Harassment of Contractors by Owners: What Can You Do About It?
Today, we will discuss a common situation. Your condominium is doing a major project, say a deck or roof replacement, that takes several months to complete. You have an owner who regularly confronts the contractors and criticizes their work. They stand outside and tell the contractors they are incompetent, swearing at them, and making nonsense accusation. Other times they try to direct the contractors on how to complete the job. What can you do as a condominium to address this situation?
The courts in Ontario have repeatedly confirmed that condominiums have a duty to protect its contractors, employees, managers, directors, owners, and others from harassment and defamation according to section 117 of the Condominium Act, 1998, and other legislation.
Condominiums in Ontario have a duty to ensure that the owners do not harass its contractors, employees, directors, owners, managers, and others. Harassment is defined as engaging in a course of vexatious comment or conduct that is known or ought reasonably to be known to be unwelcome. Examples include making comments that demand, ridicule, intimidate or offend; bullying; and repeated offensive communications, especially where someone has asked you to stop communicating with them.
Condominiums also have a duty to ensure that owners do not make defamatory remarks about the condominium, and its directors, owners, managers, and others. Defamatory remarks are communication that tends to lower the esteem of the subject in the minds of ordinary members of the public.
There are some steps a condominium can implement to (hopefully) avoid the situations where owners are harassing contractors completing major repair projects for the condominium.
First, make sure the contractors know who they take instructions from about the project. Is it the manager? Is there a designated board member? Make it clear they should not take instructions from any other owner or resident. If approached by an owner or resident, the contractor should direct them to reach out to the manager or designated board member with their questions or comments.
Second, when providing notice to the owners that the work is going to start (which is always a good idea even if not required), explain the process for owners to ask questions about the work or raise any questions. Make it clear the owners should not approach the contractors and should direct their questions or comments to the manager or designated board member. It doesn’t hurt to have a few people on property watching the work and reporting any issues so they can be promptly addressed with the contractor, but all issues should be raised by the manager or board member, not an owner, to ensure consistent instructions are provided to the contractor.
Unfortunately, even with the steps above taken, there will likely still be owners that feel it is their place to criticize or direct contractors completing work on the property. Here are some additional steps that can be taken to address these difficult owners.
First, reach out to the owner to explain the proper process for reporting concerns or asking questions about the work. They might have missed the initial communication or ignored it. It doesn’t hurt to remind them of the proper process for communicating about the project. Depending on their behaviour, it might be appropriate to send them a quick email or make a phone call. If their conduct toward the contractor is more serious, a letter is likely the best option.
If the owner continues to act inappropriately, the board should consider escalating the matter to protect the contractor from harassment. If the first communication was an email or call, send a letter as the second notice to the owner. If the first communication was a letter or the owner’s behaviour is especially egregious, consider having the condominium’s lawyer write to the owner. The letter should explain the condominium’s duty to protect its contractors and others from harassment, that further harassment will not be tolerated, and the steps that might be taken if the owner continues to act inappropriately, such as legal proceedings against the owner. You could also implement a communications protocol that limits the owner’s communications with a certain group, like the contractor in this example.
If at any time the owner’s conduct is so extreme that it poses a risk to the contractor or others, the condominium should seek legal advice immediately. It may also be necessary to contact police in extreme situations where the owner’s conduct is creating a serious risk of injury to the contractors or others on the property.
Thanks to Michelle D. for this topic suggestion!