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 Updated February 8th, 2001 
 
 
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Stuck between rot and a hard place

By David Carrigg (editor@richmond-news.com)

Some leaky condo owners are hiding their rot in a bid to stop assessors from slashing the value of their homes.

David Highfield, Vancouver area assessor for B.C. Assessment, said owners in many cases are agreeing through their strata councils not to reveal to assessors that their homes are leaking.

"Folks looking for finances to help repair their building want to use their assessment notice to qualify for financing, and if we reduce their assessment, it reduces their ability to borrow to fix their building," Highfield said. "Itís a bit of a Catch-22 situation."

B.C. Assessment uses information from the city and the Coalition of Leaky Condo Owners, which lists 252 leaky properties in the city, to determine whether condos are leaky. But Highfield admitted buildings have likely been missed.

Some leaky condo strata groups have refused to provide assessors with engineering reports, even though their buildings are covered in tarps.

"In that situation itís very difficult for us to determine what the discount should be on that property because we donít enforce the penalty powers under the assessment act."

Highfield said if it becomes obvious the year after a valuation that the assessed building is leaky, B.C. Assessment will apply to court to have the valuation changed. The value of a leaky condo is determined by market price minus the cost of repairs, usually decided among condo owners through their strata corporations.

James Balderson, spokesman for COLCO, said the group tries to get strata corporations to be honest in disclosure, but he admits owners worry about the stigma associated with leaky condos. "Our research shows it goes all the way back to the early 1980s when a strata group in a high-priced South Vancouver condo entered a confidentiality agreement with the developer in exchange for money for repairs."

Provincial law now makes it illegal for owners of leaky condos not to disclose the information when theyíre selling their properties.

"Our position is if the building has leaks and rots, then thatís a fact. Make it public, fix the building, fix it right and letís go on," Balderson said.

Highfield said that every January, when assessment notices are sent out, leaky condo owners contact his office to complain.

"We have very few phone calls from people angry we valued their leaky condo too high," Highfield said. "We have a high level of phone calls from very assertive folks saying, ĎWhy did you reduce my assessment? I donít want it reduced.í

"We explain that they cannot come in and argue for higher assessment because their building is leaking. Itís a strange situation."

Len Visser, a realtor with Century 21, said condo sales are picking up in the Lower Mainland because prices have dropped substantially due to bank foreclosures on owners unable to afford the cost of repairs.

"In some cases, condos are going for about 50 per cent less than original selling prices," Visser said.

ó Vancouver Courier

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