Condo owners are often the first to notice when something needs the attention of the board or management. Whether it’d be a burned light bulb or a squeaky door. Emails facilitate these service call requests. But what is a corporation to do when the volume and content of an owner’s communications is such that it constitutes harassment? In a recent case, courts have shown that they will not tolerate insulting or harassing emails.
A Toronto condo corporation was faced with an owner who emailed management virtually every day asking for corporate records, critiquing the effectiveness of management and complaining about building maintenance. The problem was not only the volume and frequency (after all, she was often reporting issues, which required to be attended to). The problem was also the content of these emails. When reporting issues, this owner regularly resorted to abusing staff (verbally and by email) and engaged in insults, body shaming, naming calling and other type of coarse language and rudeness.
Over the years, the corporation tried to be patient and tried developing a protocol with this owner to limit her communications to email correspondence. They asked her to refrain from coming to the office and verbally abusing them. Unfortunately, this proved to be insufficient. Office staff would come to their place of employment, day after day, to find a barrage of inappropriate communications. Over time, these communications amounted to directed and ongoing harassment.
The corporation brought the matter to court, seeking an order preventing this owner from continuing with that type of behaviour.
The court relied on section 117 of the Condominium Act, which prohibits anyone from carrying on an activity in a unit or in the common elements which is likely to damage property or cause injury to an individual. The phrase “injury to an individual” has been interpreted to include psychological harm.
The court also pointed to the fact that the corporation’s own rule prevented individuals from immoral, improper, offensive or unlawful use of a unit or of the condominium property.
Finally, since the communications were directed at staff of the corporation, the court relied on the Occupational Health and Safety Act as the owner’s behavior constituted workplace harassment. Workplace harassment is defined as “engaging in a course of vexatious comment or conduct against a worker in a workplace that is known or ought reasonably to be known to be unwelcome”. Condo corporations are under a statutory obligation to investigate and protect its workers from workplace harassment and to remedy the situation by implementing and enforcing appropriate anti-harassment policies.
In the circumstances of this case, the court concluded that the communications from this owner were antisocial, degrading and harassing. For this reason, the court ordered her to cease and desist from abusing, harassing, threatening or intimidating (verbally or in writing) employees or representatives of the corporation. The court also imposed $15,000 in legal costs. Unfortunately, as is often the case, this is insufficient to cover the corporation’s legal costs. The other owners will have to assume the balance.
It is important to note that the corporation was not seeking to “silence” an owner. Owners should be able to report issues and voice their dissatisfaction or complaints. Corporations, directors and management do not, however, have to endure insult, harassment, defamatory or inappropriate communications. Corporations, in fact, have a duty to investigate and protect its workers from workplace harassment.
When faced with inappropriate communications from owners or occupants, it is best to attempt to defuse them as early as possible. If possible, it is often a good idea to attempt to defuse them in person rather than through emails. Emails are impersonal and their tone is often difficult to read. When that fails, the corporation should make it clear that it will not tolerate or even respond to inappropriate communications. If that fails, a corporation should consider escalating the matter to its legal counsel. The corporation should not allow inappropriate, invasive or harassing behavior to continue.
Unfortunately, it is difficult to ask someone to “play nice” if they don’t have it in them. Perhaps the $15,000 costs award will help.