Condo Survival: Part 9

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.

Thanks to everyone who's been following this story and encouraging me to keep going.  It's finally beginning to wind down and I can see the home stretch... But not to worry- We're not finished just yet!  Where did we leave off? Ah yes, I was about to speak at the AGM.

By the time I had read all five pages of my speech, outlining all the problems we had inherited (A tiny reserve fund, a building that hadn't been maintained, no contingency plan for when the super falls ill, archaic rules and lack of enforcement, sky-high maintenance fees and a divided board... Just to name a few...) and everything that had been done in the past year, I was shocked that people had actually listened.  I had expected to be interrupted several times, but I was allowed to finish... even when I scolded people for being such jerks.  Here's an excerpt:

Please be patient with us as we have tackled a job that was larger than any of us had anticipated.  If a board member prefers not to speak about board business in the elevator, keep in mind that some of us spend hours of our own time each week working for you and would like to live here in peace.  If you do not get as much time with (Property Manager 1) as you would like, keep in mind that he and (Property Manager 2) have spent far more time on our building than was negotiated in their contract and that some of your neighbours monopolize far more of their time than they should with petty complaints and ridiculous requests."

For once, people seemed to truly care about our building, and the troublemakers were silenced when faced with the truth.  It was a miracle.  It was exactly what we needed.  We voted in our new board members and I felt proud to see that they were new people and not the Kingpin's cronies who had campaigned so hard.  

I was chatting with our new accountant at the end of the meeting.  He saw, perhaps more clearly than most people, exactly how much work had been done, since he had audited our financial statements.  I felt exhausted, but happy with the outcome; as if I had just won a small war.  He joked that that's exactly what I had done and I let my guard down for a moment, confessing that I would likely be moving in the spring and I had just wanted to ensure another year of safety for the building first.  "But I'm not sure if this building will survive without you..." he said.  I think he was trying to be kind, but his words threatened to draw guilt.  I just shrugged.  I had done my best and was pleased to find that I no longer cared. 

Now, that's not to say that my work in the building was over.  No, I didn't know it at the time, but there were still a couple of large battles ahead of me.

Another Battle

One of our plans to reduce maintenance fees and make our building more affordable for owners was to separately meter hydro for each unit and exclude it from maintenance fees so that people could pay for their own use.  We knew that there were owners running prohibited appliances and some owners even bragged about running their AC on high in the summer with their doors and windows open.  We estimated that about two thirds of the building were paying too much for hydro through their maintenance fees because the other third were abusing the fact that it was included.  We had already begun work to have the separate meters installed, but I couldn't leave the board just yet.

You see, the idea of separate metering was not new and had even been mentioned by the previous board.  While on the surface, it sounds like a responsible energy saving initiative, I always had the suspicion that they were toying with the idea of making owners pay their own hydro while NOT reducing the maintenance fees.  It would have just meant more money each month for the former property manager to play with.

So, with the separate metering finally proceeding under my own supervision (and with a property management company I trusted), I had the feeling that we were close to a really positive change for our building, but also in a really precarious position.  If the Kingpin's cronies should gain influence over our new board members and convince them to meter hydro without reducing maintenance fees, we could end up with an unaffordable expense for many unit owners.  I know it seems like a small thing, but our hydro in an old building (with poor insulation, old windows and electric heat) averaged to over $400 per month, per unit... which doesn't even include the hydro used in common areas, which remain a building expense.  Imagine making everyone pay an extra $400 per month?  Some people would be forced to move and I was worried about pipes bursting if enough people just decided to live without heat!

It was at this time that I could barely leave my unit without facing herds of people upset about the hydro.  Despite the extra meetings we had held to explain everything to them and our assurance that we planned to reduce the maintenance fees to compensate for them paying their own hydro, people were frightened and mistrustful after so many years of being lied to and cheated out of money.

I wish I could have been more patient... and I tried to be at first... but I quickly learned that no matter what my intentions, I was on the board and therefore "one of them" and until we had an answer regarding the exact amount of the maintenance fee reduction, I could expect abuse to be hurled at me any time I ventured outside my unit.  Most of this came from the elderly owners (who were probably battling senility) and who couldn't seem to grasp what was happening.  Their words made me angry but I also just wished I had answers for them.  We knew that Hydro needed about two or three months to give us an accurate reading of the hydro consumption within the units so that we could budget and make the switch to separate metering, but I felt that it couldn't happen fast enough.

Of course, the Kingpin's cronies tried to hold things up as much as possible by not allowing Hydro into their units to test that they were properly hooked up to the correct meter.  I think they thought they could slow our progress by being difficult, but Hydro assured us that the work could be done with or without them.  And so we began the waiting game.

More Abuse

During this time, there was an ignorant, slimy man who had always seemed very enamoured with the former board president.  He just LOOOOVED her and the former property management company and he was always very vocal at owner's meetings with his loud, uneducated (and often bigoted) opinions.  

This particular man was rumoured to be one of the worst culprits with respect to hydro abuse and he was not happy about the changes we had implemented.  He decided to harass Corey outside the building one day by calling me a number of rude names.  He even followed Corey and Barkley up in the elevator so that he could continue to harass him.

Now obviously, Corey is perfectly capable of defending himself under normal circumstances, although he may not be as feisty as I am.  This situation caught him off guard though, as he was also worried about making waves that may affect my position in the building.  He just tried to ignore the slimy man and reminded him that he was not the board president and could not comment on behalf of the board.

Of course, hearing that some of the scummy people in our building were now harassing Corey, was the last straw for me.  When Corey told me what had happened, he could barely calm me down... I've been known to have a hot temper.  It's not my most attractive quality.

The next time I saw the slimey man, I was with Corey walking Barkley and I politely (but coldly) asked him to contact property management with future concerns and to refrain from harassing my family.  I suppose this was just the opening he needed, because he walked right up to me shouting obscenities and insults.

Well, I was far too angry to be diplomatic and I started shouting right back.  Most of our building had never seen me act in any way aside from a dignified and professional manner and I think he was shocked to find that I was not afraid of an aggressive confrontation.

The altercation progressed until the slimy man was screaming at me just inches from my face, his halitosis nearly knocking me over.  I yelled right back and out came all the anger I had been bottling up about our building for months and months.  Finally, I decided I had said everything I wanted to say and I spun around and walked inside with a stunned Corey and Barkley sheepishly following behind me.  I didn't look back, but Corey told me later that the greasy, slimy man was left just standing still in disbelief.  

I later asked Corey why he didn't step in when he saw a man screaming aggressively in my face.  He told me that I looked like I was more than holding my own, if not enjoying myself a little.  I suppose it had been just what I needed.

Too Many Calls

It was around the same time that I began getting phone calls (I had once provided a reference for our new property manager to a board who was also considering firing our old property management company) from board members from other buildings who were also watching their reserve funds dwindle under the management of our former property management company.

They all had stories similar to ours and I began to see a pattern: There were major floods and mechanical or structural catastrophes.  Many buildings were told they would need lofty special assessments or perhaps that they should borrow money from the bank.  There was a general sense that the property manager was being dishonest and yet a few board members remained fiercely loyal to them in the face of evidence against them.... Yup, sounds about right!

It broke my heart to see this happening to other people, but I knew our building was still divided and we could not afford to be drawn into a lawsuit.  I was also afraid to publicly speak out against our former property management company after many threats (both legal and personal) and so I wished the concerned board members luck and advised them as well as I could, but I declined their requests to visit their buildings or speak at their AGMs.  

Eventually, the calls became overwhelming and I felt more and more guilty that I couldn't help them all.  I asked them to stop calling me.

To this day, I'm not sure if I did the right thing, but I was back in self-preservation mode.  I felt like I had to look out for myself.

In the following weeks, all sorts of strange things happened.  There was a lady who hugged me and gushed over me whenever she saw me but was abusive and mean towards our property manager.  There was also a woman on my floor who called me one day to accuse me of reporting her to child services for having a messy unit and yelling at her daughter.  Side note- I did not call child services, although I was concerned that she yelled at her daughter so often and seemed generally nuts.  These are just a couple of the many examples of the day-to-day insanity that plagued the building.

But eventually, our waiting period for the hydro was over.  We eagerly awaited the news.  How much would we be able to reduce maintenance fees and when could we finalize this so that the separate metering could be enforced?

Another Board Meeting

We set another board meeting to discuss the report from hydro.  It turned out that the hydro usage was ridiculous at over $400 per month on average used by each unit.  We were also correct in our assumption that some units used FAR more hydro than others.

It seemed natural to reduce maintenance fees in line with the hydro costs which would now be paid individually by each owner.  This would mean (based on the size of each unit) we should reduce fees by an average of around $400 per unit... Perhaps a little less to allow for a buffer.  It seemed like a no-brainer and I couldn't wait to begin the meeting.  Our building was finally going to be on the right track: we would finally be just like a normal building with normal maintenance fees!

Most of the board agreed with me that we should not be keeping a surplus, but rather reducing fees so that the average hydro user would basically be paying the same each month (only now split between the building and hydro.) but nothing is ever that easy...

The Kingpin still had one friend on the board and she had also become quite chummy with one of our new members who had just moved into the building.  Together they resisted and claimed that it would be irresponsible to reduce the maintenance fees at all.  I felt myself losing patience and I insisted they explain their reasoning.

They couldn't.  Obviously!  But that didn't stop them from implying that my only reason for wanting to reduce fees was because I wanted to sell my unit.  

OF COURSE I WANTED TO SELL MY UNIT!  I had never hidden that fact and had made it quite clear that (since so many other people also wanted to sell their units but couldn't in the past) I would try to bring our building up to a point where units would once again be attractive investments for buyers.  It was part of my platform, for goodness sake!

But now here they were, trying to prevent me from doing anything good for our building, lest it appear that I had self-serving motives.  I felt my hands being tied.  I was exasperated and tired.

Luckily, Alex and the other board members defended me.  The reasons for reducing the maintenance fees were to ensure that people could pay their bills and the separate hydro metering was necessary to the survival of our building.

In the end, we agreed on a conservative trial reduction averaging at around $200 per month with an agreement that we would revisit the matter and reduce the fees further in a few months.  I knew I would be long gone by then, but I hoped it would be a nice bonus for my buyers.

I returned from the meeting and told Corey that I had done as much as I could.  It was time to list our unit for sale.  Then I called Alex and vented to her that I was so disappointed that we couldn't give people a larger fee reduction.  She and I both knew that I had settled at a lower number because I was being accused of acting only to my own benefit.  I had wanted our fees to be more affordable for people who were energy conscious and now it would be a struggle for people to save enough hydro that they ended up paying the same.  I don't know why I was surprised, since everything else had been an uphill battle.  I asked her if she thought I was crazy to try so hard knowing that I was going to be moving anyway.

She asked me if I thought she was crazy to stay... We both answered yes.

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