Dispute over moving costs for free Vancouver heritage homes heats up

A free home isn’t always free.

Take, for example, the Ward Residence in North Vancouver. Developer Tien Cher wanted to spare the century-old heritage home on a property it’s developing from demolition.

Heather Patterson and her boyfriend fell in love with the Edwardian-style beauty, which the developer was offering for free to anyone who’d pay to move it.

It seemed like a win-win.

But now Patterson says the deal was misleading, after finding herself on the hook for costs associated with the move she believes the developer should have split with her.

Patterson took up Tien Cher’s offer in April of the home for no charge in the 200-block East 5th Street, and intends to relocate it to Maple Ridge this Friday. She was happy to pony up roughly $100,000 for the move and $50,000 in utility costs, she said, and even agreed to move a second heritage home from the site at the same rate.

But after speaking with several contractors and a financier about another $100,000 the couple is paying to remove asbestos and drywall — and excavation work related to the moves — Patterson said she thinks the developer has been unfair by causing her to incur costs that it would have incurred even if the homes were demolished.

“We were aware there would be costs — we didn’t go in thinking it would be a totally free house — but the issue for us lies in the fact that we specifically asked about these costs and were specifically told that they were related to the moving,” Patterson said.

She said contractors and a financier told her in recent weeks that developers usually pay a share of the cost of moving a house — but this was after she’d signed a deal without such a term.

Charan Sethi, founded of Tien Cher, said more than 120 people expressed interest in the two homes. A decision came down to Patterson and another woman, but Patterson was a better fit, and had a strong recommendation from Sethi’s daughter.

Charan Sethi disputes Patterson’s claim she was misled.

“We wrote a very clear, precise letter as to, ‘You are getting the free houses, but these are your responsibilities — to move the houses and everything to do with moving the houses is your cost,’ ” he said. “It was told to her verbally and then it was spelled out on two pages — a letter of understanding — on what her responsibilities are. And it was signed by her.”

Sethi said that after Patterson signed the contract she inspected the house and hired contractors to do the work associated with the move.

“It’s almost like a person buying a house, seeing it as is, and then going afterward, ‘Oh, maybe they should have provided me with a new washer dryer ... new flooring.’ That’s the sort of scenario to me,” Sethi said.

Sethi said his company has worked hard to accommodate Patterson’s move and paid for several extra costs associated with it.

Leif Pridy, co-owner of Pridy Brothers House Moving in Victoria, said he’s found developers are usually keen to chip in with moving costs because the arrangement saves them money.

“There’s a savings on the demo bulk alone and they have to get a haz-mat (hazardous-materials) abatement done regardless of demo or a move,” he said. “In our business we push very hard to have a developer cover those costs. We don’t even take a building if it has haz-mat anymore.”

Pridy said cost-sharing between developers and homebuyers is common, but not always the case, though he believes if more developers were to chip in, more heritage buildings would be spared.

Jen Ford, who has moved four heritage homes and several other homes in B.C. with her husband, said in her experience the buyer is usually the one responsible for all moving costs.

“I don’t know if it’s the norm or just a case-by-case thing that’s negotiated on an individual basis,” she said of arrangements where developers split the cost.

Ford said that while she and her husband were considering moving The Dorothies, a pair of heritage homes in Kerrisdale, the developer offered to pay part of the moving costs. Most of the other moves, however, the Fords picked up the whole tab, she said.

Meanwhile, Patterson said she wants to continue to promote the preservation of heritage buildings in B.C. — and she’s proud to have spared two from demolition — but she wants others to know the risks involved with such a project.

Sethi said Patterson “knew exactly what she was getting herself into” when she agreed to take the free homes.

Both parties have contacted their lawyers.

 

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