We expect that some residents were shocked to read a recent article in the Toronto Star that reported that one of the residents in their condominium was operating a dominatrix dungeon from her unit.
While some residents may fear that property values will decline if the condominium becomes stigmatized because of those activities, there are also valid safety/security concerns (loitering, noise disturbances, etc.) with strangers coming and going from the property, particularly during the late night hours. (According to the Toronto Star article the dominatrix said that she was getting as many as 30 requests a week for her services.)
While the operation of a dominatrix dungeon is not an illegal activity per se, operating such a business from a residential unit in most cases will be a violation of the City's zoning by-laws. Plus many residents would not be pleased to find that their neighbour across the hall is operating a dominatrix dungeon from the unit. What can a condominium corporation do to prevent or stop the operation of undesirable activities?
First of all residents should be vigilant and aware of what is going on in their condominium. Any suspicious behaviour and incidents should be noted and reported to management in writing with a detailed description of the incident (time, place, person and unit involved). The installation of security cameras in the common areas may act as a deterrent in some cases and can provide evidence of those coming and going to and from the suite. If the business operation is contrary to the City by-laws this should be reported to the City. Repeated visits from by-law enforcement officers may convince the operator of the business to move to on.
Once it has been determined that an undesirable activity is being carried on in a unit, as well as checking the zoning by-law, the Corporation needs to check its declaration to see if any of its provisions are being breached. Hopefully in the case of residential condominiums the declaration will contain the following types of provisions: that units are to be used only for residential or single-family purposes; that the operation of a business from the unit is not permitted; units are to be used in compliance with all municipal by-laws and all other laws; activities that cause noise or other nuisance to other residents are not permitted.
For condominium corporations that have both commercial units or live/work units, as well as residential units, the situation is somewhat different, as the declaration will contemplate that business operations are permitted in the commercial units and live/work units. A requirement in the declaration that business operations must be in compliance with all laws will not be sufficient for the Corporation to prevent the operation of businesses that while legal, may not be desirable. For that reason it is recommended that the Corporation's declaration contain a list of the types of businesses that are specifically prohibited. We have seen declarations that prohibit a wide variety of businesses, such as video arcades; adult entertainment establishments, including adult video/bookstores; bingo parlors, off-track betting or other businesses involving gambling; tattoo parlours; places of worship and funeral parlours. The list will vary depending on the neighbourhood in which the condominium is located and the particular concerns of the residents.
If the necessary requirements, restrictions and prohibitions are not contained in the declaration, then the Corporation can amend its declaration if it obtains the written consent of eighty percent of the owners.
If it is determined that there is a breach of the declaration, the Corporation may pursue its remedies by way of mediation/arbitration or in certain circumstances, based upon recommendations from legal counsel, an application under section 134 of the Act to obtain a compliance order.
Unfortunately stopping undesirable activities where the unit owner in question is not cooperative, is not an easy task.