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Ongoing cockroach problem prompts calls for an Alberta condo dispute resolution tribunal

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An advocate says a dispute between a Glenora condo unit owner and her board over recurring cockroaches illustrates why Alberta needs a dispute resolution tribunal.

Last month, Lisa Gagnon shared how she has been dealing with re-emerging cockroach issues in her second-floor unit at Crescent Place since 2017. She thinks her condo attracts the critters since it is directly above the building's pool.

As work continues to treat a new crop of pests, cockroach traps installed in the walls years ago were unearthed and full of carcasses.

Alberta Health Services confirmed a formal complaint regarding ongoing pest issues was filed on Feb. 17. It will now probe the pest control measures taken so far.

"In this situation we are here to offer advice and guidance on an integrated pest management plan for the complex," said Kerry Williamson, AHS spokesperson. "Our public health inspectors will work with the condominium board on next steps."

Cockroach traps removed from the walls of a Crescent Place condo on February 27, 2023.

MATTER COULD'VE BEEN ARBITRATED: BOARD

The board did not respond to CTV News Edmonton's latest request for an interview, but it addressed the issue in a letter sent to Crescent Place residents on March 3.

In it, the Crescent Place Board of Directors says since the story is "now in the public domain," it can comment "fully."

"Crescent Place uses a proactive, coordinated strategy to manage pests based on expert-certified advice," the board wrote. "We have a monthly pest control program for the common property.

"When residents report pest issues, the Condominium arranges and pays for additional targeted treatments. Of course, residents must report pest issues immediately so they can be addressed promptly," the letter read.

The board also attached a report from the pest control company it has on contract writing in “our view, the Major Pest Control report speaks for itself.”

The document states 31 roaches were found in the suite last month and the suite appeared “unoccupied for a while”, adding with the plumbing dry and pet food left behind “it promotes the ideal harbourage area for cockroaches."

The board’s letter also said the unit owner refused mediation in 2020 and arbitration in 2022 to resolve the pest issues.

"Unfortunately, the unit owner has refused to participate in any alternative dispute resolution process," the board said. "This matter could have been reasonably mediated or arbitrated years ago."

In response, Gagnon said: "I was willing to mediate, but there was an imbalance of power. We need to even the playing field. There are documents I would need."

More cockroaches are seen in Gagnon's condo unit in Glenora (CTV News Edmonton).

According to Gagnon, the board would not provide copies of pest control contracts. She says she wants to understand the full scale of work completed by contractors to date.

"They wouldn't be willing to provide anything," she added. "In the lawyer letters they clearly said this is no fault of ours, the corporation doesn't have to compensate you."

Gagnon says she has received up to 29 legal letters from the board’s lawyer over the years-long dispute.

She told CTV News Edmonton it was disappointing to see the board try to "discredit" her story by sending letters to residents in response to her going public.

"It's awful because you know that now they just totally diminished the problem," Gagnon said.

'WE DESERVE TO HAVE A SYSTEM'

For the president of an Alberta condo owners group, this case serves as another example of why the province should create a condo dispute resolution service – so issues can be dealt with before getting this toxic.

"If you think about it, tenants have ways to solve disputes through the rental dispute resolution system," said Terry Gibson with the Condo Owners Forum Society of Alberta.

"Condo owners are just as important as any other stakeholder, and we deserve to have a system to serve our owners," Gibson added.

That sentiment is shared by some politicians, with legislation passed in 2014 to facilitate the formation of a condo resolution service. While consultations were completed in 2020, three years later, the tribunal has yet to be funded by a provincial budget.

"Three successive governments have failed to implement that," Gibson said. "The delays have been very upsetting, and we think it should have been a much higher priority for the government."

"We are going to continue to press on."

Cockroaches were even found in the toilet tank of Gagnon's condo unit (Supplied).

'UNDER REVIEW'

Dale Nally, Service Alberta minister, declined an interview with CTV News Edmonton but, when asked at an unrelated government announcement, said further consultation work continues.

"I would disagree that we are not moving forward on it," Nally explained. "We've actually had some proponents that reached out to us that they wanted to provide feedback to us, and we are currently consulting and working with them on that.

"This is something condo boards have indicated to us is important to them," he added. "I expect we will move forward with that once the complete consultation process is done."

Nova Scotia, Ontario and B.C. have acting tribunals. While not perfect, Gibson says they can act as a model for Alberta to learn from.

"We share walls, ceilings, floors with others, and it's just by nature we're living closer together," Gibson said. "There's bound to be some rubs from time to time."

Otherwise, unit owners can only rely on mediation or legal action to solve persistent issues. He says mediation is "uncommon," and legal challenges can be drawn-out and expensive — with condo owners having to live without action until a resolution is achieved.

"Being able to solve something quickly, cheaply and effectively is really important," Gibson said. "The courts are very slow, very expensive and frequently, no one wins."

The province's website showing updates on condominium dispute resolution even recognizes the challenges unit owners face.

"Under the current system, backlogs in Alberta courts, court system complexity and a lack of affordable dispute resolution processes prevent the condominium community from efficiently accessing justice," it reads.

According to that page, the project timeline shows that consultation ended on Nov. 22, 2020, but results remain "under review."

Gagnon is considering taking legal action against Crescent Place but wishes there were other options.

"I don't have a lot of faith in the system, but at least it would be something," she said. "A lower cost option."

Anyone with concerns about a potential pest infestation in the Edmonton health zone can contact AHS at 780-735-1800 or visit its website.

With files from CTV News Edmonton's Nicole Weisberg

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