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TL;DR: I live in a condo and a majority owner turned off the furnace which heats our crawlspace. Our pipes froze and I would like to explore legal actions to resolve this issue.

Hi Everyone, I am in a rather precarious position and am seeking some opinions regarding potential legal actions surrounding some recent events at the condominium complex that I live in.

The Facts:

  • I am an owner (new owner) of one suite at this condominium complex (second floor of building) and am a member of the condo board
  • The condo complex is located in Alberta, Canada
  • The condo complex is 'unique' in that the entire ground floor is owned by one owner, who we will call "John"
  • The ground floor unit, owned by John, has a natural gas furnace which heats his units as well as a common crawlspace overhanging a parking lot
  • All other condo units contain baseboard heaters and wall air units; natural gas heating is much less expensive than electrical.
  • Our condo unit is one such unit on the second floor which overhangs this parking lot
  • The common crawlspace contains plumbing for our unit, as well as several other units on the second floor
  • Years ago, before we purchased this unit, John decided that he no longer wanted to heat the crawlspace for the second floor tenants, so he blocked off the vents leading to the shared crawlspace. John demanded $1000 monthly as payment for heating the crawlspace; at the time, this was refused.
  • Where we live in Alberta, the weather can reach -30C during the wintertime. Pipes can and will freeze.
  • Last week, our shower drain froze due to lack of heat in the crawlspace.
  • It is our understanding that John is a particularly difficult individual, and has been sued in the past (by our condo board) in order to receive condominium fees backpay which he had owed over the years.

My Next Step:

  1. Start a dialogue with 'John'. Perhaps he can be reasoned with and will simply unblock the air vents.
  2. Determine a fair rate for the condo board to pay John monthly to heat the crawlspace
  3. Celebrate.

Questions:

1. What legal recourse can be pursued if John refuses to open up the furnace vents? The crawlspace is a mutually shared asset, and as far as I can tell, John is actively putting our building in danger by allowing pipes to freeze. This can lead to other issues as the pipes are located directly overtop of a parking lot.

It's also incredibly annoying. Our floor was 8C for all of last week, and our electricity bill just came in at $316 for the past month (for only two of us).

2. Are you aware of any similar cases? If so, can you please cite them? I could not successfully 'Google' any situations similar to this.

Thank you for your attentiveness :)

  • 1
    Is it practical to consider an alternative method to heat the crawlspace, one which removes responsibility from John and that can be considered a community/condo resource, properly shared? – fred_dot_u Jan 25 at 10:48
  • Hi Fred, thanks for your response. Yes, this was deemed to be practical years ago, and so some small space heaters were added by the condo board to this crawl space. These, unfortunately, do not work as well as they should, as the our pipes still froze up :( The furnace is a common item, albeit located in John's space. With natural gas heating being so much more affordable than electric heating, it is a shame not to have access to this source of heating. – Alex Zoller Jan 25 at 18:18
  • “The furnace is a common item...”. If it needs servicing or replacement, will John pay for it or will the community pay for it? What about routine maintenance and filters? – Damila Jan 25 at 20:53
  • Also, is there a way to calculate how much the crawl space adds to John’s bill? For example, average use before he stopped minus average use after he stopped (use full years, preferably multiple) to get number of energy units, times current rate. – Damila Jan 25 at 20:56
  • @Damila: Thank you for your comments. I imagine that the condo association used to pay for furnace servicing prior to John's assumption of possession. Also, if we could get John to cooperate, I imagine that there would be a way to determine the cost associated with heating the crawl space. Thank you for your commentary. – Alex Zoller Jan 26 at 3:45
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Your remedy will likely depend on your ability to show that John is responsible for heating this space. Is there a contract which shows this? Is it a condo rule?

From there you may be able to formulate a theory which might show John's failure to perform.

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  • AFAIK, there is no contract stating that John is responsible for heating the space. However, the building was designed with a furnace in his space, and ducts leading into the crawlspace -- these are not merely venting into the crawlspace, the entire crawlspace contains this ventilation. Thank you for your response. – Alex Zoller Feb 1 at 0:30
  • So how effectively can one link John's responsibility to the building design? Does John's tenancy show his responsibility? For example in New York State, it is expected that no tenant pay for utility which covers a common area, or that of another unit. This is enforced, and even the utility companies will help map electric usage in apartments. The landlord, or in condos, the tenant association, must pay for that utility. The hallway heater must be not be paid for by one tenant, rather it is a shared cost. I can give you legal examples, but the principles map to your question well. – mongo Feb 1 at 5:35
  • Condo rules are jurisdictionally sensitive. What is the case in Upstate New York is different from the New York City area, and likely also different from Alberta, Canada. However, looking for who is "bad" may be harder than a honey approach. What would John like, to be able to heat that area to xxC? Is there a possibility of installing a heater in the crawlspace which the association pays for, and then there would be no risk specifically to John? There are small format NG heaters, but worse case an electric heater could be used. Use honey if you want a sweet solution. – mongo Feb 26 at 18:20

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