This week, the Toronto Star’s NewInHomes.com changed things up a bit and met with Rosario Marchese, a member of Provincial Parliament, and also the man behind the reformation of the Condominium Act. Rosario has been working behind the scenes for years to reform the act, which has gone untouched for decades. In this interview, we talk about why he introduced this new legislation, his goals for the act, and what people can do to help it move forward.
NewInHomes (NIH): What made you look into the Condo Act?
Rosario Marchese (RM): Five or six years ago, as we were seeing all these developments in my riding, we were wondering, how do we connect to them, how do we serve them? It was difficult initially because we just did not know. Eventually, we realized that there is a section in the Toronto Star that has questions and answers there. We decided to read some of those articles. We could see that there was a problem there, a problem here – eventually, we thought, why don’t we amend the Condo Act? As we moved forward, my staff and I asked, where do we begin? Where do you end? There are just so many issues there. We decided to be simple with three main issues.
NIH: What were those three issues?
RM: One: create a condo review board to solve disputes. Disputes between whom? Well, there are three levels of disputes in condominiums. A condo owner and a developer; a condo owner and the board, and finally, a condo owner and property managers. These areas are where the majority of the disputes occur. So we focused on those, because if you have an issue with a developer, where can you go? There is an arbitration process, but it’s extremely expensive. We all know how expensive lawyers are, and if it’s a lengthy process. That cost is something most condo purchasers can’t afford. We know renters have a place to go, the rental tribunal. Now, landlords still have more money than you, but at least you have that option. You can defend yourself.
Good faith legislation is the second aspect, and the third is simplification of the language. That’s what I started out with, but there is so much to this that could be looked at.
NIH: What would this tribunal protect against?
RM: Mainly shoddy construction. We see it more often these days than in the past. Some builders build too quickly, while others don’t have the level of experience that other builders have. They come and go. As it stands now, the condo board would have to hire a lawyer to pursue that lawsuit. But can the owners afford it? How far can they go in the process? Is it worth it? Some owners will decide to continue that fight, others don’t. My changes to the Condominium Act would simplify the process. It doesn’t matter what the issue is: bad construction, not receiving what was promised. It matters that the individual has an opportunity to go to a review board and speak their mind.
It can also be against a bad condo board. You get good boards and bad boards. You need a way to fight against the bad ones. You also can have a bad property manager who doesn’t have a strong skill level. Property Managers should be skilled to deal with multiple aspects of managing a high-rise condominium. They should be skilled to manage all the maintenance issues that they have. They should also know the Condo Act, which many of them don’t. When there is conflict, the review board will solve it.
NIH: What are some of the issues that you have had with moving the bill forward?
RM: Every year that I have introduced my bill, I have been lucky enough to have my bill discussed as a member bill. We have always debated it during our second reading debate. Each time, during second reading, both the Liberal party and the Conservative party were in favour of moving the bill forward. After that, it is supposed to go to a legislative committee; however, because the Liberals have full control, it simply dies. They don’t like it.
NIH: What is it about the bill don’t they like?
RM: As a government, they have simply decided that they do not like it. Why? I believe it’s because some developers have influence on the government, and some within the government are scared of that. I also believe that some lawyers dislike the bill. I was told by one person that a few high-powered lawyers didn’t like the fact that we were making cheaper options for homeowners. If you have an in-house legal system (which is what the review board is all about) then lawyer work would be lost. So between these two powerful bodies, the current government has been unwilling to act.
The funny thing is, I don’t know if there is anything that should scare those bodies. It’s about consumer protection. For some reason, the government has decided that this was not necessary. But, they are starting to change their minds. Now, a month and a half after I submitted my bill, the government decided to do a review of our Condo Act.
NIH: Where are we with the bill moving forward now?
RM: I found out the day the review was announced that it would take up to two years. I went to the Premier and asked about that timeline, and he said to me that he would cut it down. Hopefully we will have a review of the Condo Act by the Liberals — we just want changes that help the consumer. Is that going to happen? I don’t know, but we are going to have to pressure the government to ensure that whatever changes they make reflect the consumers’ needs.
NIH: What’s the most important aspect of the bill for you?
RM: The condo review board, or tribunal. That’s the most important. That’s a biggie for me. My bill doesn’t solve all the industry-related issues, which it can’t; there are many issues connected to the condo industry, but for me, the condo review board needs to stay.
NIH: One interesting aspect of your bill is that companies need to disclose any names they’ve built under in the past. Where did that come from?
RM: It’s something that is important. As an example, there’s one development in Christie Pits, right next to the subway. I was invited out to learn more about an issue with the building. The purchasers told me that the initial renders that the developer showed were of this wonderful development, but five years later when they moved it, it was a structure that looked like a community-housing unit. The problems that they experienced are significant. What I was eventually told was that the developer did the same thing under a different name in a different part of the city, which was also a disaster. There was no way for any of the purchasers to know this because the developer is not required to divulge that information. It’s a prime example of developers who are building badly, and want to escape legal problems. This aspect of the bill will hopefully solve this.
NIH: Moving into the condo unit once it’s fully built — why is that important for you?
RM: A lot of people are forced to move in without the project being fully built. You are walking through construction, walking through dust, you’re going through a building without knowing what you have, what you’re getting. The idea is that everything should be ready once you move in. It’s not fair to have people move in without all the services that they have paid for. It’s not fair for people to move into a building and not know when all the services will be available to them. You’re paying for a swimming pool, but you might not see that pool for two years. It’s not fair to you as the owner, and we need to change the laws to give you, the owner, better protection as a consumer.
NIH: What is your main goal of reforming the Act?
RM: It’s better protection, that’s really what it’s all about. My goal is to allow you, the condo owner, the ability to solve a problem without having to go to court. Some things we are not going to be able to solve, like construction standards or energy efficiency issues, but we need more protection for purchasers. At the very least, the point of it is that consumers will be able to defend themselves when issues happen. Are we going to get it? I really don’t know. I’m hoping that as soon as the government is ready to open the bill, that we will have an army of condominium owners who are ready to say, ‘We want debates.’
NIH: How can someone who is interested help?
RM: I think that anyone who is interested in this bill should connect with me; that way, as the process unravels, I can connect with them. Simultaneously, they should connect to the minister of consumer services and ask questions. Make it known that they want to be part of the process. There has to be a joint connection to me and to the ministry. My bill hits at the big issues, but there are other issues that I hope that this dialogue will open up as well.
We at the Toronto Star’s NewInHomes.com would like to thank Rosario Marchese for his time, and look forward to hearing more about his legislation moving forward!
To connect with Rosario, visit his website at rosariomarchese.ca.Google+