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Strata owners worried over end of rental restrictions

Moves could have unintended consequences - without boosting affordable housing, say condo owners
Strata president Tina Hopkins and fellow residents of her North Vancouver condo building are concerned about potential issues arising from lifting of rental restrictions on condos.| photo Paul McGrath, North Shore News

Strata council members and owners of older condominium buildings on the North Shore say recent provincial changes to ban rental restrictions could have negative consequences for them – without providing much affordable rental housing in return.

Owners of condos in small older buildings say they fear their strata councils being overrun by people buying apartments as investments, who may not be willing to take on volunteer tasks or vote to pay for needed repairs.

Many fear their strata insurance rates will skyrocket. They’re also concerned their strata council will be forced to take on roles of dealing with tenant complaints when owners aren’t available.

“I’ve lost sleep a couple of nights,” said Tina Hopkins, the president of a three-person strata council for an older building at Queen Street and Westview, occupied mostly by retirees. “There’s been a lot of angst.”

Rental bans banned

In an effort to make more housing available, province recently moved to lift strata regulations banning rental of condominium units. The province also made it illegal to limit condo residents to being 19 or older – restrictions that made those units unavailable to young families. Since new condo buildings are already required to allow rentals, the changes apply to older buildings built before 2010.

Hopkins, who lives next door to a lot where a purpose-built rental building will be constructed on the site of the former Delbrook lands, said she’s sympathetic to the need for more rental housing. But based on previous experience when her strata allowed some rental units, Hopkins said she’s bracing for a headache. Invariably, when problems with rental apartments came up, the owners couldn’t be found and the strata council volunteers ended up being called in to deal with problems, she said.

Hopkins said she also questions if the change will result in any truly affordable housing. “These are not going to be affordable rentals,” she said. “I have the smallest unit in the building. My strata fee is over $600.”

Sandra Leidl, strata president of a 29-unit building on Clyde Avenue has similar concerns.

Leidl said the need to quickly create new bylaws governing rentals will mean new legal fees. “In a small building, costs are not divided by a whole lot of people,” she said.

“There’s a concern that if something goes wrong, if people aren’t following the rules, it’ll be difficult to deal with that,” she said.

Impact of investor owners worry strata councils

In the past, her building did allow a small number of rentals, said Leidl. But the strata council changed its mind when they ran into “serious issues” with some tenants. “The police had to be called,” she said.

Leidl said she also fears the impact of potential real estate investors on old buildings needing maintenance and repairs – “There are a lot of ‘ifs’,” she said.

Karin Kirkpatrick, MLA for West Vancouver-Capilano, said her office has received many emails from constituents worried about the changes.

“I’m hearing particularly from seniors,” she said. “It fundamentally changes the nature of strata ownership.”

Kirkpatrick said she isn’t convinced the move will actually result in more housing being made available. The province is assuming that people aren’t renting out their empty suites because of rental restrictions, she said. But many people who own them want to use the condos part-time, she said.

Bowinn Ma, MLA for North Vancouver-Lonsdale, is among the MLAs contacted by Leidl.

Ma said as someone who lives in a strata herself she understands the concerns raised by condo owners but the housing crisis made taking the step necessary. Ma added she has raised the issue of strata councils needing better tools to deal with owners who don’t properly manage their tenants.

According to information provided by the Ministry of Finance, there are 40 condos vacant due to rental restrictions in the District of North Vancouver, 97 in the City of North Vancouver and 153 in West Vancouver.

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