We don’t yet live in a condo. In these, our “later” days, it sometimes feels like we should. In an apartment maybe, with no stairs, where we could just lock the door and disappear for a couple of months without an elaborate plan for house maintenance when we decide to travel. A place we could move in and out of like the greying ghosts we are becoming. Where no one would be surprised if we’d “gone south” for warmth. Or just vanished into Ontario to babysit grandchildren or dogs.
Yes, there are moments when we do feel a bit guilty because we still live in the house with four large bedrooms where we brought up our three children. Somehow we manage to occupy and use the whole house. If we’re not using the rooms as heavily as we did when our kids were children and adolescents, at least we’ve filled them up with stuff. All our rooms are full of furniture: one bedroom is even dominated by the large inversion table, which saved our younger son’s back after herniated discs. We now invite old friends with back problems to use it. It adds a new meaning to the expression “hanging out” with your friends. It almost justifies keeping the house open as a sort of seniors’ drop-in clinic.
The truth is that we could live in a much smaller space. We could downsize. We’ve recently twice been through this process with close friends and it’s not something I look forward to. I prefer the fiction that I still use our stairs for doing cardio, that all the furniture is essential for our kids and their families when they come home. And, where would we put all our stuff if we didn’t have the house we’ve lived in since 1979?
It’s been painful to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with old friends downsizing after 40 years in the same place, faced with piles of antique clutter and junk, cupboards full of old burnt marmalade and very dry teabags. As one dear friend said recently, the box just gets smaller and smaller.
So, here, right in the middle of Canada’s most depressing month, when the only good news in The Gazette (apart from Obama’s hugely optimistic vision of America) is that the suicide rate in the West Island is lower than elsewhere on the island, here is one reason for not moving into a condo: the condo association.
If you own your own house, the only collective you have to be part of is your town. If you own a condo, you also have to be part of a condo association. (Of course, many people happily ignore both their town and their condo association, until the town decides to let Montreal build a composting facility next door.)
I presume that some condo associations work better than others, but my limited experience with them isn’t very encouraging. But some might even be interesting. I know that some are a nightmare.
When people buy a condo, they easily forget that they are buying into some collective responsibilities, that they own some common property and that their part of that property has to be administered and funded together. As mayor of Ste-Anne-de-Bellevue, I had some less than thrilling experiences with condo associations. One group consistently petitioned to have the town remove the snow from their collective roads. Why wasn’t the town paying for that service? I tried to explain that they had a private road.
Another condo association wanted the town to take over ownership (and maintenance) of another road that ran through their site. It looked a bit like a public throughway. Understandably, the condo owners were anxious about the future prospect of being responsible (collectively) for the maintenance and possible reconstruction of this road. Our town technical advisers recommended that we shouldn’t be taking over roads incorporated into condo projects, but it was hard to say no to so many (worried and annoyed) voters. I’ve no idea what happened to that issue, but I hope the town didn’t establish a precedent by making that road public.
And one time I tried to mediate for a condo association of six houses. Total failure. And I ended up being the bad guy because I couldn’t solve their problem. It was a hopeless idea to think that as a mayor you might somehow have enough influence to solve all a town’s problems.
Bill Tierney is the former mayor of Ste-Anne-de-Bellevue. email@example.com