A Mississauga family says it's "ridiculous" their condo corporation is making them pay a $30-a-day "occupancy fee," because their daughter came home to shelter in place with them during the COVID-19 pandemic — but the condo board says the fee is appropriate and the payments have been postponed until at least June.
"Thirty dollars a day is just ridiculous and we just want to know what the rationale for this is, and where the money is going," said Roshaan Wasim, 26.
In March, as the COVID 19 outbreak was getting out of control in New York City, Wasim left her apartment in Queens to return to the condo her family has lived in for 17 years to put her "parents' minds at ease."
Meanwhile, at the end of February, the condo corporation at 135 Hillcrest Ave. notified residents in a letter obtained by CBC News that due to an "increase of water consumption" and a "substantial increase of long term visitors," it would charge any visitor staying longer than two weeks an occupancy fee of $30 per day.
The fee would start March 1, the corporation said.
Paying fee is tough while parents laid off, Wasim says
Prior to that "unilateral" decision, Wasim says, the long-term occupancy fee for visitors to the building was $30 a month.
At first, her family ignored the rule and didn't register her as a visitor.
"For the first few days, we sort of resisted and said, 'No, no, she's not here,' but then they just kept contacting us and they wouldn't stop," said Wasim.
Ultimately, the family complied after receiving a letter from the condo corporation's lawyer demanding that they register their daughter.
For staying with her parents and two sisters for roughly a month from early April until early May, her family has been told they owe roughly $1,000 for the occupancy fee, and $536.75 in fees incurred by the condo corporation for drafting the legal letter.
Wasim says both her parents are off work and are receiving federal emergency benefits due to the pandemic.
"To ask for $1,500 out of the blue at any time is a lot, but I think particularly in these circumstances when not just my family, but a lot of folks are stretched," she said.
"It's a lot of money to ask for."
Condo corporation 'acted appropriately,' its lawyer says
In a statement, the condo corporation's lawyer, Denise Lash of Lash Condo Law, wrote the daily occupancy fees "cover the increased utility costs and wear and tear on the common elements."
"This corporation acted appropriately" when it introduced the occupancy fee for long term visitors in 2003, as a way to deal with "overcrowding of units," Lash wrote.
"The recent notice," she wrote, "related to issues with a number of residents breaching the occupancy standards bylaw and the condo corporation wanted to make sure that residents were aware of what this would mean."
But condo lawyer Audrey Loeb, with Shibley Righton LLP, told CBC News "you can't just pull a number out of a hat."
Loeb, who doesn't represent any party in the case, says long-term occupancy fees for visitors are "rarely" used and are supposed to be tied specifically to "justifiable and reasonable" expenses incurred as a result of the guest's stay.
"The notion of charging without any justification $30 a day, and without an invoice to support that, is in my view an unreasonable expense," Loeb said.
"What I think they are doing is just fining the people for having an extra body in their apartment," she said, "which the Ontario government has said condominium corporations in Ontario cannot do."
Family charged fee for 4-year-old, Syrian refugee mother-in-law
Radwan Altaleb is part of a group of roughly 15 residents from the building who have hired a lawyer to argue against the fee.
After fleeing the Syrian civil war in 2012 with his wife and two daughters, Altaleb moved into 135 Hillcrest Ave. In 2015, they had their son.
Since there were more than two people per bedroom in the two-bedroom unit, he was told he would have to pay the monthly occupancy fee for his son.
"They've been accumulating this amount and sending it through their law firm," Altaleb said.
Then, last year his mother-in-law came to Canada as a refugee and now she also lives with him. Altaleb says he's being told he has to pay $30 a day for her, as well.
That's $1,800 a month he says he doesn't have and never plans to pay.
"They are taking advantage in this kind of pandemic," said Altaleb.
Residents CBC News has spoken to say they would like more communication from the condo corporation and an emergency meeting to discuss the occupancy fee.
Postponed payments due to COVID
"The board is not aware of any emergency meeting or request by the owners," said Denise Lash, the lawyer for the condo corporation.
"As a result of the pandemic, the Corporation chose not to enforce this payment because some residents had family members occupying due to COVID-19 and has postponed the payment until June and possibly later," Lash wrote.
But Roshaan Wasim worries the postponed fee continues to accumulate for her family and for many other residents.
"I don't see how that's a compromise at all. June 1st is imminent. I mean we're going to have to pay it next month and it's not like our financial situation is suddenly going to be ok next month."