James Bay condo owner challenges hefty building repair bills

A James Bay condo owner has filed a court petition demanding transparency from the building’s property management company over repair bills that he says are questionable.

Hugh Trenchard, who lives at Orchard House, a leasehold building on Michigan Street in James Bay, said he wants B.C. Supreme Court to force Westsea Construction to disclose details about mounting repair and maintenance bills.

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It’s the latest criticism aimed at the company, which in May forced out low-income renters who had been displaced by a fire in View Towers, also owned by Vancouver-based Westsea. Poverty advocates and politicians slammed the company at the time for failing to explain why some long-term residents were forced to leave despite no damage to their suites. Trenchard said he sees a similar pattern of a lack of accountability when residents ask questions.

Trenchard’s concerns also bear similarities to a case in Richmond in which leaseholders refused to pay Westsea Construction millions of dollars in repairs in a leaky-condo case because the company would not provide invoices.

Westsea sued about 160 residents of Sussex Place in a court case that went on for years before a B.C. Supreme Court judge ultimately ordered leaseholders to pay the outstanding sum of $1.889 million. Residents in that case told the Times Colonist they were being asked to “write a blank cheque,” which Trenchard worries is also the situation with ongoing repairs at Orchard House.

In a leasehold property, owners own the home or condominium on the land but rent or lease the land itself.

Trenchard bought his condominium in the high-rise building in 2011, and was aware that the previous owner had to pay $15,000 for repair work to the windows and balconies of certain suites. In November 2013, Trenchard received a letter announcing more remediation, including repairs to the roof and parking garage and, most surprising to Trenchard, a $3-million project to replace the building’s windows and sliding glass doors.

Trenchard is now facing a bill of more than $32,000.

In December 2013, Trenchard repeatedly wrote to the company asking to see an engineering report as proof the windows and doors needed to be replaced. The company wrote back in January that there was no engineer’s report about the window and door project and then said if Trenchard had any questions about the remediation, he would have to pre-pay the cost for engineers or contractors to answer them.

In March, Trenchard was allowed to view for half an hour a three-page letter from engineering firm Reif Christoffersen Jones stating the windows and doors are not in immediate need of repair but are nearing the end of their service life.

“There’s no engineering evidence as to the need to replace the doors and windows,” Trenchard said.

Trenchard said he got a quote from an outside company about what it would cost to replace all his windows and sliding glass doors, and it was about $7,600, considerably less than the $20,000 Westsea is estimating for his unit.

Trenchard also raised concerns about an auditor’s report of operating costs that showed a 200 per cent jump in repair and maintenance costs, over and above the special assessment fees paid by owners for the roof and parking garage upgrades. The total cost was $161,148 in 2013, up from $52,544 in 2012.

Trenchard could not get the company to explain the reason for the spike. He was told again he would have to pay up-front for any further breakdown of the auditor’s report. He asked for a quote of those costs and has yet to receive a response.

Trenchard finally filed a petition with B.C. Supreme Court this month, asking that transparency about costs be implicit in the lease.

“It’s common sense that we be entitled to see a fair bit of detail around the charges they’re asking us to pay,” said the 45-year-old B.C. government employee. “There seems to be a number of expenses we’re being charged that seem questionable.”

Trenchard said the residents’ disputes with the company in both the View Towers and Sussex Place cases has created a sense of distrust about Westsea Construction.

Trenchard said at one time there was an Orchard House Leaseholders Association, but it has disbanded. He has talked to some fellow leaseholders about the legal petition, but he said many are telling him they don’t want to get involved in what could be a drawn-out court process.

Westsea Construction and sister company, Edmonton-based Capital Management Ltd. did not returns calls for comment. The company’s lawyer, Mark Stacey of Singleton Urquhart law firm in Vancouver, also did not return a call for comment on the petition.

kderosa@timescolonist.com

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