Our Thoughts on Passing Standard Unit Bylaws

So a client recently asked us what the hardest bylaw we had to pass was. It’s a tricky question, every bylaw has it’s own intricacies that make them difficult to pass. When I say difficult, here’s what I mean:

  1. Condos must first convince enough owners to vote;
  2. Condos must then convince enough of those owners to vote “in favour” of the bylaw.

It’s hard enough getting owners to just come out and vote, but every owner that votes “Against” or “Abstain” is a vote that doesn’t count towards passing the bylaw. If a 200-unit condo requires 101 “In Favor” votes to pass a bylaw, then condos have to work that much harder to convince more owners than that to vote — they need to make-up for any unfavourable votes. So in terms of difficulty, I’d say it’s a tie between General Operating Bylaws and Standard Unit Bylaws.

General Operating Bylaws

General Operating Bylaws are tough to pass because it is often difficult to succinctly explain to owners why they should vote in favour of it. Owners are so confused about the specifics of these bylaws that they defer their vote to “smarter” or more “knowledgeable” neighbours. This can often result in a high number of “abstains”, or they’ll just plain refuse to vote.

Standard Unit Bylaws

On the flip side, the specifics for Standard Unit Bylaws are more easily grasped, but commonly misunderstood as being detrimental — it might seem like you’re taking away a benefit from them. “As an owner, why would I want the Corporation to stop paying for my flooring?!?” This sometimes controversial bylaw can result in division within a community and result in a high number of “Against” votes.Fortunately, the misconceptions with the Standard Unit Bylaw can be dealt with by better educating owners.

Looking to pass a Standard Unit Bylaw soon? Here’s what you’ll want to do:

Tip #1 — Start educating owners early

Ideally a month or two before you officially serve notice of the meeting. Educating owners early means they are less likely to vote with their misconceptions and thus helps minimize the number of “against” votes.

Tip #2 — Give owners hard numbers

“$100K was spent on replacing upgraded flooring last year. This represents an 8% increase in maintenance fees.” Hard number like this help owners understand the impact the bylaw has on the condo’s finances as well as their own.

Tip #3 — Explain how the bylaw directly benefits the individual owner**

Tell owners about how it’ll help keep maintenance fees in check. Tell them about how it’ll keep the condo’s insurance premiums lower which translates to no sudden increases in condo fees.

Tip #4 — Do a Q&A

The best way to deal with misconceptions is to first know what they are — ask your owners for questions or comments about the Standard Unit Bylaw. Have a Q&A session with your owners and address their concerns. You can either hold a series of town hall meetings in a common meeting room on-site, or compile all the questions and answers on your condo’s website and make it available to your owners to read.

The Standard Unit Bylaw is by far the most common bylaw we’ve seen on our platform

And when I say “by far”, I really mean it — about 80% of the meetings set up on GetQuorum involve a vote to pass a Standard Unit Bylaw. We’ve done enough of them now to know that attempting to enact a Standard Unit Bylaw doesn’t need to be a daunting task. Condo corporations need to take the time to educate owners on the benefits of the new bylaw, and provide enough time leading up to the vote so that their community has a chance to engage in a discussion about the proposed bylaw.

(In the interest of keeping this post short, we’ll talk about General Operating Bylaws in another post — stay tuned).

JJ Hiew

JJ is a former condominium director and is the co-founder of GetQuorum.com, a corporate governance platform specializing in electronic voting, proxy voting and notice distribution service.

Toronto