Owner's Meritless Challenge to Lien Results in Big Win for Condo
A recent case demonstrates the possible consequences when owners choose not to pay their monthly common expenses on time and the condominium is forced to take steps to lien the unit and sell it. The unit owner had not paid her common expenses since June of 2018. The Condominium registered a lien against her unit on January 31, 2019. The owner did not pay to discharge the lien, so on May 14, 2019 the Condominium issued a statement of claim seeking to obtain possession of the unit so it could sell it. The owner filed a statement of defence and counterclaim in which she claimed to have paid her common expenses to the manager. She also sought $11,350 in damages for a flood in her unit.
The condominium brought a motion for summary judgment so it could continue its efforts to sell the unit. At the hearing the owner offered to pay the outstanding common expenses. The parties could not agree on the amount of legal costs the owner should pay to the condominium. The condominium sought all of its legal costs ($56,000) from the owner. The owner argued no more than $15,000 would be reasonable.
The judge reviewed the relevant provisions of the Condominium Act, 1998, including section 85(3) which states the lien includes interest and "all reasonable legal costs and reasonable expenses" incurred to collect the outstanding amount. The judge stated that the phrase "all reasonable legal costs" signals that condominiums ought to be entitled to more than partial indemnity costs. Subject to the court's overriding discretion to determine costs, the condominium is entitled to recover all of its legal costs when enforcing a debt owed by an owner so long as those costs are reasonable.
The judge acknowledged the fees sought by the condominium were high, but found them reasonable in the circumstances of the case. The owner had repeatedly defaulted in her fees in the past, which resulted in liens and power of sale proceedings. The owner was well aware of the consequences of not paying common expenses and the legal steps the condominium would take to recover any unpaid amount. The legal work done by the condominium was necessary to collect from the owner as the owner refused to pay the amount owing to the condominium. The judge also felt the owner's litigation strategy was to delay the matter to avoid her obligation to pay her share of the common expenses. The judge found that she was not entitled to complain about costs incurred as a result of her own litigation strategy. Lastly, the owner made no efforts to settle the matter and refused reasonable settlement offers from the condominium until just before the hearing.
The case is an interesting one. While I agree that the owner's own litigation strategy appears to have greatly increased the condominium's costs, some of the time claimed by the condominium seems unreasonable. For example, spending almost 5 hours to register a lien, seems excessive. A lien usually takes less than an hour to prepare and register. Even including a notice of lien would not bring the time to close to 5 hours. Similarly, 38 hours to review and reply to a responding motion record that, according to the judge, did not contain any evidence to substantiate the claim seems extreme.