Canada's Condominium Magazine
Condominiums are communities, and communities have rules. Most, if not all, are governed by common sense — no need for elaborate rationale.
Some people regularly break bylaws of their condominium community out of “not knowing” rather than contrariness. The exception to the “contrariness” scenario might be barbecues on the balcony. What Canadian doesn’t feel a special bond with the summer BBQ? (Before you haul that propane tank up the elevator to your suite, read on…)
The main issue: people just don’t read their bylaws. Compounding the issue, many owners of condos do not explain the bylaws to their tenants — forgetting that they are responsible for anything their tenant does while an occupant.
We’ll save BBQs for last — because chances are more than half of our readers break this rule — and start with some less obvious rules you didn’t know you had.
Balconies — who owns them?
Many condominium communities have private balconies for the exclusive and private use of condo owners, but many of these owners don’t actually realize the terrace or balcony is often considered (legally) a “common area” amenity.
It is maintained and managed by the condominium corporation. There may be exceptions, but this is the most common legal arrangement — especially given they hang off of the outside of the building.
For this reason, the condominium has liability for maintenance and other issues — and likely have passed bylaws prohibiting, for example, tiles or permanent flooring treatments. So, it’s safest to stay with concrete. It may seem petty, but your beautiful Italian tile may complicate maintenance, or even present a future safety hazard. Play safe, and stick with what the condo community provided for flooring. Area carpet can be a fire-hazard, especially given many people smoke on their balconies.
Leave the bike downstairs
You may think it’s perfectly fine to track dirt and mud up the elevator, through the hall, into your suite to park your bike on your balcony. Chances are close to 100 percent certain your condo board disagrees, likely, backed by bylaws. Not only is it an inconvenience and cost to other home-owners, storing a bicycle on a balcony could be distinctly hazardous during a high wind storm.
Laundry and storage
What an eyesore, those racks of drying laundry. Even worse, are condo residents who use their balconies as storage. Regardless of how you feel about it — you may think it’s the ideal storage locker — it’s not likely allowed. From the outside of the building, your neighbours are treated to a splendid view of your clutter. More importantly, you’ve created a liability, with potential debris, nesting places for birds and rodents, and other hazards. It’s almost always not allowed.
As always, condo owners who rent to tenants are especially vulnerable. Tenants don’t tend to read condo bylaws, and wouldn’t feel a strong urge to comply in any case. Even though it might be your tenant breaking the rules, you, the owner, are fully liable for compliance actions, fines and liability.
Surely no one can say boo about your beautiful plants. After all, that’s your outdoor refuge. What’s the harm in bringing a little green to your small oasis of outdoor living?
So, here’s some good news. Most bylaws do allow some plants. The restrictions are normally on the height and weight. Heavy planters can create risks to maintenance. Tall plants, which reach over the balcony rail, are normally not allowed. You are likely limited to how many plants you can have as well since excessive water from pots and planters can cause damage to units below you.
Hanging plants are not allowed by almost all condos. They are a significant liability and hazard.
BBQ! — Surely not!
Even though many condo owners regularly barbecue on their balconies, sorry to say — Canadian tradition notwithstanding — if you want to comply with bylaws, chances are solid that you’re not allowed that gas BBQ or hibachi on the balcony. Why you ask? Surely it’s our Canadian heritage and inherent right. Well, yes, if you go to the safe BBQ areas of the condo community, or outside to a public Barbecue area. No, if you think it’s okay to haul a propane tank up to your unit.
First, there’s the law-law: propane tanks can only be taken up an elevator if it is a service elevator and/or if you are the only person in the elevator — usually with permission of security or management. Yes, if you don’t mind breaking the law, you can sneak it in when no one is looking, or haul it up the stairs, but — even then — you’ll run afoul of the condo bylaw and possible fire-code violations. Or, you could use a small non-gas hibachi — if you’re willing to run afoul of possible fire-code violations.
Now, the bylaws: most condos have the no barbecue bylaw for many reasons: liability, fire hazard, explosive hazard, risk to neighbours, smoke and ventilation, and a half-dozen other pretty good reasons.
Sorry to bear bad news for some of you looking forward to barbecuing or redecorating your beautiful terrace. To keep your summer stress-free, check your bylaws before you commit to any expensive changes to your balcony.
And above all — have fun this summer!