safe. I offered to step down”.

Angel-Marie Reiner (President of Onyx Condo Management) has “an amazing Property Manager right now from another country, a new Canadian, and his Board Members are complaining about how he words things as it’s not ‘Canadian’”, which she finds “disheartening”. Of course, she’s also no stranger to the ever-popular claim of residents paying managements’ salary. 

S.G.’s, Smith’s, and Reiner’s stories are not unique, as unfortunate as that realization is. As Smith wisely notes, “the stories differ from manager to manager, director to director, and staff to staff. Yet, the ticking time bomb remains unchecked”. Looking at the state of the industry, we can imagine the countdown nearing zero fairly soon. Tick, tock, Condoland.

John Recker (Property Manager at Meritus Group Condominium Management) adds that “these unchecked threats to safety and mental health, coupled with the expanded administrative requirements, mean modern condo managers face an increased workload in what is (too often) a toxic workplace”, and notes that condo property managers already have a lot to deal with.

Those dealing with harassment in condos have several options available to them (and we'll dive deeper into these in upcoming posts), but a good starting point is reporting the incidents to their supervisor, and considering contacting a legal expert (such as condo lawyer or employment lawyer) for advice.

Condos Are Serving A Heaping Helping of Harassment, Stuffed onto an Already Overloaded Plate

Even before harassment in condos (and the risk for escalation to violence) was a major issue within our condo landscape, property managers didn’t have it easy. The industry was already dealing with staffing shortages, a shrinking workforce, and employee burn-out due to a range of taxing troubles.

“From the individual manager's perspective, the increasing number of condos has intensified the challenges they face, amplifying the complexity of their responsibilities. The demanding nature of managing increasing numbers of diverse, unique condo communities, coupled with the intricacies of compliance with related legislation and engendering community harmony, creates a daunting landscape for service providers and their employees”, Recker states.

“Expanded legislation means that every condo in Ontario now has about 40 mandatory deadlines to meet every year. The licensing regime implemented to professionalize the condo industry has created a whole new set of tasks and requirements for which managers are personally responsible. The private professional organizations that have built the condo industry in Ontario have also noted the escalation of hostility, harassment and abuse faced by condo managers and the boards they assist. This increased tension and aggression appears to have coincided with the Pandemic and the dramatic increases in the costs of insurance, utilities, and the substantial inflationary costs for all goods and services purchased by condo corporations. This means, of course, higher condo fees, and fee increases are never welcome news.”

Of course, property managers understand the stress that the current economic climate has placed on condo owners, though that is no excuse to turn that frustration towards corporation staff or volunteers. Recker reminds us that “condo management is about helping people, but there frequently seems to be limited time to assist people on a personal, client-focused way when your time is monopolized by challenging individuals and administrative tasks. While I believe the vast majority of condo managers want to do their best, the job seems to often require that we can't; there's often simply not enough time to give everyone the attention they want, and in many cases, deserve.”

The Professional Impact of Harassment in Condos on Property Management Companies

So, how does the sheer volume of condos across Ontario, coupled with the bleak reality of the job that managers are faced with, impact management service providers across the industry?

Reiner recalls losing “very qualified and hard-working Property Managers” last year, not only resigning themselves from their sites and her company, but wholly from the industry. She struggled to find options to remove board members whose behaviour was unacceptable, which included harassment. 

Unfortunately, the community was too afraid to initiate a Requisition Meeting for the purpose of removing the offending Directors, and Reiner still ended up losing staff due to the situation. She contacted a lawyer to see if there were any other options at her disposal, and was advised to walk away by terminating the contract with the problematic corporations (unsurprisingly, at a significant expense to Onyx). “Very disappointing” experience for Reiner, with who we thoroughly sympathize.

Because of situations such as these, causing incivility in condos, Reiner “suspects PM’s will burn out, and will most leave the industry”. We, dishearteningly, agree. 

When considering the other challenges that the property management industry already faces, it’s difficult not to be concerned about our condo industry’s future. “At the organizational level, many management firms struggle with the aforementioned increase in legislated administrative duties, as well as high levels of employee turnover. Managing numerous properties requires efficient systems to handle administrative tasks, maintenance, and communication. Additionally, staying abreast of evolving condominium laws and regulations in Ontario adds complexity to the already challenging task of oversight of multiple properties and their managers”, Recker points out. 

“Anecdotally, the high turnover in condo management is linked to relatively low wages and the potentially high-stress, high-demand nature of the work. We see many managers leaving the industry, either temporarily or permanently, citing both financial and mental health reasons. Wages have been slow to keep step with inflation, let alone catching up with the licensing and professionalization of condo management. Some say larger firms are able to undercut the smaller players, which contributes to lower salaries. Regardless of the causes, low pay appears to be a key challenge.” 

To help alleviate some of the burden on a manager’s schedule, Recker recommends exploring “the benefits of adopting technologies to manage condominiums (#proptech)”, stressing that “if a firm is still doing things the way they were done in 2015, they won’t be in business in 2025. If a firm wants to make sure their managers have time to provide a client-focused service, the decision on proptech seems obvious: adapt and adopt, or abdicate”. And while Recker’s advice isn’t particular to our topic of incivility in condos, it is a valuable tip that managers can use to reduce at least some of their stress - and with the current climate in condos, every bit counts. 

The idea of adapting to proptech also forces us to wonder… would leveraging technology in our condominiums be a way to regain some of our time, dedicate those extra hours to reconnecting with out community and its residents with a more human touch, and possibly dial back the tick and tocks heard from the time bomb about to level Condoland with incivility? Certainly something to explore in a future post!

Find PropTech options on Stratastic's vendor directory, "My Condo Vendor".

In conclusion, harassment and violence in our industry is paving a landscape with a troubling trend, and we’re hearing the deafening ticks-and-tocks of a time bomb just inching closer to an industry implosion. With so many challenges already faced by those of us working and living in condos, incivility shouldn’t be one of them. 

It’s time to know what we can do when faced with such offensive and dangerous behaviours so we can better protect ourselves, and what we can do to proactively avoid such situations from ever occurring to begin with. We’ll tackle the topics of deterrence and prevention in our future blog posts, as we continue our series aimed at bringing back respect to Condoland.

-Stratastic Inc.

P.S. Register with Stratastic (it’s free) to follow along on our mission to expose and address the current climate of incivility in condos, as well as many other important topics that affect us all.


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