Green Initiatives in Condos
Most people these days are making a conscious effort to reduce their impact on the environment. Some activities are so common that they have become the norm. We recycle. We turn the lights off when we leave a room. Others activities, while currently less common, are rapidly becoming more popular, like electric and hybrid vehicles. While most boards want to be supportive of these new green initiatives, they also worry about satisfying their obligations to their condominiums. Well, the good news is that in most cases it is possible to implement green initiatives and comply with their duties. Submetering It was all the rage a few years ago after promises of huge savings on electricity, water or gas bills. While I've heard from many condominiums that they didn't see the savings promised, there are other reasons for installing submeters, like a general desire to make people more conscious of their usage and reduce overall consumption. For electricity, submetering is relatively easy. The Energy Consumer Protection Act, 2010, allows a condominium to install meters without the approval of the owners regardless of any provision in the condominium's declaration. Notwithstanding this ability, most lawyers suggest amendments to the declaration to ensure the condominium's right to lien is not impaired if an owner does not pay for his consumption. For gas and water, an amendment to the declaration will likely be required. Energy Retrofits More of my clients seem to be happy with decisions to retrofit their lighting or complete other renovations to reduce waste. I was at a meeting this week where significant savings were noted after they switched to LED lighting throughout the building. Although the initial cost was high, the savings seen on their electricity bills has made it worthwhile. Currently, section 97 of the Act may require notice to, and possibly approval of, the owners depending upon the cost of the project. It is possible that one of the new regulations may authorize boards to complete green energy initiatives without approval, but we haven't seen all of the regulations yet. Clotheslines Many older condominium rules prohibit owners from drying their clothes on clotheslines or similar devices. This may be unenforceable due to a regulation under the Green Energy Act, 2009. A clothesline or similar device is permitted, regardless of a rule or provision in a declaration, if: 1) the unit is used for residential purposes only; 2) the clothesline does not impair safety; 3) the clothesline is installed at the side or rear of the unit and is usable from the ground, deck, or a step-stool; and 4) the person has exclusive use of the area. Solar Panels This was another popular activity, but it seems to have lost popularity in recent years. For one, to produce sufficient energy the conditions have to be ideal (i.e. suitable roof with lots of sun exposure). The bigger hurdle is likely the cost of installation and/or the level of approval required. Depending upon the cost, it may constitute a substantial change, which would require 66 2/3 of the units to vote in favour before the board could install the panels. Depending upon the arrangement with the solar panel provider, it may require a leasing or borrowing by-law, which would require a majority of the units to vote in favour. Not easy, but it can be done if there is a desire among the owners. Do you have any green projects you'd like to share with us? Please feel free to reply with your comments or suggestions for making condos a little bit greener.