Board limits what owner can do on his balcony

O.F. writes:

Dear Paul:

I live on the 5th floor of a 10-story high-rise. My unit has a large balcony which attracted us to purchase in this building. We used to live in a regular home with a backyard and a beautiful patio where we entertained and enjoyed spending time during the summer months. We want to make our balcony into our own little oasis, but the board will not approve our plans, claiming aesthetics, safety, and proper care and maintenance. I am prepared to challenge the board in court if I need to. After all, my wife and I are the only ones who have access to the balcony; we should be able to do what we want, shouldn’t we?

Paul replies:

Dear O.F.:

Leaving a regular home with a backyard, patio and other outdoor amenities for a high-rise condo can be difficult, especially when after downsizing and searching for the ideal place, you are limited in what you can and cannot do. You did not specify what you wanted to do on your balcony. However, I assume that that the board is enforcing the bylaws and rules for your building for your safety and the proper care of the building. Three areas of concern come to mind: aesthetics, safety, and care and maintenance.

Aesthetics

Aesthetics relates to the look of your building from the outside. Curb appeal is a major factor in attracting new owners and keeping existing ones. Not too many people would want to live in a building whose exterior looks unkept. First impressions count, and if the outside is unattractive, passers-by and visitors will conclude that the inside cannot be much better. Your governing documents probably contain a provision giving the board the authority to approve any changes that would affect the property’s looks. If each owner was left to decorate their balcony, we could see blue and orange tarps used as privacy barriers, the railings used to hang banners supporting various causes, or as clotheslines.

I am sure you would not want this to happen.  

Safety

Second, having light furniture, or small potted plants could create a safety hazard in high winds. If items were to fly off your balcony and injure someone or vehicles below, there could be some liability issues at stake if the corporation did not do its due diligence in having bylaws and rules to manage these risks. I would imagine that a large heavy clay or concrete planter would be much safer. However, in 2017, the Toronto Fire Department responded to a fire caused by a unit owner tossing a cigarette butt over their balcony and landing in a planter on a lower floor balcony causing a fire. Luckily, there was someone in the lower unit that saw the fire and was able to put it out before any serious damage.

BBQ’s are another item usually banned from balconies. Apart from the fire hazard, the smoke can prevent other unit owners from enjoying their accommodations. Also, in most municipalities, it is illegal to transport a propane tank through the common elements (lobby) and in a passenger elevator.

Damage

Balconies are notorious for deteriorating over time. I cannot imagine the cost and complexity involved in having to repair or heaven forbid replacing a balcony. Not having the proper floor covering on a balcony can cause water retention. If owners utilize indoor-outdoor carpeting, water is trapped on top of the concrete accelerating the damage to the unseen concrete. While some concrete-slab balconies have reinforced concrete, it is so thin that water may cause rust and cracks to appear. Rust can also eat the bolts that anchor the railing to the concrete slab, making it unstable.

I am sure that with a little bit of creativity, you will be able to find ways to convert your balcony into your oasis and remain in compliance. I commend your board for enforcing the corporation’s bylaws, and I trust that these measures are in place for the benefit of your entire condo community.

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