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Okanagan senior fighting to keep condo strata from becoming 55+ only

Toni Russell is concerned about the impact to her financial future
Toni Russell holds up a copy of Bill 44, which removed the ability for stratas to ban rentals or use 19+ age restrictions. Now the strata at Cherry Lane Towers where she lives is trying to turn the condo complex into a 55+ community. (Brennan Phillips - Western News)

After the provincial government took away much of the legal authority of strata councils to impose rental restrictions, in November, unintended consequences are starting to pop up and affect a wide range of B.C. residents.

One of those impacted by these changes is Penticton resident Toni Russell.

At age 70, Russell lives in the Cherry Lane Towers on Atkinson Street, a formerly 19+ rental-free condominium strata complex.

However, the relaxation of rental restrictions is allowing for strata councils like the one at Cherry Lane Towers to try and bypass the new rules by adopting a 55 and over residency rule exemption.

And, the strata for Russell’s apartment building is one that is looking to take advantage of that loophole, in order to hold a vote on Jan. 25 to bring in the age restriction.

“This is an emotional choice,” said Russell. “This is a condo. If you want to be in a place where no one younger can live, sell and move to a retirement home.”

The changes to the strata act removed the ability for strata to forbid rentals and removed the ability to set any age restriction for strata outside of 55+ designations.

“I don’t want this place to become [a 55+]. If I die, my son is 46. That means if this happens he can’t move in for nine years. If I were to die in two years, my daughter could move in, because her husband would be 55 even if she isn’t, and they could tell their kids to go fly a kite,” said Russell. “But they won’t do that.”

READ MORE: Okanagan strata councils seek how to maintain rental controls

Russell noted that most of the towers are currently occupied and that if people in the towers were concerned about allowing renters, then all they needed to do was to keep a hold of their place. She added that there was nothing that is forcing people to sell or rent.

However, it is not just the Cherry Lane Towers that Russell is worried about. If she were to move to another condo, she is concerned that the same situation will play out again.

“Are they all going to go 55+ plus when you’ve spent $350,000, $500,000? Who’s to say that Strata isn’t going to one week later after I bought and paid for it, make it 55 plus and there goes my money again down the toilet,” Russell said. “That’s if I can sell this place. If our development turns into a 55-plus community, then it restricts the buyer pool, because how many seniors can get a mortgage these days?”

To back up her arguments and to hopefully sway the other residents of the Cherry Lane Towers her way, Russell went to a local realtor and her financial manager, who both wrote letters stating that a 55+ property is harder to sell and often sells for much less than other non-limited properties.

She hopes that with more attention, either the strata will back down or be defeated at their vote on Jan. 25, or the provincial government will deal with the 55+ loophole.

“The province can back up and fix that. Go ahead and eliminate it, that would be perfect,” said Russell.

According to information presented around Bill 44, the B.C.Government created these changes as a way to address affordability, target speculators and protect renters.

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Brennan Phillips

About the Author: Brennan Phillips

Brennan was raised in the Okanagan and is thankful every day that he gets to live and work in one of the most beautiful places in Canada.
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