Polchil Homes Ltd. v. Peel Condominium Corporation No. 245, 2023 ONSC 2364
Self-help remedies are tempting. They can appear to be an obvious, inexpensive, and quick way to solve problems without lawyers. However, self-help remedies have high risks. In Polchil Homes Ltd. v. Peel Condominium Corporation No. 245, 2023 ONSC 2364, the Ontario Superior Court of Justice sent a clear message that self-help remedies are to be discouraged “in the strongest possible terms,” and that such remedies may result in hefty cost consequences to condominium corporations.
In Polchil, the condominium was notified of a trouble signal emanating from the building’s fire alarm system – suggesting that the owner’s unit was no longer equipped to sense and signal the presence of fire. The condominium entered the unit after knocking on the front door because of the suspected emergency and observed disconnected fire safety equipment. The condominium determined that the best course of action was to change the locks on the front door of the unit until the situation could be investigated and all risks addressed. The owner was locked out of the unit for a total of eighteen (18) days and subsequently commenced legal proceedings against the condominium.
The Court accepted that the dangerous situation justified the condominium’s decision to enter the unit and identify the source of the trouble signal. The Court also opined that the condominium was able to enter the unit to provide access to fire safety consultants. However, the Court concluded that the condominium had no lawful authority to change the locks and completely deprive the owner of access to the property.
The Court strongly discouraged the use of such self-help remedies. In this case, if the condominium could not persuade the owner to stop the renovation work until it was satisfied that the situation was safe and under control, the condominium should have instituted legal proceedings to obtain the necessary relief. In this respect, the Court said the following at paragraph 44 of its decision:
“If the corporation could not persuade Polchil to stop work while the corporation satisfied itself that the situation was safe and under control, it should have gone to court to put its case before a judge and to seek an order to provide it with the necessary relief.”
The Court awarded the owner $10,000.00 in damages for the condominium’s conduct and invalidated the condominium’s charge back for its legal fees.
The Bottom Line
While condominium corporations may take reasonable steps to investigate risks and potentially dangerous situations, self-help remedies are seldom an appropriate avenue of recourse, and such often comes with significant risks. The Court in Polchil cautions that self-help remedies may beget self-help responses, and that there is a risk that such decisions may lead to rapidly escalating confrontations. In situations where owners do not co-operate in addressing such risks and potentially dangerous situations, it is safest for condominiums to discuss all their legal options with their counsel and to canvass proceedings in the appropriate forum for dispute resolution.
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