So, for those of you who missed the last instalment, when we left off, I was about to attend my first secret meeting...
Remember, these are just the events as I recall them. They are my own interpretations of events. My memory is not perfect and I don't want to be sued.
SECRETS AND MISFITS
I entered the laundry room on the evening of my first secret meeting, not knowing what to expect. I looked around at the collection of misfits assembled. The lady who had invited me ranted about corruption in our building and how our property managers are members of the mafia, while people nodded in agreement.
I was fairly certain that she was the type of woman who wore a tin foil hat at home to prevent the government from reading her brain waves. Then other people took turns standing up and saying equally crazy sounding things and I found myself wondering if I had fallen down the rabbit hole. Stories ranged from the implausible "The super enters my unit when I'm at work and breaks things" or "I complained about pigeons on my balcony but the property manager just hung an evil eye to ward them off!" to the extreme: "Board members are sleeping with the property managers."
Then, something even stranger happened... Some of the people started to seem... normal! There were two women in particular who seemed to have reasonable concerns like me. One (Let's call her Alex) was being harassed to pay for "breaking" an elevator during her move, despite the fact that it was well overdue to be serviced and was not even really broken. She was also explaining about the awful treatment her friend (Let's call her Dee Dee) had endured when the balconies had been replaced the previous year and the she had been left without a balcony for months because the building ran out of money. During this time, the property manager harassed her and laughed at the fact that she was the only unit owner without a balcony. She tried to sell her unit at one point but she couldn't give prospective buyers any guarantee as to when the balcony would be replaced. All the while, she continued to pay the same maintenance fees as everyone else.
I immediately felt sorry for Alex and Dee Dee and identified with their plight. They seemed ready to fight and reminded me of suffragettes. I knew at that moment that I would become friends with them. Perhaps we could be strong together.
AN AUDIENCE WITH THE BOARD
I mentioned in the last post, that those of us with "outstanding arrears" could explain our situation with the board. I had never dealt with anything like this before, but I knew I had no intention of paying for a flood which was not my fault. "Alex" and I planned to meet in the stairwell and speak with the board together for moral support. We joked on our way up to the party room that it made us sick to have to suck up to these women.
When we arrived upstairs, they sat at the table across from us with smirks on their grizzled faces. I explained my situation and showed my plumbers report which stated that the flood originated from the main line... but, as is often the case with those in the midst of a power trip, their minds were made up before they heard me speak.
One of the women (not the president) was clearly in charge. She ignored all the points I had made, leaned across the table, and in her most authoritative voice asked, "When will you pay?" her pen poised to write down the date she seemed to expect me to give.
"I won't" I snapped before leaving the room with "Alex"... they had been equally unreceptive to her. As we left, we thought we noticed them stirring something in the centre of the room... it may have been our imagination though.
It was clear that we could not expect any help from the board.
At some point before the AGM, we learned that the reserve fund had been depleted to nothing. Literally NOTHING! Zero dollars! We learned later that this money had been spent on a hallway renovation (despite the fact that it was not in the budget and there were more pressing concerns like plumbing issues, elevator repairs and boiler replacements!) This "update" was spearheaded by a former board member (who controlled the board like a master puppeteer) ... I like to call her The Kingpin.
Apparently, she had thought it would be a good idea to spend all the building's money (all of the reserve fund and a good chunk of the operating fund) on some carpeting and wallpaper for the hallways. Obviously this was examined once people realized the building was broke... there were no other quotes for the work (which was performed by a friend of the property manager) and there was only one receipt... for a mere $16,000 (a small fraction of the total cost) for wallpaper.
By now you're wondering why I bought in a building with no reserve fund... Well, that's the tricky part. You see, I didn't! There was plenty of money on the books when my lawyer examined my status certificate. He had no way of knowing that the building had spent that money and then held off on paying their bills until several people sold their units. That is how I got tricked into purchasing a unit in a "bad" building.
It was time for the AGM (annual general meeting) and I was certain that this news would be enough to show people that we needed a new property management company. Surely people would at least care about their money...
The evening of the AGM gave me my first real glimpse into my neighbours. It seemed to be an even mix of crazies, the apathetic masses and just enough people who hadn't showered to make the evening unpleasant.
The crazy lady who organized the secret meetings (and was actually beginning to seem saner by the minute) came through in true fashion: with a petition signed by over 50% of the unit owners demanding the termination of the current property management company. The board and property managers both laughed at this and I saw some board members bat their eyelashes at the brutish property manager... Could there have been truth to some of the other rumours as well?
I had hoped other people at the meeting would also be up in arms about the budget crisis... oh how wrong I was. It seems that most of them were more concerned with things that didn't make sense. I'll group them in three categories and give you an example of the type of comment in each:
- Things that may apply to a rental apartment but not a condo: "I want the super to change my lightbulbs and paint my kitchen. Also, I don't want to pay for it and would like it done while he's "on the clock" so we can all pay for this"
- Silly Tattling: "I saw Mrs. White throw a gum wrapper on the floor"
- Things the building can't afford: "You say we are broke... but I say we need a full-time concierge!!"
Remember our property manager's boss? The one who threatened to sue me on more than one occasion?
I'm going to go ahead and call him "Dan"... well, he spent most of the meeting trying to stare me down. After my speech, he asked to speak with me privately outside.
A DEAL WITH THE DEVIL
It is a testament to how threatened I felt in that building that my first thought when we stepped away from the meeting and into the stairwell was along the lines of: Great! He's going to try to push me down the stairs...
Instead, he wanted to try to charm me into no longer being a "troublemaker"... Ha! I was disgusted by the reserve fund, but I was also exhausted and stressed out from fighting about my own flood. I proposed a deal to him.
"Look around at all those crazy people in there!" I said. "Do you think I want to stay here?? No! I only bought this place as an investment. (I left out that I purchased under false pretences) and I plan to sell as soon as I can."
His demeanour changed the second I mentioned that I was leaving and it gave me an idea. This guy obviously did not want the trouble of having to deal with me....
"You and I both know this flood was never my fault..." I began. "All I want is to get out of this building." He nodded so I continued. "If you forget this flood and stop harassing me, I will sell my unit and leave the first chance I get. But if you keep fighting me, I will join the board and fight back."
It was a strange and surreal moment but we actually did make a deal. It felt icky but I was desperate for the harassing letters to stop so that I could move on with my life. At the time, I was thinking only of myself and Corey...
We shook on it and walked back into the meeting.