Vancouver leaseholders concerns fall on deaf ears at city hall

Post by Daniel Fontaine in

13 comments

WestEnd Vancouver
Some leaseholders in Vancouver's West End claim they are living in a no man's land

Over the course of the last nine months, CityCaucus.com has covered a lot of different story angles related to life in our urban centres. Over time, we increasingly get approached by various groups or individuals concerned about the manner in which their city is being run. Not all the gripes translate into a post on this blog, but it helps to give us a better understanding of the complex weave of issues around the city.

I was approached a few months ago by a gentleman who lives in a leasehold building in Vancouver's West End. He was introduced to me by a mutual friend, and it took only moments for him to begin recounting his tale of misery when it comes to his leasehold property.

Let me first explain that according to Moshe Rosenfeld, there are only 9 leasehold buildings in Vancouver's West End. Unlike people who live in strata or rental units, there is apparently little to no legislation to protect these types of residents from potentially unscrupulous building management companies. If you don't like how the management company is maintaining your building, your only recourse in many instances is to take the owner to court. This is often a cumbersome, costly and fruitless activity that leads to heartache.

When Rosenfeld approached me and asked CityCaucus.com to help raise awareness regarding the plight of he and his fellow residents, I initially asked him to do a bit of homework. As a first step, I advised him to contact the Mayor and his local MLA to apprise them of the problems the residents were facing which allegedly include the following:

  • repairs are being done on the building which the residents deem too costly and in some cases completely uncessary
  • regular maintenance costs for things such as landscaping have skyrocketed year over year
  • upgrades to items such as new elevators are leaving seniors who occupy the upper floors stranded in their living units

As previously stated, leaseholders are forced to deal with management companies that are responsible for the maintenance of their building. If the land owner arbitrarily changes the company, the residents have little say about it. According to their lease, a budget for costly upgrades and maintenance can be drawn up by the company, then split into 12 payments which the leaseholders are responsible to pay for each month.

If a particular management company prepares a budget for upgrades and repairs that are deemed too costly or unnecessary by the residents, their only recourse is to take the issue to court. There is no prior opportunity for arbitration or appeal of the management company's decisions or plans.

So what happened when Rosenfeld contacted Mayor Robertson for help? Well, he got a few form letters thanking him for his information, but nothing else. Despite the concerns he expressed that seniors and other low income residents were being impacted by costly, and in his opinion unnecessary upgrades to the building, there was dead silence from the Mayor's office.

In a letter to Robertson obtained by CityCaucus.com, Rosenfeld states:

I am a lessee in a leasehold building in Vancouver's West End. As leaseholders, we are not protected by rental laws nor have the rights of owners. Simply stated, we fall between the cracks.

...as a Mayor committed to a sustainable, prosperous future for Vancouver, I ask your help to see what the city can do on behalf of the leaseholders...

In England, they introduced new legislation which helped to provide some new protection for leaseholders. John Gummer, Environment Secretary stated the following when the new rights came into effect:

Many leaseholders have suffered during the last few years from the bad management of their flats by incompetent or greedy landlords. The vast majority, however, are good landlords who have been unfairly portrayed as a result.

The Housing Act 1996 was amended and included the following changes:

  • fundamental changes to the Right of First Refusal, including a criminal offence for failing to serve a notice offering the property to the tenants
  • restriction of forfeiture of a lease for non-payment of service charges
  • the right for a residents' association to appoint a surveyor with access to the building
  • new grounds for the appointment of a manager for a block of flats by a court
  • and extending collective enfranchisement to flats where there are flying freeholds

Gummer goes on to state:

Bad managers can make the lives of their leaseholders miserable by either neglect or excessive activity. That is why we have given the court additional grounds when considering whether an independent manager should be appointed. Courts can consider whether service charges are unreasonable or whether the landlord has breached an approved code of residential management practice.

Although the British legislation seems to still heavily rely on the courts as a mechanism to solve disputes, it has afforded lessees with some significant new rights.

In the case of the residents living alongside Rosenfeld, many of whom are reportedly elderly and/or living on a fixed income, they are faced with an unresponsive mayor and building management as well as limited protection under provincial legislation

As leaseholders with some major concerns, they have few options left other than go to court or hope and pray that a blog covering urban affairs might be able to help raise awareness regarding their situation. Let's see if anyone is listening.

13 Comments

I recently read with interest your story on the very difficult predicament facing leaseholders here in Vancouver and throughout the province. I have met with Mr. Rosenfeld on a number of occasions this past year as well as with the English Bay Leaseholders Association and understand their concerns. I have spoken directly with Minister Coleman and have raised with him the difficult situation facing leaseholders here in BC however did not receive much of a response and was largely rebuffed. I know that the former MLA for Vancouver-Burrard, BC Liberal Lorne Mayencourt also attempted to raise this issue in the House and was rebuffed by his party on any measures for reform. This issue has been going on for too long, with letters leaseholders receive from the Minister point them to consumer protection legislation which leaseholders tell me when actually examined, doesn’t relate to them at all. The Provincial government must do better – and actually work with leaseholders, and their building owners to come to a fair solution rather than responding with misleading letters, which don’t relate to the real problems at hand. I know that your blog City Caucus is focused largely on city issues and so I’m glad that you’ve taken notice of a very important provincial issue.

I have been living in The Chelsea, a leasehold building managed by Porte Realty since 1982. The issues raised in this blog are just the tip of the iceberg. Our management company will not let us see bills, contracts. According to them the only right we have is to pay whatever they tell us. Their proposed budget was 100's of percentage points above the previous year budget on many line items. When we raised questions about it, they told us to take it to the owner, whose name they refused to disclose. We need legislation, similar to those that exist in England to help leaseholders get rid of such management companies.

Here is the latest update on the situation at the Chelsea, a leasehold building in the West End.

As previously mentioned, Porte Realty, the management company, has levied excessive maintenance fees for services we believe are not warranted by the lease. Since they have refused to discuss these charges with leaseholders, the only recourse is to take them to court.

When one of the leaseholders filed in small claims court, Porte Realty had the audacity to CHARGE that leaseholder $1,700 for Porte's time to prepare for the court case!

To learn more about how leaseholders are being mistreated by a management company, I suggest you attend the hearing in small claims court on November 4, 2009.

I read these posts with most interest, as I too am a leaseholder in the West End.
Mr. Rosenfeld is correct in saying "we fall between the cracks".
Our MLA, Spencer Herbert is correct in saying "this issue has been going on for too long" and "the Provincial government must do better".
Mr. James is correct in saying "the issues raised in this blog are just the tip of the iceberg".

Good posts on an important issue.
Thanks & keep posting.

yes there are some 1,000 Leasehold properties in the West End - many now managed by the now notorious Porte Realty. The Company's approach is characterized by a refusal to recognize their contractual relationship with Leaseholders and breaches of their obligations under that contract. This combined with the absence of housing legislation coverage forces Leasholders to take Small Claims Court action at every turn - to defend their rights under the Lease. There should be housing legislation including a dedicated dispute mechanism - but there isn't. So resist Porte on multiple fronts LH need to organize and get familiar with Small Claims Court process. It's doable so B=buckle up. It's going to be a long and tiresome ride.

Hiding behind the owner's dress, Porte decided to "modernize and upgrade" the single elevator in a 12 storey building. They advised the tenants that the elevator will be shut down during the process (projected to last four weeks). They advised tenants that may face difficulties due to the elevator shut down to seek alternative places to stay. Porte never checked whether tenants found an alternative. Elevator work started Monday, Nov. 16. Eva, who lived at the 11th floor at The Chelsea since 1977, an elderly wonderful person in her late 80's or early 90's, was found dead in her apartment Monday, Nov.16, the day the elevator modernization and upgrade began.
Stay tuned, more to come.

And so it goes...leaseholders be prepared for your annual surprise x-mas letter from your "dedicated" property management company.
So far, the mayor is silent, his staff claims it is a provincial issue, so does Dr. Hedy Fry, member of parliament for Vancouver center. And what does our housing minister, the honourable Mr. Rich Coleman do? A classical catch-22. In previous responses to concerns of leaseholders he advised them that the only way to resolve their disputes is go to small claims court. Now that we have about three cases in court he kindly suggests:

Thank you for sharing information about your situation.
As you currently have a matter before the court, it is not appropriate for me to comment.

Sincerely yours,

Original Signed By
Rich Coleman

Minister

pc: Honourable Gordon Campbell
Premier

Dear honourable Mr. Coleman. All you have to do to resolve the leaseholders' problems is stall. On 31 Dec. 2073, the lesases will end and you won't hear again from leaseholders in Vancouver (if any will survive).

So, dear Vancouverites, welcome to the catch-22 of the West End tea party.

Stay tuned, more to come...

Heads up - leaseholders are no longer willing to sit back in silence while being treated like ATM's.
As small claims court appears to be our only avenue it is reasonable to expect multiple claims will be filed in 2010.

File babies, file, unless you are willing to wait until your lease expires or your bank account is depleted, which under current managements will be a lot sooner than you planned.

Dont forget, as for the legal costs involved you are paying 2 TIMES! The Legal costs that the Leasehold building owner incurrs are directly billed back to the leaseholders through maintenance fees in the annual budget. Its a lose, lose situation. And any monies recouped are not seen back into your pocket, they are disbursed into building "upgrades".Also I know these yearly operating expenses are seriously inflated contacts that are out of this world expensive. I run 230,000 sq ft of commercial properties and trust me, the contact prices are padded, the owners taking one hell of a cut. The whole thing is a farce. Im seriously regretting putting my hard earned dollars into a leasehold. I cant wait to sell and become a real voice in a freehold and a say as to where my money goes. As for the government, when have they ever done anything for the people if its not to their advantage?

A short update. First, there are over 1000 leasehold owners, seems like almost all chose to bury their head in the sand. They forget that who who buries his head in the sand get shot in the butt.
First a comment to Holly. I full heartedly agree with what you say. As far as legal costs, the owner and his managers cannot recover legal costs when we use small claims court.
So here is a short update:
1. Premier Gordon Campbell and housing minister Rich Coleman do no respond to letters, e-mails or even our MLA Herbert Spencer.
2. The mayor is silent as the city is taking full advantage of the leaseholders lack of legal protection. The city is one of the biggest lessors. False Creek is on 60 years leased land and most likely so is the Olympic Village. So, Caveat Emptor (buyers beware) rules.
3. The property managers. Three buildings are managed by Porte Realty. Among them The Chelsea on Harwood street.
Here is a short list of the Chelsea "departed:"
First, Andy Brooks, one of the best building managers in the West End, an excellent handyman, great guy, "departed" (resigned) when he had to deal with Porte Realty managing policies and actions. I hope that he will be willing to comment on his experience.
Second: JoAnne Stevens, the first Porte Realty manager of the Chelsea. Departed towards the end of "managing a major roof repair" towards the end of 2008.
Third: Philip Cartmel Porte Realty Office Manager, "departed" in early 2010 following a small claims court decision he did not like. It was filed by a leaseholder from the Chelsea.
Fourth: Hilary Anderle, our building manager. "Departed" in April 2010 a few days after requesting a hearing delay in small claims court originally scheduled for April and postponed till May 7.

Who is next?

So dear Holly, you are right. The way to freedom is to convert the leasehold to some form of freehold. The road to freehold unfortunately goes through the court system because our politician don't give a hoot about 1000+ leaseholders.

We are beginning to form a Leasehold Owners Group in a 210 Unit building in Victoria. I'm interested in what you mean by "File baby File! I am also interested in how to attain info from any successful small claims court decision you may know about. Any group that you can suggest that may be able to 'educate' us would be very much appreciated.
Thanks,
Judi

........so we are all singing from the same page. This probably isn't a new thought at all, but what if there was a Provincial Leaseholders Association?
It seems to me that a communication highway for all concerned, particularly when it comes to successful small claims court issues will save all of us a lot of time and redundancy.
JS

where2beforfree-smallbanner
Check out BCWineLover.com!

Paid Advertisement

Paid Advertisement



Close