The court documents read like the plot of an irresistible reality TV show — about senior citizens.
The drama that has unfolded at Abbotsford’s Carlisle condominium complex during the last four years involves allegations of egg-throwing, scooter-tampering and prank phone calls (not to mention a hallway brawl and an alleged extra-marital affair).
At one point the dispute became so out of hand, a B.C. provincial court judge who was asked to rule on three civil lawsuits said he expected to find “emotional children who have not yet learned the basic tenets of acting civilly towards each other, not senior citizens.”
LEAKY CONDO CRISIS REARS ITS HEAD AGAIN
Bad behaviour notwithstanding, the judge allowed the claims to proceed because he was “unable to conclude” they would fail.
In the Carlisle dispute, all litigation was between a husband-and-wife couple and several members of the Carlisle’s strata council.
In court documents, the 77-year-old strata president claimed the couple removed the door knobs from the complex’s exercise room, drove into the parking garage gates and sprayed oil on car windshields, among other acts of vandalism.
In response, the wife claimed someone spray-painted the words “Rat,” “Pig” and “Cow” on her car in one of several small dramas to take place in the Carlisle’s parking garage. The wife also said a council member shot a flare at her car as she drove away, while another resident hid under a blanket in the back seat of a car to take surveillance photos of her (the man was discovered when his camera flash went off).
The wife accused the strata president of threatening her by making “a slashing motion across his throat” when he passed her in the hallway. She also claimed she was assaulted by another council member, dislocating her thumb in the scuffle, as another senior looked on and called “She is not tamed yet. More!”
The documents contain much more, including allegations of an extra-marital affair between two seniors, the details of which were described in a salacious note left on the door of an apartment.
The entire affair caused the judge to call the situation “so bizarre that it is difficult to believe that it is happening in real life rather than in a fictional story.”
But despite his apparent misgivings, he allowed it to move forward in civil court, where it continued to generate paperwork and a fascinating plot up until a few months ago, when it was finally dismissed.
The Carlisle case is among hundreds of disputes involving condo owners wending their way through the B.C. court system.
With recent Statistics Canada research showing that one in eight Canadians call a condo home — with significantly higher numbers in cities such as Vancouver — experts predict conflicts between neighbours will only increase in the future.
Two years ago, the B.C. Ministry of Justice announced plans for Canada’s first-ever civil resolutions tribunal, which would provide an online dispute resolution system to handle strata and small civil claims outside court.
Originally expected to be in place by 2013-14, the launch is now set for the spring of 2015.
Meanwhile, crazy condo disputes continue to make headlines.
Two weeks ago, a B.C. Supreme Court Justice ended a six-year court battle over parking at a Port Coquitlam condo by ordering the couple involved to vacate their apartment (and their parking spot).
In a precedent-setting case late last year, a Surrey woman and her son were found in contempt of court and ordered to sell their condo after years of complaints and unpaid strata fines. In less than a year, the family was the subject of more than 24 complaints, mainly about noise.
In the Surrey case, eviction was “the end of the line” after years of costly litigation, said Vancouver property lawyer Peter Roberts, who predicted “we’ll see more of these cases coming down the pipe” as more people move into condos.
Tony Gioventu, executive director of the Condominium Home Owners’ Association of B.C., said there are about 28,000 strata corporations in B.C., representing about 800,000 units. Many new buyers are coming from single-family homes and simply aren’t prepared for living in closer proximity to neighbours — “you have to get used to the idea that your home is not your castle,” he said.
Vancouver strata lawyer Patrick Williams, who has represented Abbotsford’s Carlisle strata corporation in the past, said B.C.’s new civil resolution tribunal will dramatically change how disputes are handled, removing them from an “adversarial” court system and putting the emphasis on mediated solutions.
But it’s likely cases will continue to end up in court when people refuse to abide by the tribunal’s rulings.
TOP CONDO CONFLICTS
People: Lawyer Patrick Williams recalled a case that racked up $150,000-worth of legal fees in a 16-day arbitration after a condo resident insisted on spreading bird seed on his balcony, resulting in the side of the building being covered in bird droppings.
Parking: Two weeks ago, a six-year court battle over a parking spot ended with the eviction of a couple from their Port Coquitlam condo. Cheng-Fu Bea and his wife, Huei-Chi Yang Bea, did not agree with their strata’s decision to assign specific parking spaces to units and launched a court battle that went on to include 50 appearances before 28 different judges in dozens of courts.
Pets: A Kitsilano strata recently went to court to force the owners of a “little white dog” to remove the pet from their residence and pay $1,900 in fees.
Prostitution: CHOA’s Tony Gioventu pointed to a situation where an escort service bought an entire floor of a B.C. apartment building, much to the dismay of fellow residents.
Pot: From growing it to smoking it, pot has long been a seed of contention among neighbours in close quarters.