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.