Skip to main content

The Globe and Mail

Condo owners face-off in property-rights tiff

(L-R) Yousef Mohammadi, Carlos Ruiz, Kevin Anjam, and Kasia Gagnon pose for a portrait in the courtyard of their condo complex in North Vancouver on April 9th, 2012. The tenants were part of a group who contributed to a court decision to block the sale of their complex, known as Cypress Gardens, to a developer

Simon Hayter/The Globe and Mail

The complicated fight over Cypress Gardens in North Vancouver is like a bad divorce, but with 135 spouses scrapping.

In what could be a glimpse of the future for the province's thousands of condo owners, half of the owners want to sell the aging complex, jointly owned in a condo-like arrangement, for the highest dollar they can get from buyers wanting to redevelop the 10-acre site.

The other half say they'll never be able to find anything as affordable again and shouldn't be forced to move.

Story continues below advertisement

That battle over two different sets of property rights was ratcheted up last week with the decision from a B.C. Supreme Court judge who has ruled that those who want to stay have precedence – for now.

Justice William Ehrcke rejected a petition from those asking for a forced sale, a group that claimed it represented the owners of at least 63 per cent of the units in the complex. That group formed after local development company Polygon offered $67-million for the property last spring but didn't get enough owners on board to go ahead.

But Judge Ehrcke refused to order a sale, saying there would be too much hardship for those who didn't want to leave, even if a developer paid them more than they might get on the open market for individual units.

"An order for sale would force particularly vulnerable people out of their homes, including young children, single parents, the elderly, the infirm, and people of very limited financial means," said Judge Ehrcke. "There would be a negative impact on the children, who would suffer the disruption of having to move, change schools, and develop new support networks, if indeed their parents were even able to find new accommodation to purchase, which in many cases is doubtful."

Many existing owners came to a court hearing earlier this year, saying they would never be able to get another mortgage, would be forced to move from the North Shore, or would be forced to live in smaller places if the property was bought out by a developer.

The case was being watched by people in the development and apartment industries, as well as the province's condo homeowners' association, all of which are waiting to see how the province's thousands of condo owners will handle decisions about their buildings as they age.

There have been court cases in a couple of other smaller strata-titled projects in the past decade where owners disagreed on whether to maintain a problematic building or just sell out to someone wanting to redevelop.

Story continues below advertisement

But the Cypress Gardens is the biggest and most fraught to date, showcasing the kind of fights that can erupt when a large group of people have to make complex decisions about jointly owned property.

The group that petitioned to sell is dismayed at the judge's decision, saying it ties a lot of struggling homeowners to properties that will require expensive maintenance.

Peter King, who had bought a unit several years ago for his stepson and children, said if everyone had agreed to sell to Polygon, he would have gotten more money than he'll ever be able to get by selling the unit by itself on the market.

"I would have had $120,000-$125,000 more, which would have given me enough for a down payment on another place. If I sold now, I'd be lucky to come out even."

Mr. King said the pro-sales owners are having a meeting this week to see what their next steps will be. He said a legal appeal is too expensive for them. However, he noted the judge said the proper way to go about achieving a collective sale is to get 75 per cent of the owners to agree. That is what is required of condo buildings created after 1994.

"As far as we know, we only need 10 or so more owners to come over to our side and we would be there," Mr. King said.

Story continues below advertisement

The anti-sales owners, though, say they are actually in the majority and plan to improve the project and keep it as is for a long time.

The president of Cypress Gardens board of directors, Carlos Ruiz, said some owners have stopped paying their maintenance fees during the dispute and the council will be taking legal action against them.

But Mr. Ruiz said he hoped that everyone would stop fighting.

"Our idea now is to find a solution together."

Report an error
About the Author
Urban affairs contributor

Frances Bula has written about urban issues and city politics in B.C.’s Vancouver region, covering everything from Downtown Eastside drug addiction to billion-dollar development projects, since 1994. More

Comments are closed

We have closed comments on this story for legal reasons. For more information on our commenting policies and how our community-based moderation works, please read our Community Guidelines and our Terms and Conditions.