Someone once said that the best resource available to a condominium corporation is its owners. And yet, in the absence of a significant issue requiring either an owners’ or requisition meeting, most owners only get together on a yearly basis. This happens at the Annual General Meeting, commonly referred to as the AGM.
Under The Condominium Act, 1998, (the “Act”), the Board of Directors must call and hold an AGM yearly. With the exception of the very first AGM which is required to be held within three months after the declaration is registered, meetings must take place within six months of the end of each fiscal year of the corporation.
The primary business purpose of the AGM is for owners to:
- review the audited financial statements
- appoint and ask questions of its auditors
- approve any proposed amendments to the declaration, by-laws, rules or agreements
- elect directors
- deal with any governance issues or other business arising
It is of utmost importance for owners to attend and participate in the AGM for many reasons, some of which follow.
Election of Auditor and Financial Reporting
The auditor is a professional chartered accountant tasked with the role of reviewing the corporation’s accounts as against the financial statements and budget and ensuring that the financial accounting is done in accordance with generally accepted accounting principles.
The auditor does not report to the Board or to Property Management, but reports to the owners. The AGM is the auditor’s opportunity to report to the owners about the condo’s accounts and finances. In advance of the meeting, the auditor must issue a report respecting the financial statements. Both this report and the audited financial statements must be included in the meeting notice package.
Owners who participate in the AGM are entitled to ask questions respecting the basis of the opinions contained in the auditor’s report. The Act expressly requires the auditor to answer these questions. To the extent an owner does not participate in the AGM, they give up their statutory right to obtain direct answers from the auditor respecting the condo’s financial health and operations at the AGM.
Moreover, at least in Ontario, the auditor is the only professional who is elected directly by the owners. In default of participating in the AGM, an owner gives up their right to play a part in this significant decision.
An Open Forum
It is equally a key point to remember that the AGM is the only forum in which owners are entitled, as a matter of law, to raise for discussion any matter relevant to the affairs and business of the corporation. This is true even if such matter was not disclosed on the agenda for the AGM, though no vote may be taken on any matter not scheduled on the agenda. This entitlement to raise topics give owners an opportunity to voice concerns, share ideas, state what issues are important to them, and make specific complaints. At all other owner meetings, discussions must be constrained to the matters set out in the meeting agenda.
The nature and open-endedness of the AGM provides a vital discussion and information session for owners. For example, at an AGM, owners may hear about proposed new corporation rules, budgeting and costing related to an upcoming major repair, or problems with the corporation’s security system. Failing to participate in the AGM would thus also mean that the owner was not privy to these live discussions and would not be kept abreast of popular sentiment, nor could they make known their own general agreement or disagreement with the positions taken on the various topics raised.
Face to Face Meeting with Directors
Directors are unpaid volunteers. They typically have very busy personal and professional lives outside of their roles as Board members. Depending on the size of the condominium corporation, there is often little opportunity to meet with a member of the Board, let alone with them all at once. The AGM is a clear chance to interact with the directors corporately, to get a sense of who they are as people, and to individually ask them questions about the general functioning of the Board and the affairs of the corporation. Having some sense of who the directors are as people is important. After all, these men and women make vital decisions on behalf of the corporation and all owners as a whole.
The AGM is also useful in spotting a troublesome or rogue director. At a recent AGM I attended last month, it became clear that one of the directors was an obstructionist and was deliberately frustrating the efforts of the other Board members. Shortly thereafter, a requisition meeting was called and he was removed as a director. It is doubtful that the corporation would have achieved the requisite 15% of owners’ required to call the requisition meeting had the owners not witnessed firsthand the director’s antics at the AGM. Face to face interactions with directors can be very instructive. In particular, they assist owners in making decisions to ultimately replace directors who are simply not up to the task of effectively running the affairs of the corporation. Alternatively, they also encourage owners to keep efficient and effective directors on the Board for as long as possible.
Election of New Directors
Closely tied to the importance of getting to know the corporation’s current directors is the election of the appropriate person(s) to any positions on the Board where the terms have expired. Of course, such election cannot happen in the absence of quorum, which is 25% of owners or such other percentage as determined by the corporation’s by-laws. To determine if quorum has been achieved for the meeting, only eligible voters may be counted. The voters can be present in person or by proxy. Given the very high percentage of renters in some condo buildings, it becomes all the more crucial for owners who can attend and vote at the AGM to do so, in order that quorum may be reached and the meeting can proceed.
In addition, under the Act, directors must exercise a certain level of attention, care, and skill in discharging their duties to the corporation. It is thus of the utmost importance that owners elect Board members who demonstrate, at the very least, an intention to act as reasonably prudent directors.
For example, in the recent case of Ballingall v. Carleton Condominium Corporation No. 111, the Court pronounced, in fairly clear terms, the type of director conduct which was inconsistent with the standard of care expected of directors:
A reasonably prudent director of a condominium corporation, attempting to meet his responsibilities as a director, would not undermine Board decisions, mislead unit owners as to the Board’s responsibilities and their efforts to meet those responsibilities, encourage unit owners to distrust the Board, undermine the legal advice from the Corporation’s legal counsel, mislead unit owners as to what that advice entailed, provide his own legal advice to unit owners, and on one occasion post to his personal website legal advice received by the Board without the consent of the Board. A reasonably prudent director, acting in good faith, would not make the Board dysfunctional, would not promote antagonism and dissent on the Board, and would not threaten other Board members. A reasonably prudent director would not put his own economic interests ahead of the legitimate interests of all categories of unit owners. A reasonably prudent director would seek a compromise that respected the disparate, but legitimate, interests of all unit owners in the context of the community established by the Corporation’s Declaration, By-laws, and Rules.
To the extent the majority of eligible voters have any inkling prior to the election of a director that the director has any of the propensities identified by the Court in Ballingall, owners should band together and elect an alternate, less obstructionist candidate. Doing so would save the corporation significant difficulty and cost.
Simply put, any owner who does not attend an AGM in person or by proxy abandons the right to vote for the director(s) of their choice and dire consequences can follow.
Not unlike federal and provincial elections, the turnout of eligible voters at AGMs is very often at 30% or less. In some cases, this is because the units have been purchased by international investors. In other cases, the owners live locally but not in the condo building, and are therefore not as concerned with the day to day operation of the corporation. In still other cases, the owners live in the condo but are apathetic. Each of these circumstances is regrettable. Whatever the reason for the historically poor AGM attendance, however, those owners who can be present and vote at the AGM should do so. As mentioned above, significant decisions directly affecting the running of the condo corporation are taken at the meeting. There is no better way to get a sense of how the corporation is being directed and managed than by attending the AGM.
The upshot is really just this: attending and voting at the AGM is both a privilege and a right. Neither should ever be squandered.
Q&A with Deborah
Can a unit owner in Ontario appoint as proxy someone who is not a unit owner?
Yes. Section 52(3) of the Act expressly provides that proxies do not have to be owners.
Are all unit owners entitled to vote at the AGM?
No. Owners of units intended for parking or storage or for the purpose of housing services, facilities or mechanical installations are not entitled to vote unless all the units in the corporation are used for one or more of those purposes. In addition, if at the time of the AGM an owner who is otherwise eligible to vote is in arrears of common expenses 30 days or more, they lose their voting eligibility.
I own a unit with my parents. At the AGM, I want to vote in favour of the election of a certain director. They both support another director. Which vote counts?
There is only one vote per unit. In this case, your parents represent the majority by 2 to 1, so they would be entitled to cast a single vote for the candidate of their choice. Had the votes been evenly divided and there were no majority, the votes would cancel each other out, and the vote would not be counted.
What is the maximum number of consecutive terms a director can serve on the Board?
The Condominium Act, 1998 does not restrict the number of terms a director can serve. That noted, some corporations have by-laws which contain term limits, such that a director is precluded from serving several consecutive terms.
My condo’s AGM did not proceed because we could not achieve quorum. Can the board wait until next year, or is it necessary to call another meeting?
A conservative interpretation of The Condominium Act, 1998, is that the board should use best efforts to call another meeting as soon as reasonably possible. Under the Act, the board is obligated to hold an annual meeting within 6 months of the expiry of the corporation’s fiscal year end, not simply “call” the meeting. The board should once again call the AGM. In the interval, owners should be actively encouraged to attend in person or by proxy.
What happens if the AGM proceeds without quorum?
Any and all business conducted at the meeting is invalid.