Whatever happened to ... Westminster-Canterbury’s Virginia Beach condo-buying court battle
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
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
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
“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
“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
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
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
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.