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condominiumCriminology professor Randy Lippert is heading a research project that delves into the potential pitfalls of buying into condominium life.

Researcher seeking to shed light on inner workings of condominium life

Condominiums are ubiquitous, but research into their inner workings is not.

UWindsor criminology professor Randy Lippert has made it is his mission to change that. He has just published his 11th book — his second on condo governance — and has landed a three-year grant from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada to delve into topics like how condo boards use smart technologies to monitor residents, and bylaws and other legislation to control them.

“The condo craze continues,” said Dr. Lippert. “Yet, what people don’t realize is that once you move into a condo, you are subjecting yourself to another level of governance… It can be a great thing, but in atmospheres that are more toxic, it can be awful.”

More than half of the new housing being built in Canada today is condominiums. These are buildings where you own your private living space and share ownership of common areas such as pools, gyms, garages, elevators, halls, party rooms, and outdoor spaces. They are usually managed by a homeowners’ association, typically referred to as a condo board.

When condos first came on the scene in North America in the 1960s, they were governed by volunteer boards made up of residents. That governance has evolved over time, becoming a system captured by property management firms, lawyers, real estate companies, security firms, and other non-residents who purchase units for rental income and investments.

Some condos use smart technology to spy on residents, tracking their water, electricity, and internet usage, Lippert said. They use cameras and proximity devices to monitor and control movement. While they are touted as private fiefdoms, some condo boards will call police over “suspicious behaviour,” escalating petty squabbles and potentially amplifying racism and other forms of discrimination.

Lippert and his research team, which will include grad students Danielle Quimby and Rebecca Croucher, will also study how COVID has affected condo dwellers. Their study will compare 20 condo buildings in four cities: Toronto, Vancouver, Chicago, and Detroit.

Condo governance is making headlines following the partial collapse last month of a 12-storey building in Miami. Since the incident, the rest of the 155-unit building has been razed and inspections have led to the evacuation of other high-rise buildings in southern Florida deemed to be structurally unsafe.

“This has as much to do with management and governance as whether rebar is rusted,” Lippert said.

Lippert’s latest book, Condominium Governance and Law in Global Urban Context, is a collection of chapters written by scholars who examined condos in nine countries. Lippert edited the collection with UWindsor graduate Stefan Treffers (MA 2016).

Lippert said condo governance has become a rich area of study. The advent of short-term rentals and the new practice of setting aside portions of condo buildings for affordable housing have raised governance issues that were never contemplated when condos were first imagined.

“All these issues become more important once you live in close proximity to each other,” Lippert said.

“We want to find a way to do it better.”

—Sarah Sacheli