Co-operative Woes


With rising rents and tenant evictions in Vancouver, some local residents are considering turning to co-op housing as a solution. Collective housing arrangements may not provide the freedom and security they may expect.

While we’ve heard of notorious private owners, like the Sahota family who own the Cobalt and Astoria Hotels, the seedier side of co-op housing and its owners are rarely reported publicly. Tenants could be sinking themselves into a new mire of problems by switching to a co-op model.

Advocates of collective housing, like the Co-op Housing Federation of BC, tout its advantages such as better management, diverse communities and how individuals have a say in what goes on. That sounds enticing, but evidence suggests that having your neighbours become your landlord can be as bad as any slumlord in the city. Instead of dealing with one bad owner or manager, a resident could deal with 20 or more bad owners in a co-op. Further, the Residential Tenancy Act and the Co-operative Association Act are two different beasts, with the latter offering less protection.

For example, Gary Morgan, a former resident at Queen’s Park Housing Co-op in New Westminster, moved his family out after 21 months of occupancy. He and his wife and two daughters found the trouble started as soon as they moved in.

When the Morgan family had been shown the apartment they were moving into, it had new kitchen appliances. Upon moving in, they found those appliances had mysteriously been replaced with old ones. A week after they moved in, the co-op cut a hole, 8 feet by 2 feet, in their bedroom ceiling due to a re-occurring leak. Eventually, Morgan investigated the leak himself, determined it was condensation from the dryer vent, and repaired it. But the co-op never fixed the hole in the ceiling while they lived there.

As well, the previous tenant in their apartment had  damaged the carpets. While the Morgans had asked for new carpets before moving in, the co-op refused.Then when the family moved out, the co-op sued them in absentia without counsel for more than $10,000 to replace the carpets, clean the suite and for various repairs. The Morgans were bankrupted as a result.

Under the Residential Tenancy Act (RTA), a tenant could file for arbitration over repairs and damages with the Residential Tenancy Office (RTO). However, the Co-operative Association Act provides no such process. It allows co-op housing complexes to set their own rules, and there’s no outside office to help a resident in need. A co-op member could get a lawyer, but good luck trying to find one that can represent you, especially if you can’t afford it.

Geoffrey Dabbs and Grant Haddock, along with Robert Fenton, are Vancouver lawyers who specialize in co-op housing and applicable laws. Dabbs says they are all the best in the city. But, in many instances, they act exclusively for the co-ops and not individual members. Haddock acknowledges the problem of too few lawyers working in this area.

Recently, I moved out of the View Court Housing Co-op in central Vancouver. The majority of people that live there are white, middle class, able-bodied people. In 34 suites, there is one resident who is a person of colour.

Tolerance is not a way of life in this co-op. One resident, Susan, complained that I closed my cupboard doors too loudly and tried to prescribe how and when I ought to be using them. She also complained that a previous tenant washed his dishes too loudly. Another, Kari, complained that residents were closing the building’s front door too loudly. Surprisingly (or not), the co-op board of directors supports these sorts of complaints. In the past, the co-op evicted someone for minor noise. Some co-op members also wanted to expand the noise policy to include when residents could cook or use exercise machines. Other co-op members want to tell residents when and where they can park their bikes.

While I lived there, the former co-op maintenance co-ordinator entered my apartment on at least three occasions without any notice. He just unlocked the door and walked in for no apparent reason while I was home. Who knows how many other times he did that when I wasn’t there.

These are just a few examples of bad practices in co-ops in the Lower Mainland. Most of them would not be condoned under the RTA and could be disputed at the RTO with impartial arbitrators at little cost.

Co-op housing might seem attractive from a distance but the underlying reality may not prove to be true.

This article first appeared in The Source, Vol. 10 No. 18, May 5-19, 2009, p 1-2.

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About Kerry Hall

Journalist
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5 Responses to Co-operative Woes

  1. kerryhall says:

    Submitted by Jacqueline Martin Kent, Friday, June 12th, 2009:

    I am commenting on the article Co-operative Woes. It could have been written from most co-ops.

    Joseph Kary, a lawyer in Toronto wrote an excellent piece on just the subject of woes in co-ops. Unlike a lot of lawyers with his expertise in co-op housing law, he is for the members.

    On May 20, 1995, An investigation into non-profit housing was published by the Toronto Star, on a program that will cost Ontario Taxpayers $1 billion a year future stories will look at the players, the problems and the solutions.

    Being involved with a social organization, I heard the worker say to the client “do not get involved in a co-op, some of my clients have and they had a terrible time.

    Your neighbours being your landlord and also thinking they are on the throne ruling the place and making life hell for those they don’t like, people who frequently would not be important outside the co-op perimeters.

    However, the worse is making up their own rules and/or by-passing the Corporations Act and the F.S.C.O. saying that they see this but can’t be involved with the day to day management of the co-op.

    It was interesting reading your article but a little disheartening to realize it is all over in co-ops near and far. An ideal form of housing that turned on itself.

    • goodmoon123 says:

      Kerry Halls ‘Co-operative Woes’ looks like another real life Co-op Housing Horror Story.

      In the 2012 Winter Edition of Maisonneuve Magazine a feature investigative report about fear and manipulation at the Jackson Avenue Co-operative in Vancouver, BC. was published. Former and current tenants say the group that govern the Co-op evicts residents arbitrarily and uses so-called Christian faith like a wepon against residents.

      A lead into the article is posted at openfile.ca:
      http://tinyurl.com/72p6oj5

      Co-op Housing Information Exchange (“CHIE”)
      Co-operation can lead to success through sharing Free knowledge, learning and then understanding! CHIE is a self-help Site that is yours to discover.

      Learn about and adopt Principled Leadership, Good Governance and Management practices. Review Internal Controls, Fraud detection and prevention. Learn about Co-op Stakeholders, Governing Laws, and News Media links, etc.

      What must be required is Principled Leadership, Good Governance and Management with Accountability, Co-op Stakeholders should not accept anything less. Follow your CHIE, not a failed Status Quo. The culture of silence at member Co-ops needs to end that Surround the practice of poor or bad governance and management.
      http://cooperative123.multiply.com

  2. H. Nickerson says:

    My family and I lived in a co-op for over two decades. We were never in arrears, we all participated in the co-op. However, we suffered from harassment for minor things. Like speaking too loudly while sitting outside. We were called before the board for the smallest of infractions, I had recently found out I had cancer and this was a shock to all my relatives who gathered at our unit to discuss this matter with our children and ourselves. We sat outside, I should mention my husband has a hearing disability and since my chemo I am hard of hearing. This is not good if your neighbour doesn’t like you, the simple act of a voice carrying across the parking lot can get you an eviction notice. After all if the family participates and pays on time what else can you come up with. It depends a lot on the board of directors who may be power-tripping individuals who prior to this were of no great importance and now they feel like Hitler. At the present time I have been told the new one is Nixon. But we are gone, though I miss my unit and friends, we had no choice, no were not evicted, just tired.You have said more than enough of what is the truth behind the scenes in co-ops particularly when you have no outside source to direct your problems too and cannot afford a lawyer, though we did have one once and the co-op quickly gave us a larger unit but we were still minus our legal fees. They had tried to evict us unbeknown to us prior to, at a AGM. They just added it the agenda.

  3. co-op info says:

    Sadly this is the truth across the sector. Bully boards, questionable lawyers who back them up, The Co-op Housing Federation and the municipalities or federal government administrators have much to answer for in their shirking of their duties to the taxpayers and to member/residents. Its out of control and there appears to be no Robin Hood.

  4. Disappointed says:

    I have lived in a housing coop for a little over 5 years, and from the start it was very clear that the rules only apply when it is beneficial to a few. We had one president for over 7 years (he was on the board before we moved in), only to be removed by power hungry individuals who manipulate the bylaws and the coop act. To make a long story short..when you move into a housing coop be ready to give up your rights.

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