Amenities are a significant benefit of Condo life. Owners love a well-equipped weight room, a scenic pool, or a great sports court. Not every property has access to every amenity, and installation may be cost-prohibitive or impossible due to a lack of space. In areas with neighboring Condo Associations, you might consider Sharing Condo Association amenities. Your neighbor gets access to your pool, you get access to their tennis court. Alternatively, they might just pay you for access to your pool. While this is great in theory, it can create complications. Today’s post includes the expertise of Michelle Kelly of Sutherland Kelly LLP in Ontario, Canada. The law firm Sutherland Kelly represents Condominium Associations across Ontario.
Why Share Condo Association Amenities
The reasons for sharing are very straight forward. In short, you want to provide your Owners a better Condo life in a cost-effective manner. Granting access to another community’s amenities can be a cheaper way to quickly get access to desired amenities without having to pay for them up front. In addition, if properly managed, you can also build a stronger relationship between neighboring communities if everyone gets along.
Considerations When Sharing Condo Association Amenities
There are numerous issues to consider before you open up your doors to a neighboring Condo Association’s Owners, particularly when it comes to amenities.
“While sharing property with several other people has its benefits, there are some pitfalls too,” says Ms. Kelly. “Fortunately, many of the pitfalls can be avoided by communicating rules and expectations with the residents, installing equipment and implementing procedures to prevent damage or misuse of the property. This will ensure the corporation’s risk of legal liability is minimized.”
There are three key considerations to take into account: legal liability, access control, and rules enforcement.
Legal liability is, of course, the biggest concern. “The corporation must take steps to protect itself from liability,” Ms. Kelly says. “One way to minimize risk is to require waivers or releases from users of the property.”
Remember your fiduciary duty means you have to protect the Association. That means that before little Timmy from your neighboring building uses your pool, his parents must sign a release or waiver of liability – no exceptions!
Access Control and Security
Access control is another major issue. Depending on where your amenities are located, you might be granting neighbors access to more than just the amenity they are using. Ideally, you can install access-control locks so that they can access the desired area – i.e., a pool – without entering the rest of the building. If this is not possible, you may want to think through whether the sharing agreement is worth the risk of strangers in your building.
If you know you’re going to be opening up your property to strangers, video surveillance is a good investment. You probably want to have video coverage around amenities where people can be injured anyway, such as pools and sports courts, to protect the Association. If you’re going to be hosting neighbors, it’s all the more reason to install such technology. But keep in mind that people have certain privacy rights, so don’t place cameras in areas where they may have an expectation of privacy, such as changing rooms or washrooms.
Rules enforcement is another sticking point. You need to ensure you have a mechanism for rules enforcement if a neighbor is disruptive on your property. If the neighboring property’s Board won’t enforce the rules, that’s no good. Some jurisdictions permit Associations to create joint rules that must be approved by and enforced by both Associations. If an Owner refuses to follow the rules, either Association may take steps to force the Owner to comply.
Strong rules enforcement is always important, Ms. Kelly says. “Give residents an opportunity to change their behavior to comply with the rules. If they refuse to follow the rules, take steps to encourage them to comply with them – letters, fines, whatever the law allows in your area. Don’t turn a blind eye.”
Due to the numerous complexities involved in liability release and rules enforcement, you may want to consider hammering out a legal agreement that protects both Associations. Such an agreement also should include a way to dissolve the arrangement if it is not working, and might also include cost sharing, if applicable.
“It is also important to note that in some jurisdictions, like Ontario, Canada, an agreement is mandatory where a Condominium Association shares amenities with another entity,” Ms. Kelly says. “There may also be an obligation to use mediation or arbitration instead of court if disputes arise between the Associations.”
Is Sharing Condo Association Amenities Worth it?
As with most things in Condo life, the answer is that it varies by situation. There are numerous considerations to take into account, and in today’s lawsuit-happy world, plenty of opportunity for peril. On the other hand, you could also get access to new amenities for your Owners and form bonds between two communities.
Ms. Kelly’s take is that if everyone works together, there can be mutual benefit. “Be reasonable when using the shared property,” she says. “Take care of it like you would if you were the only Owner. Give others a turn to enjoy it. Share the good times.” If everyone follows this great advice, you can share Condo Association amenities and lead a better Condo life.