I recently learned that, when it comes to securing the release of a construction lien for work done to the common elements from an individual condominium unit by paying security into Court, the Ontario Construction Lien Act and the Ontario Condominium Act don’t play particularly well together. The problem is that neither piece of legislation has a clear and express mechanism for the owner of a condominium unit to pay money into Court as security to clear title to the unit where a construction lien attaches to the unit but arises from work done to the common elements of the condominium corporation.
Where the work is done to an individual unit (i.e. a kitchen renovation) and the construction lien is registered against that unit, section 44(1) of the Construction Lien Act provides a simple mechanism for the owner to clear title (to sell or refinance, for example). However, the Construction Lien Act provides no such simple mechanism where the work was done to the common elements (i.e. a roof replacement or elevator repair) and the contractor and its subcontractors have registered the full value of their alleged liens against title to all of the units comprising the condominium corporation.
I had occasion to argue this issue in Court recently and cobbled together an argument using:
- sections 11, 13, 14, 18(2), and 23(6) of the Condominium Act;
- sections 44(2) and 44(4) of the Construction Lien Act; and
- the Decision of Master Polika in Associated Mechanical Trades Inc. v. Kurzbauer,  O.J. No. 4688 (S.C.J.)
to argue that the proper amount to be posted as security to clear title to individual units should be the unit’s proportionate share of the lien (determined by the unit’s interest in the common elements as established by the declaration) and that same proportion of the unit owner’s potential exposure to the security costs contemplated by section 44(1) of the Construction Lien Act. The lawyer opposing my motion had a couple of different theories of what security my client ought to post in relation to each unit. At the end of the day, Mr. Justice Reilly agreed with my argument. However, if the legislation – either the Condominium Act or the Construction Lien Act – were amended to provide a clear mechanism to address this problem, costly Court hearings such as the one I recently argued could be avoided and it could be as simple to clear title by positing security for condominium units as it is under section 44(1) for non-condominium properties.
On a closing note, the B.C. legislature seems to have recognized this need and provided a solution. The B.C. equivalent of Ontario’s Condominium Act is the Strata Property Act and its equivalent of Ontario’s Construction Lien Act is the Builders Lien Act. Under the Strata Property Act, Division 5 of Part 5 (sections 86-90) plus section 166 provides what is pretty much a complete mechanism for an owner of an individual strata lot to remove a builders lien arising from work to common property upon payment into Court of the strata lot owner’s proportionate share of the lien. I can’t see any good reason why the Ontario legislature shouldn’t follow suit to enact similar provisions in Ontario since this seems to be the combined, though not clearly articulated, intent of sections 11, 13, , 14, 18(2), and 23(6) of the Condominium Act and sections 44(2) and 44(4) of the Construction Lien Act.