A source of permanent controversy in co-ownership, smoking arouses passions. A growing number of co-owners are complaining about neighbors who smoke. Given the abnormal neighbourhood disturbances that second-hand smoke can cause, many non-smoking co-owners want it completely banned. They worry about the effects of second-hand smoke on their health. Under the circumstances, should co-ownership syndicates banish this habit? This is not an easy question to answer. Easier said than done, some will say. And they are not wrong. Here’s a look at the whole legal issue that defines smoking in co-ownerships.
The declaration of co-ownership is a contract that orchestrates and regulates the lives of co-owners, lessees and other occupants of the immovable. It represents the guideline for everyone who lives in the immovable.The declaration of co-ownership provides, systematically, that it is up to the board of directors to have its content abided to. However, it happens that people break the rules, in particular by a non-compliant use of a private portion with regard to the destination of the immovable, a noise nuisance and work carried out in violation of the by the laws of the immovable. Other examples illustrate the problems that can occur in the co-ownership, such as an encroachment on a common portion or the improper installation of a floor covering. Anyone who does not abide to the declaration of co-ownership is liable, inter alia, to a legal recourse based on article 1080 of the Civil Code of Quebec . This action may be brought by a co-owner or the syndicate.
The Internet spawned a collaborative economy. Web sites such as Airbnb allow co-owners to rent their apartments to third parties a few days a year. This accommodation formula, intended for travelers, sometimes generates substantial income. For this reason, some owners are tempted by these easy pickings. And they believe they are entitled to do so, (wrongly in many cases) and to use their private portion as they see fit.
Many co-owners are unaware that this activity is prohibited in their building. Others are fully aware, but are unconcerned. However the incessant ins and outs of strangers brings its lot of disadvantages. Late and noisy arrivals, as well as departures at dawn are generally not compatible with the lifestyle sought by the resident-co-owners of the building. This practice can potentially have a negative impact on their safety.
The failure to pay general or special common expenses (condo fees) is one of the most contentious co-ownership’s issues. It is the duty of the board of directors of the syndicate of co-owners to collect them, unless this task has been delegated to the condo manager.
When a co-owner's contributions have been in arrears for more than three months, the law provides, ex officio, that he automatically loses his right to vote at the general meetings of the co-owners. He is also exposed to legal recourses, so that the syndicate can recover the amounts owing. A review of the options in such cases.
A bathtub or a washing machine that overflows into the apartment below, a hot water tank that conks out and spills down six floors: losses involving the civil liability of a co-owner are many co-ownerships. And they are expensive! This is why the amount of insurance premiums and deductibles have increased significantly in recent years.
Worse still, some insurers no longer want to insure co-ownerships, because of a loss ratio that has become out of control. This situation is directly related to the insurer of the syndicate, which is almost always called upon to cover a loss, when damage has been caused to the common and private portions. Thus the question of who is responsible arises. It is also necessary to know the applicable law to the owner at fault. Other considerations affect both the insurer of the syndicate and those of the co-owners concerned, to determine who will pay what?
The law regulates the liability of contractors and building professionals for any problem related to the quality of construction work. In this regard, the legislator has provided for a specific protection regime for divided co-ownership. Section 1081 of the Civil Code of Québec recognizes the legal interest of any syndicate of co-owners to assert the rights of all co-owners to correct defects that appear, in the short or long term. This could occur during the initial construction of the building, or during work carried out several years after its erection. In short, when problems affect the common portions, the syndicate benefits from several legal warranties. Among them is the one against latent defects, design or construction defects. These warranties are worth their weight in gold, because very often, the cost of the work to be carried out in a co-ownership can be substantial.
Usually declarations of co-ownership list the patrimony of the syndicate of co-owners. Among the items owned by the syndicate is the register of co-ownership. It contains all the syndicate's archives, such as the declaration of co-ownership, the up-to-date list of co-owners and tenants of the immovable and the minutes of the co-owners meetings and the board of directors meetings, enabling it to carry out its mission adequately. The co-owners must have access to this register, which can be entrusted to a director or a condo manager.
Co-ownership conflicts often arise from a lack of knowledge of the rules governing the immovable, a lack of communication or transparency, or from an unresolved misunderstanding.
In such cases, a trial is not the only avenue. Before commencing legal proceedings, and even once they are engaged, it is still time to opt for the services of a mediator. The latter could resolve the conflict between co-owners or with the members of the board of directors.
Conflicts within co-ownerships are not uncommon. They can arise between co-owners, in particular in the context of neighborhood annoyances (noise, abusive uses of the common portions) but also between the board of directors and the co-owners. They can be resolved amicably, for example through mediation, or through the judicial process or arbitration. The Code of Civil Procedure encourages alternative methods of dispute resolution, such as mediation, arbitration or conciliation. It even obliges the parties to "consider" the use of private methods of prevention and settlement of their dispute before judicializing their dispute. These methods of settlement are in principle more user-friendly, accessible and expeditious.
In principle, co-owners have the right to enjoy their private portion as they see fit. This use nevertheless has limits, namely that the right of enjoyment must not exceed normal neighborhood inconveniences. If the nuisance caused by an occupant of the immovable becomes excessive, it constitutes an abnormal neighborhood disturbance. This is the case in the event of non-compliance with clauses relating to the peaceful enjoyment of private portions, stipulated in the by-laws of the immovable. However, an abnormal neighborhood disturbance does not systematically constitute a violation of the declaration of co-ownership, as in some circumstances, this type of nuisance can be sanctioned, even if the perpetrator has not committed any fault.