Whatever happened to ... Westminster-Canterbury’s Virginia Beach condo-buying court battle
The Virginian-Pilot
By Kimberly Pierceall
01 January 2017

Casa Del Playa beside the Westminster-Canterbury      Stephen M. Katz

The “hostile takeover” described in the lawsuit didn’t involve Wall Street or a feuding country, but rather the towering retirement home next door.

In the shadow of Westminster-Canterbury on Chesapeake Bay are 30 condos with uninterrupted bay views. Over the years, Westminster-Canterbury has bought 22 of the condos, renting them to older clients who could live more independently, paying up to $437,300 and $3,725 a month as of 2010.

gained control of the board

The nonprofit had already bought enough to control the votes on the condo association board, changing the number of seats from five to three and appointing two of its executives to preside over the meetings that take place at Westminster-Canterbury. At a July meeting, the only resident on the board was absent.

But Westminster-Canterbury needs only two more condos to control four-fifths of the votes, a noteworthy number that would allow it to dissolve the condo agreement, if it wanted to, leaving questions about what could happen to the remaining few residents.

“I know the home owners are anxious for a promise,” said Westminster-Canterbury’s president J. Benjamin Unkle Jr. “They offered to settle the lawsuit for a promise,” he said, referring to the legal complaint The Pilot wrote about in 2010 that sought to keep Westminster-Canterbury from claiming 20 condo association votes at the time, versus one. Westminster won in 2012, getting all 20 votes, allowing it to elect its own board members and change the bylaws.

“We don’t have an end goal that everyone is worried about," Unkle said.

Casa Del Playa in front of Westminster-Canterbury      Stephen M. Katz

Condo takeovers appear to be rare in Virginia, but are common enough in Florida. A new law there requires companies that buy up and dissolve a condominium complex to pay an individual homeowner an amount equal to the price paid when he or she first bought it, if it’s greater than the market value.

Virginia’s law governing the termination of condominiums states the remaining condo owners would be offered the fair market value of their units, determined by at least one independent appraiser hired by the condo association board.

Michael Inman, a Virginia Beach attorney focused on condo issues, said he’s never seen another entity come in and buy up units for this purpose.

“I found it pretty novel,” he said.

As far as what other condo associations could do to prevent a potential takeover of this kind, Inman isn’t sure they could, except to include a covenant that would restrict a single entity or its related entities from owning a certain number of units. For existing condo associations, it would require an amendment to its governing documents and a vote by residents.

“It’d be challenging to craft that clause,” he said.

The prospect worried residents as far back as 2005. Westminster’s then-president Erle Marie Latimer responded in a letter to condo owners that it was in everyone’s best interest that Casa del Playa be a “cost-effective but high quality living environment,” and to trust her organization.

an ethical, church sponsored non-profit community

“Westminster-Canterbury is an ethical, church sponsored non-profit community and would not consider actions that do not reflect our values,” she wrote.

Unkle said he's not prepared to make any promises that might limit what any future CEO or board might want to eventually do.

“You can’t make a promise that empowers one or two people to block the best use of that land and the renovation of that land and those structures.”

One of only two residents who didn’t join the lawsuit against Westminster-Canterbury in 2010 has become one of its most outspoken critics. Darlene Stevenson, a first-floor resident who bought her condo in 1998, had much of her condo's interior re-built when water flooded through her ceiling in August, leading to mold in her walls.

“They control every-thing,” she said of Westminster-Canterbury.

She said the leaks had happened on occasion years before, but she had it repaired herself. This time, Westminster-Canterbury paid to fix it. She suspects an upstairs resident, a Westminster-Canterbury client, is to blame and said the person should be in a facility providing more oversight and care. Westminster-Canterbury has said its plumbing, not the resident, caused the flooding, adding that a team assessed whether the client could live independently and determined the person could.

Stevenson said she isn’t interested in ever selling her condo ("my home is my family. It's my safe place.") But for those who are, Unkle said the company has promised to offer prices based on comparable sales outside Casa del Playa, so as not to skew the price based on their purchases.

In 2014, Westminster bought one condo for $404,000 that had originally been purchased for $220,000 in 2003, according to property records.

Westminster-Canterbury has four vacant units in the condominium, so there hasn’t been a need to buy more at the moment, Unkle said.

But it has offered.

Westminster-Canterbury recently proposed buying out three older residents with a trade, of sorts: their condo for a Westminster-Canterbury membership with which they could live in the condo they once owned. Unkle said they backed off when the residents complained about the sales pitch.

top  contents  chapter  previous  next