B.C.’s new strata laws mean some owners may be forced to sell
The Globe and Mail
12 August 2016
Signy Wilson on the front steps of her home. (Kerry Gold)
Signy Wilson’s ground-level apartment has high ceilings, hardwood
floors, a fireplace, a big arched living room window, and a back door
onto a private garden where she and her neighbours can gather when the
weather is good. Just off Oak Street, she’s close to transit and shops.
it will be listed for $6-million
It’s ideal living in a city where it’s increasingly hard to find
community-oriented housing. Her five-unit condo building was built in
the 1930s, so the rooms are unfashionably spacious and designed for
long-term living. But Ms. Wilson’s four neighbours have decided to work
with a real estate broker who says he can put together a land assembly
with the apartment building next door, which is already for sale. The
broker, says Ms. Wilson, has told them it will be listed for
$6-million, which she figures would land her about $400,000 more than
what her unit would sell for if she sold it separately.
But Ms. Wilson does not want to sell.
But Ms. Wilson does not want to sell. She loves her apartment, and she
questions whether she will ever find another place like it. When she
attended the initial meeting with her neighbours, she was shocked to
discover the changes to BC’s law governing strata – or multifamily –
housing that went into effect this past month. The new Strata Property
Act allows the termination of a strata with only 80 per cent of
residents in agreement instead of a unanimous vote.
Ms. Wilson is against selling the building, but feels that the decision has already been made for her.
“The system is supporting the feeding frenzy that we are in,” says Ms.
Wilson. “The recent condo act means the 20 per cent, like myself, that
doesn’t want to sell doesn’t have an impact. I said “no” even knowing
it would make no difference.”
the building will soon require major maintenance
She knows too that the building will soon require major maintenance that will be costly.
“There are no villains in this story,” she says. “My neighbours aren’t
snakes in the Garden of Eden selling out from underneath me. They are
saying, ‘Boy, this will make a huge difference.’ One neighbour has
mobility issues. They have to move at some point anyway.
“Everybody that comes to this kind of building already has a love for it.”
Instead, she blames the relentless redevelopment in the name of density
for pushing people such as herself out of their homes. That, and the
failure by the city to appreciate and protect its old character
Tony Gioventu, executive director of the Condo Home Owners Association
of B.C., sat on a committee that researched the change to the strata
act, which, he says, came out of a proposal by the development
industry, which is always looking for properties to redevelop. The
development industry wanted a 75 per cent vote for liquidations of
stratas; however, the committee felt 80 per cent was more fair, and a
level already in use and working well in Australia and Singapore.
any offer will go before a court
But because the committee had concerns about potential for abuse, they
recommended a court application to ratify any agreement to sell a
property. Condo owners, such as Ms. Wilson, therefore have a safeguard
because any offer will go before a court, where, among other things, it
will be decided if the sale is in the best interests of the residents.
That part of the process is mandatory, says Mr. Gioventu. Residents
who’ve been coerced by a developer or their neighbours into voting yes,
for example, would have the opportunity to speak up.
He says he’s seen many cases where elderly people don’t know their rights. They can be targets.
When you’re one of the last holdouts, the pressure from neighbours can be huge.
“And if you are 85 years old, and you are in the last two units out of
40 units, what kind of stamina are you going to have for that?” asks
And even people who aren’t elderly can be intimidated by an angry mob of neighbours.
“It’s generally presented as, ‘You’re being unfair and unreasonable.
Why are you doing this to us?’ People are verbally taunting them. But
it happens in co-ops, social housing, not just strata – all types of
multifamily living. When lots of money talks, people stop thinking
about things like the culture of communities, and ethics, and behaviour
and decency,” says Mr. Gioventu.
That’s why he advises all voting to be done by secret ballots. As well,
he says stratas should hold regular meetings to keep residents informed
so they aren’t surprised by new developments.
a toxic stew
Maggie Leithead lives in a co-op in the West End at 1055 Harwood. Her
block is also part of the city’s new plan for density, which means her
three-storey walk-up can be redeveloped for a 30-storey skyscraper. As
a result, her old 29-unit character building was recently sold to a
developer, despite her vote against it. According to her co-op’s rules,
only 75 per cent had to vote in favour. Over the past year, the
division turned the relationships in the building into a toxic stew.
Ms. Leithead received hate mail under her door and some residents
refused to talk to her.
“It was a pretty unpleasant experience.”
“We went from being a happy little co-op of folks that cat sat for each
other and cleaned the gutters together to hate mail under the doors,”
says Ms. Leithead. “It was a pretty unpleasant experience.”
Their troubles started after a developer approached them last fall. He
offered them a number big enough “to throw things into a tizzy.” It
wasn’t accepted, but it led to the co-op members hiring a real estate
agent. The final selling price was $40-million, and Ms. Leithead says
her unit is one of the largest, so she stood to gain the most. She paid
“Poor me, I made a bundle, I know,” she says, well aware that most
people will have little sympathy for her situation. “But we only bought
the place three years ago and we had gutted it and planned to be here
till 90. We’re two blocks from the water, two blocks from shopping,
half a block from transit. This is a great little building that was
completely sustainable – a gorgeous older 1948, meticulously maintained
because it’s been a co-op since it was built. It’s sad.”
Her exit strategy will be to leave the city, she says.
“We will be another pair of people with a pocket full of money going to Victoria.”
She feels worse for her easygoing 91-year-old neighbour, and wonders
where he will go. The city’s plan includes 25 per cent social or rental
housing, but that probably won’t help those that are facing imminent
“He didn’t need the money and didn’t want to move and now at 91 is forced to go and find a home.”
She doesn’t have faith that the added density will go to residents in a market fuelled by speculation.
“It’s going to be another row of tall buildings with no lights on at
night that can’t support local businesses,” she says. “There are just
so many different ways we could be approaching density on a human scale
rather than the way we’re doing it.”
Residents of the building have a year until they have to move out,
which is a fairly common part of the deal. But Mr. Gioventu says most
people won’t be able to move until they receive the money from the
sale, and he wonders what will happen when the completion date rolls
around and a bunch of people need to find homes.
“What will happen is on one magical day when all 100 or so of those
owners with $800,000 or so in their pockets will all be on market
looking for another place to live? I think we will see bidding wars …
and I think that’s where we will see quite a lot of vulnerability –
because there will be large concentrations of people wanting to stay in
“We will see another housing wave over the next year or so as these liquidations start to proceed.”
Ms. Leithead says her neighbours have already started checking out properties on the market.
Wow, it’s really hard to find something with space
“The kicker to all this is now that our deal has gone through, they are
saying, ‘Wow, it’s really hard to find something with space.’ It’s
like, oh my God, did you not look for eight seconds before you