Condos are becoming popular home choices for many Canadians as more people move into urban centres. Condos can be a great living choice, but you need to be aware that these buildings have bylaws and rules that must be followed. Even though you may own and pay the mortgage for a unit, condo residents are still subject to following condo bylaws and rules.

Learning what bylaws are, how they are created, and how they may affect you as a condo or homeowner will help you make informed decisions about approaching your condo corporation about bylaws or choosing a condo insurance provider.

What is a bylaw?

Bylaws are internal rules created by organizations or municipalities. These rules only affect members of the organization or municipality and serve as a way to regulate what a group can or can’t do. They can be enforced with fines or even a court case in extreme cases.

Specific procedures must be followed before an organization can accept a bylaw. Municipal bylaws usually need to pass three readings by council members before being approved.

In Canada, the federal government determines our laws. Provincial governments can also institute laws but can’t remove any federal laws. Provincial governments can give municipalities the power to create their own bylaws.

In the case of private organizations like condo corporations, clubs, or businesses, bylaws can be instituted to govern the organization and its members. Organizations and municipalities can create new bylaws for their group but cannot remove any federal or provincial laws. In other words, bylaws can be made in addition to Canadian or provincial laws, but they cannot cancel any pre-existing laws.

Condo bylaws

Condo bylaws are created to govern the condo corporation and determine how condo owners, renters, and visitors can use the condominium units and amenities. Bylaws define things like how a condo corporation is structured (e.g. how many people should be on the board of directors and how bylaws can be changed).

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They also may dictate how meetings are held between the condo board of directors and owners, when maintenance and repairs should be undertaken in the building, and what residents are allowed to do with their units (including short- and long-term renting, decorations, renovations, etc.) Many condo bylaws enforce condo insurance or tenant insurance for all residents.

Are condo bylaws the same in every province?

Condo corporations typically have similar bylaws across the country, but not all condos have the exact same bylaws. In British Columbia and Alberta, the government supplies a general list of condo bylaws, but condo boards can vote to change this standardized list.

Most condos have owner votes to determine bylaws. These votes typically must include a certain percentage of unit owners. They may require either a majority, like 50% or more, or a supermajority like 75% or more of owner votes to adjust or add a bylaw.

Condo corporations also have to abide by their province’s condo regulations, for example, the Condominium Act in Ontario.

Condo rules vs condo bylaws

You may also hear about condo rules being enforced alongside bylaws. Although they are similar, rules are not the same as bylaws. Rules are less official than bylaws and can often be implemented by boards without an owner’s vote.

The punishments for not abiding by condo rules are also less strict than bylaw punishments. Condo rules may determine more general aspects of living in the condo, like whether or not pets are permitted, noise regulations, or outdoor maintenance like grass height. 

Municipal building bylaws

Homeowners who don’t live in condos may feel they have more freedom without condo board bylaws. While these homeowners won’t have to worry about bylaws from a condo board, they still have to follow municipal bylaws, which can also be very strict.

Municipalities often have specific bylaws for new buildings, including how tall a home can be, what a neighbourhood is zoned for (residential, business, etc.), or how far back from the street a house must be. 

If you are moving into an older house instead of building a new one, you can avoid these building bylaws. For example, if you live in a home from the 90s that is 10 ft from the road, and there was a change made to the building bylaws in 2005 that states houses must be more than 20 ft from the road, your home would not be required to comply with the new bylaw.

Homes built before new bylaws are “grandfathered,” meaning they just need to abide by the bylaws that were in effect when they were first built. 

Home insurance & municipal building bylaws

In some cases, the grandfathered rules don’t apply, and you may have to abide by new building bylaws. The most common situation for needing to adhere to new bylaws on an older building is if your home is destroyed or needs significant repair.

Any considerable renovation to your home could be subject to present-day bylaws, which could get pricey when renovating, repairing, or rebuilding your home. Your home insurance may include coverage if your home is destroyed or significantly damaged.

Still, your coverage doesn’t consider all the upgrades that may be needed for your rebuilt home to match current housing bylaws. Your insurance will only cover the repair or rebuild of your exact existing home.

If your municipality requires new builds to be energy efficient and your old home was using an older inefficient energy system, your insurance will not cover the price difference.

It is a good idea to ask your insurance company about additional options for home repairs and rebuilds that will cover any upgrades needed to the home in case it is destroyed. There are insurance companies that will give you extended insurance to cover you if bylaws make rebuilding more challenging, so be sure to compare your options.

FAQ About Condo Bylaws

What are condo bylaws?

Condo bylaws are created to govern a condo corporation and determine how owners, renters, and visitors can use condominium units and amenities. Bylaws define things like how a condo corporation is structured (e.g. how many people should be on the board of directors and how bylaws can be changed).

They also may dictate how meetings are held between the condo board of directors and owners, when maintenance and repairs should be undertaken in the building, and what residents are allowed to do with their units (including short- and long-term renting, decorations, renovations, etc.)

Many condo bylaws enforce condo or tenant insurance for all residents. You can think of condo bylaws as a subset of laws specific to condo owners, renters, and visitors. Bylaws are often enforced and can even result in hefty fines or a trip to court.

Bylaws do not hold as much power as federal or provincial laws, meaning condo corporations cannot supersede federal or provincial law. Condos are allowed to add bylaws to an existing national or provincial law.

Are condo policies the same as bylaws?

Condo policies, or rules, are not the same as condo bylaws. Condo policies are not as official as bylaws and usually have less strict punishments than bylaws if broken. Condo policies usually determine more general aspects of living in the condo, like whether or not pets are permitted, noise regulations, or outdoor maintenance like grass height.

Condo bylaws often focus more on a condo corporation’s internal coordination and governance. In contrast, condo rules are aimed more toward what residents are and aren’t permitted to do in the condo. Bylaws usually require an owner vote to pass, but condo boards can often create new rules for a condo without holding an owner vote.

Are condo bylaws legally binding?

Condo bylaws are legally binding. When you live in a condo, you must sign a contract stating that you agree to abide by condo rules and bylaws. If you go against this agreement, condo corporations can escalate the situation, landing you in a court case or with significant fines.

Most cases of disobeying condo bylaws or rules will only result in communication and formal warnings from the condo corporation. Still, repeated infractions could mean legal action is taken against you by the condo.

Where to find condo bylaws?

Most provincial condominium regulations require condo corporations to ensure records like finances, meeting minutes, bylaws, and rules are accessible to condo owners. Your condo corporation can provide copies of bylaws, or they may even have an app where bylaws and other important information can be easily accessed. You can also read the condo act regulations for your province online.

How to change condo bylaws?

There is most likely already a bylaw for your condo corporation outlining how to change bylaws. Many condos will require residents to submit a formal request or even a petition. Then an owner vote will be held to determine whether the bylaw should pass. Votes may need a certain percentage of condo owners to be present at the meeting and a majority (50% or more) or a supermajority (75% or more) of owners’ votes to pass the proposed bylaw.

Condo rules usually don’t need an owner vote to be instituted, but they can still be changed if enough owners disagree with a rule. Reach out to your condo corporation to learn more about how your particular condo board makes bylaws or rules changes.

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