They say March comes in like a lion and out like a lamb – and for urban condo residents, it also ushers in the beginning of balcony season. For many of Toronto’s high-rise residents, these cement pads in the sky provide the only private slice of outdoor living, and with a few decorative touches, can be a green oasis amid the urban jungle.
However, before you run off to the garden nursery for hydrangeas and manure, be sure to check in with your condo board. Condo owners don’t actually own their balconies – as they’re located on the façade of the building, they are considered to be common areas. That means their appearance and use is subject to the rules laid out in the condo corporation’s bylaws.
Not complying with these bylaws can lead to confrontation with your board, neighbours, and, in extreme cases, result in fines or mediation. While most cases aren’t as extreme as the resident who was taken to court over owning too many patio chairs, it’s wise for condo dwellers to know what they can and can’t do with their outdoor space.
Here are four important things to consider when decorating a condo balcony:
Barbecues are often illegal
Nothing says spring and summer like the sizzle of a barbecue – but unfortunately, many condos ban keeping one on your balcony. Whether or not your building allows grills can vary widely – some residents are lucky enough to have a built-in gas line for a combustible model, while others can’t have a grill at all. This may even be enforced at the municipal level – for example, the City of Guelph doesn’t allow balcony barbecues in dwellings with more than two units with the exception of electric grills, and only if allowed by the board.
While barbecues can present fire hazards, smoke and smell concerns for neighbours, provincial laws that specify how propane tanks can be transported are mainly to blame for cramping chefs’ style; not only must a number of criteria be satisfied to safely move a tank, but it’s against the law to take them up main elevators (in buildings where there is no freight elevator, the main elevator must be booked and the tank can only be accompanied by one person).
There are also regulations on how much distance a barbecue must be from openings – a minimum of one foot from windows and doors, and three feet from appliance intakes. This requirement alone disqualifies many smaller spaces from having a grill.
You may be stuck with cement
The vast majority of condo balconies are concrete pads that extend out from the floor of the unit – and cold grey stone isn’t exactly inviting underfoot. Floor tiles or turf designed for outdoor use easily add polish and warmth to an outdoor space but that may not fly with your board, even if they’re just temporary additions. These are mostly banned in buildings with high fire risk from flying cigarette butts, which can easily set wood or plastic tiles ablaze. Some buildings may even go as far as to ban area rugs – in these instances, a comfy pair of outdoor sandals are key.
Go easy on the green thumb
Nothing adds life to a space like fresh greenery, and residents can rejoice knowing that the majority of condo boards allow plants – however, the amount, height and placement of your foliage could come under fire. For example, there may be weight restrictions for large, dirt-filled planters, and tall arrangements that peek over your railing edge could be deemed verboten.
Planters that hang from ceilings or railings are almost never allowed, so container planting is generally the way to go. Your board may also have restrictions over how much surface area your plants may take up and the type of drainage used – prepare for complaints if you accidentally water the unit below along with your tomatoes.
So long, storage
One common point of contention between residents of downtown Toronto condos and management is the inability to keep bikes on balconies; unit owners argue that provided storage is scarce and not secure, while the board loathes the damage and dirt two wheels track in. For this reason, those who enjoy seasonal cycling, shouldn’t count on keeping their bike in their own space.
Condo boards are also known to take umbrage with large items stored on balconies such as cardboard boxes, plastic bins, and shelving, so ensure you know the rules before counting on balcony square footage for clutter.
Living in harmony
While outdoor enthusiasts may prickle at condo boards’ requirements, the reality is bylaws are part and parcel of condo living, and are in place so all residents can enjoy their spaces equally. However, that doesn’t mean unit owners don’t have the power to fight for their green rights; passionate advocates for changes should discuss their concerns with their condo boards or, when necessary attempt to mobilize all residents to vote on their buildings’ bylaws.
However, the grass isn’t always greener on the freehold side – and condo residents can keep these perks in mind when the leaves are raked and snow is shoveled by management when the colder months return.
Penelope Graham is the Managing Editor of Zoocasa.com, a leading real estate resource that combines online search tools and a full-service brokerage to empower Canadians to buy or sell their homes faster, easier and more successfully. Home buyers can browse Toronto condos, as well as the Mississauga condos.