I am writing this article to share with you a part of the housing crisis not many Canadians might be aware of. The influx of foreigners purchasing local Richmond and Vancouver property (and across Canada) has created difficulties for those Canadians seeking a family life, which I would like to share with you.
Before I get right into the issue I’d like to tell you a little bit about myself. I am a born Vancouverite and my parents first immigrated to Saskatoon, where my dad worked for the railway. They ended up in Vancouver in the mid-fifties, my dad working as a labourer for the City of Vancouver and my mum working the afternoon shift for building services at University of British Columbia. They raised three children in a modest house in Vancouver and elected to rent out a room in the basement as well. The house soon became too small, and after purchasing an empty lot in Richmond and building their dream home we moved to Richmond in the late 1970s.
I remember the Knight Street Bridge had just replaced the aging wooden Fraser Street Bridge, there was no Alex Fraser Bridge, but the Massey Tunnel was there already and I remember the Oak street Bridge was a toll bridge. My parents never used it so they could save every penny they had. I finished my High School years at John Oliver in Vancouver and went on to finish my apprenticeship at BCIT.
I was able to purchase my first home, an older condominium, in central Richmond in 1990. Years later I met my wife and together we sold the condominium in 2004. We were looking to purchase a modest single family dwelling in Richmond at that time but realized quickly we could not afford a house. My wife immigrated to Vancouver from Germany in 1999, living with her cousin’s family. She grew up in East Germany and had very humble beginnings here in Canada, working a variety of jobs, starting out in tourism on a work visa and later on attending evening classes to better herself.
During one of our late afternoon walks we saw a new development of beautiful townhouses being constructed in central Richmond, near where we lived. It really peaked our interest, fit our budget and the layout and spaciousness of the home fit our family plans. We had found our dream home. A few years later we filled two bedrooms with our beautiful children. The French Immersion elementary school they attend is walking distance and the French Immersion High School is only a short bike ride or a few bus stops away. We have a drugstore, a grocery store, a shoe repair place, a bakery and several take out restaurants and coffee shops two blocks away. The Skytrain is walking distance, so are several parks and the rest of the extended family is only a short driving distance away, as they all live in Richmond.
I became a member of the strata council of our townhouse complex in 2005 wanting to ensure that our community remained in tip top shape as we planned on raising our children here and staying in town until our retirement years. There were lots of families here, we had get-togethers on our little playground, and kids would ride their bikes and scooters around the complex. Halloween was a breeze, everyone handed out candy in the early years and we would exchange small gifts during the holidays. There was always someone you could borrow a bowl of sugar from if you needed it.
All that changed in July of 2014 at our strata’s Annual General Meeting (AGM). Most of the long term strata White council members were voted out, only one remained. This was accomplished through a high number of proxy votes that were collected by one Chinese owner. The meeting wasn’t very peaceful and civil, but what he did was perfectly legal, according to the BC Strata Act. The atmosphere amongst the owners and the sense of community within the complex changed to one of mistrust, pinning one group of owners against the other.
In my opinion, the following year the new strata council did not accomplish much in terms of maintenance and repair and was only able to have three official council meetings in the full calendar year. I believe some of that was due to a council member being out of the country for an extended period of time. The next AGM the same Chinese individual held 80 percent of the vote with 34 proxies collected in a complex that has only 54 units. This is not wrong according to BC law. No actual voting for the election of council members took place and they were imperially appointed by the Chinese owner holding 80 percent of the vote. The last remaining original council member was ousted. He did not speak Mandarin and the new council did not know this until they met for the first time after the 2014 AGM.
Later that year in December I and another concerned owner decided to attend a council meeting as observers. This is open to all owners and a legal right owners have as stated in the BC Strata Act. We let the council know and the response to us was, that our attendance would be welcome, however the meeting would be held in Mandarin only for efficiency reasons, and that they had no intentions of using English. We asked them to reconsider as neither one of us understands Mandarin. They did not and while the other owner bowed out of attending the meeting, I did not and sat through a council meeting held in Mandarin only. There was no translation service provided.
When I returned from the meeting, I went online and filed a complaint with the BC Human Rights Tribunal. My complaint was accepted in March 2016 and together with a small group of owners we are now fighting a legal battle that has cost us and our diverse community dearly. Our personal price tag for this legal battle currently sits at over $25K to date and has cost the strata council and property management company zero dollars. They are covered by strata directors insurance. We have now started a GoFundMe page to assist covering the high legal bills. You can find it at gofund.me/AndreasKargut.
We know we aren’t the only ones experiencing this situation, we have heard from many strata owners across the Lower Mainland, and everyone needs to become aware that it could happen to them too. If you would like to support us in setting a precedent and acknowledging English as a common language amongst our diverse communities in BC, so that we are all able to communicate with each other, then please share this story amongst your family and friends. I realize there are next steps to be taken after the complaint is settled like changes to the strata act. The strata act needs changes to limit the number of proxies one single owner can hold to a maximum of one proxy. Our province also needs a language act acknowledging Canada’s official languages on a provincial level, many provinces and territories across Canada have done so, but BC has not.
If you or someone you know is able to sponsor our case or assist us in any other way we would be very thankful. You can leave comments on the GoFundMe page and can contact us through the page as well should you have further questions or ideas.