Condo Life: How to Avoid Getting Hit with a Big “Special Assessment” Bill


When it comes to buying your first home there are many things to consider. What type of property are you looking for? How much space? Which neighbourhoods? And the big question: how much are you able to afford? For those looking for a more affordable option, at first glance, condominiums seem to offer buyers the best value. But what many condo buyers fail to recognize is that condo-buying can also come with hidden costs.

Last week we heard about the owners of the downtown condominium building Oliver Gardens who were hit with a $2.3 million special assessment. Global News reported that each owner must pay their $46,000 share by September 1st , and that if it wasn’t paid in full, owners had the option of monthly payments over the course of 20 years which, with interest, would amount to $95,000. Aside from the building being destroyed, this is every condo owner’s worst fear. Some people think that special assessments are inevitable, but this isn’t always true. In fact, most well-managed buildings can usually tap into their reserve fund when a special assessment is needed. In order to avoid paying out of pocket for costly assessments, prospective homebuyers should have the due diligence to do the research and ask the right questions.

Things to Consider Before Buying a Condo

Look into the builder’s reputation—not every builder has a good one. Also, don’t be afraid to ask other residents how their experience has been before purchasing. Most people (except for perhaps the seller) will be forthcoming if the property has been poorly managed or if there have been recent issues, and you have nothing to lose by asking. Ask to review Annual General Meeting (AGM) minutes as well as the reserve fund studies. Essentially, you want to ensure that this property is sound structurally, financially, and legally.

As a Condo Owner

If you are currently an owner, get involved with your condo’s community. This can be done by attending AGMs, paying close attention to what is going on with your building, and asking yourself the following questions:

  • Are the condo fees realistic? Keep in mind that having low condo fees are not necessarily good, as it can result in a low reserve fund and “surprise” special assessments.
  • What is the state of your building’s reserve fund?
  • Analyze the building’s financials, budget reports, etc. Ask yourself if the numbers seem reasonable and line up with the reported expenses—if they don’t, bring this up at a meeting or to your condo board directly.

Most importantly though, know your rights. Be familiar with the Condominium Property Act of Alberta and know your New Home Warranty coverage.

If you are an owner who is dealing with a special assessment, it is crucial to remember that although it may feel like a devastating blow at the moment, this money serves a purpose. There are benefits to a special assessment, such as an increase in property value and the fact that you will likely be able to enjoy your property to its full potential upon the project’s completion. If you are worried about how to pay for a special assessment, speak with your mortgage broker and ask about whether you qualify to refinance to include the costs you are incurring.

For more information, the Canada Mortgage and Housing Association offers a 5 chapter Condominium Buying Guide, as well as the Government of Alberta, who offers Consumer Tips for Buying and Owning a Condominium.

Licensed Mortgage Broker at First Foundation. University of Alberta School of Business grad. B.Com Marketing Major. Travel, family, languages, and learning. Je parle français, y hablo español.

Learn more about Danielle Pendleton