Getting the Condo Act together
Ian Stewart/Yukon News
Sandra Iskra never thought that she would be able to afford her own her own home.
As a single parent she had resigned herself to the fact that she would be renting. But, after putting herself through nursing school, her fortunes changed.
Last December, Iskra bought a condo in the Mountain Air Estates complex.
“This was my dream come true, essentially,” she said.
But when the snow melted this spring, her basement started to leak. Suddenly, the condo didn’t seem so dreamy.
“It brought dirt in from the outside, so obviously it wasn’t sealed up properly where the pipes enter the house,” said Iskra.
She notified the developer immediately and they sent someone out to take a look at the leak right away. But after she didn’t hear anything for several weeks, she started to get anxious.
“I don’t want to be overly critical,” she said. “I just want to know what’s going to be done, and that it is going to be done.”
But behind the scenes, things were in motion.
“She first contacted us on April 22 and within the week we redid some grading,” said Duncan Lillico, president of the Falcon Ridge Development Corporation, which built the condos.
This week, they did more work to make sure that water would drain properly.
“Even with the recent rain, we were down in her basement (Wednesday), and there’s absolutely nothing going in at this point,” said Lillico. “I’m not saying that it’s 100 per cent rectified. It may be that we discover that there is still a little bit of leakage and have to do something else, but we will do that if we have to.
“It’s our responsibility.”
For Iskra, the lack of communication was frustrating.
“It’s a lot easier to be patient if you know what’s going on,” she said.
With the number of condos that have sprung up in Whitehorse over the last few years, issues like this are all too common, said Sonny Gray.
He’s a local property manager who is helping to create the Whitehorse Condo Association. It’s an umbrella group of condo owners and boards that will, he hopes, work to lobby government to address some of the problems with condos now springing up.
But condo owners aren’t the only ones concerned.
In a recent meeting Gray had with territorial mortgage brokers, they expressed concern about the future of the condo market, he said.
“They basically have concerns about mismanagement of condo corporations and mismanagement of funds,” he said.
Right now, the territory’s Condominium Act doesn’t require condo boards to hold contingency funds. That’s money set aside for things like repairs and maintenance.
“Some districts have an annual check in to see if condo fees are high enough to be able to support the condo corporation,” said Gray. However, the Yukon is not one of them.
The Condominium Act requires a board to open its books to its members. But the process is not always straight forward. That’s something Ann Caron, who lives in the Mountain View condos, learned the hard way.
Getting her own condo board to release its financials has been like pulling teeth, she said.
The board would only do so through their lawyer, which took more than two months to arrange.
When she finally picked up the documents, she found the board had given her some but not all of the information she sought for the last couple of years. “There was no ledger and no receivables,” said Caron.
However, the board did include a letter from its lawyer stating that it felt it had met the obligations under the law. If she wanted more, she would have to take them to court.
The Mountain View condo board did not respond to requests for an interview.
“It’s frustrating, because there’s no one you can go to,” said Caron.
The Yukon’s Condominium Act dates from the 1960s, while the Land Titles Act hasn’t seen any significant changes since 1897.
The government is currently working on replacing both pieces of legislation.
Gray, as a representative of the burgeoning condo association, has been invited to take part in the process, but with a three-year timeline, he’s worried that it might take too long.
“Three years from now the development’s going to be over,” he said. “We’re going to be all caught up in terms of condos.”
He’s pushing the government to make a few changes right away, like mandatory contingency funds for condo boards and some sort of annual review to make sure it’s being done.
“If suddenly you get a letter in the mail saying, ‘Guess what? All the roofs are shot. We need $5,000 each. Pony up,’ some people don’t have that kind of money just sitting in reserves,” said Gray. “That’s the job of a condo corporation.”
However, disputes with developers aren’t covered under the Condominium Act, and likely won’t be under any revision.
There has been talk by mortgage brokers of extending the territory’s new home warranty to five years, from the current standard of one, said Gray. Developers he’s approached have been hesitant to embrace the idea.
But not all are reluctant. “I think it would be a good idea for that to be mandatory,” said Lillico.
It’s been only a few weeks since Gray got the ball rolling on this association, and with the way things have been moving, he’s very optimistic about the future.
“We’ve got condo owners, developers and mortgage brokers all saying the same things need to change,” he said. “It’s just a matter of getting that change implemented.
“Now the onus is going to be on the city and the government.”
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