Saturday, September 30, 2017

Yom Kippur 2017

If my late mother knew I was writing a Yom Kippur  blogpost on Yom Kippur, she would be horrified. After all, I grew up in a house where we not only did not do any work on this special holiday, we didn't use electricity or even tear toilet paper. Really!

However, although I am not a religious, God-fearing Jew, I do like to observe many Jewish holidays, and especially Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. While some have compared it to Catholic confession, with a full day of day of prayer and fasting thrown in, it is also a time to reflect on the past year, and especially the sins one may have committed and things one regrets. It is also a time to resolve to live a better, more compassionate and caring life in the year to come.

One of the prayers recited during Kol Nidre on the eve of Yom Kippur goes like this:

I hereby forgive all who have hurt me, all who have done me wrong, whether deliberately or by accident, whether by word or by deed. May no one be punished on my account.

As I forgive and pardon fully those who have done me wrong, may those whom I have harmed forgive and pardon me, whether I acted deliberately or by accident, by word or by deed. 

So let me say directly to any of you who I may have wronged, I do truly apologize. I especially apologize to those of you who may have been upset by something I said or did in a face to face encounter, or through social media. After all, so many of my interactions these days are via Facebook and Twitter! 

At a time when organized religion continues to create so much misery in the world, it is somewhat uncomfortable to write about a religious occasion. However, Yom Kippur is a day for reflection, and I wanted to share these thoughts with those of you who visit this blog. 

May you too be inscribed in the Book of Life and have a happy, healthy and peaceful year to come.

Opinion: So you want to liquidate your aging condo building… Vancouver Courier September 28, 2017

     I have been wanting to write the following column for some time, ever since I learned that the law was changed with respect to condominium wind-ups.
     This is a difficult issue, since in many instances it makes a lot of sense to replace well-located older condo projects in need of repairs, with new, higher density housing. Furthermore, the owners generally receive considerably more than they would selling their individual units on the market, often twice what the units are worth.
     At the same time, it does not seem fair to those owners who simply do not want to sell and move. Also, when the realtor comes knocking on the door, considerable dissension within the strata often results between those owners who want to sell, and those who want to stay.
     There is much more to be said on this topic, especially now that the first projects are going through the courts, but in the meanwhile, I hope this provides a good, and understandable overview, especially for those who may find themselves in this predicament, or know others who are.
     Thanks to my editor at the Vancouver Courier for including this column in the print edition. I have had many positive comments and will be doing a follow up interview with Jill Bennett at CKNW tomorrow (Sunday) morning at 7:45.

Some condominiums are now being viewed as redevelopment sites
      Do you live in a well-located older condominium complex in need of extensive repairs? Have you been thinking of buying into an older condominium complex, or know someone who is? Read on.
      Although condominium legislation was first approved in the late 1960s, it was not until the early 1970s that condominium developments were built in Vancouver. While many early projects continue to provide wonderful accommodation, others have been poorly maintained and require significant repairs, often costing more than the homes are worth.
      Other projects are in locations ripe for redevelopment, making them two times or more valuable as vacant sites.
      Until November 2015, an older condominium development could not be wound up or liquidated without the approval of 100 per cent of the residents. While a few projects were sold to developers with unanimous approval, many sales did not proceed because one or more residents did not want to sell.
      After all, these were their homes. Many were elderly and wanting to live out their final days in the apartment they had enjoyed for 40-plus years.
      However, in November 2015, Bill 40 received royal assent from the British Columbia legislature. It amended the Strata Property Act with respect to the winding up of a condominium project.
The Bill 40 amendments resulted in two important changes. The threshold required to terminate a strata development was reduced from 100 per cent to 80 per cent of the strata’s eligible voters. Secondly, when there was not unanimity, the strata must apply for a court order to provide some protection for dissenting owners.
      Since the legislation was passed, it seems like every older condominium along a major road or near SkyTrain has a realtor knocking on the door. Increasingly, strata corporations are considering a potential windup and sale. Sadly, this is also causing major strife between those wanting to sell, and those wanting to stay.
      Increasingly, legal firms are specializing in this aspect of property law.
      In March 2017, the B.C. Supreme Court approved the first sale of a condominium complex. Although owners of two of the building’s 30 units previously voted against selling the building, no one was in court to oppose the sale.
      I’m told another 10 projects are now going through the court process. However, in some cases, the dissenting owners are hiring their own lawyers to challenge the majority decision.
      A key issue for many owners is how the proceeds from a sale will be distributed.
Three different formulas could apply depending on when the project was built. They are unit entitlement, interest on destruction, or B.C. Assessment valuation. A strata corporation may also create its own custom-made formula through unanimous vote.
      Unit entitlement is the number assigned to each strata lot that determines its share of common property and assets, and is used to calculate strata fees and special levies. It is generally based on size, not value. However, if a project was developed in the 1970s, this is the formula that was used to distribute proceeds if a building burned down.
      For those projects developed in the 1980s or 1990s, prior to registration of the strata plan, a schedule of “Interest on destruction” was prepared. This set out the value of a strata unit compared to the whole building, usually based on its initial sales price in relation to the total sales prices.
      For more recent projects developed under the current Strata Property Act, B.C. Assessment values are to be used to determine each unit’s share of the proceeds in the event a building is destroyed.
      However, there is a problem using B.C. Assessment’s valuations, since for many projects, they have been found to be skewed and inconsistent.
      Furthermore, since so many condominium projects are now being viewed as redevelopment sites, B.C. Assessment no longer values their units based on current use. Rather, they are valued as part of a future vacant redevelopment site.
      Consequently, property taxes are rising significantly, even though the buildings may need extensive repairs. While many planners, realtors, and developers may view this as a good thing, it is not for those wanting to stay in their homes.
      It’s time for a public conversation on this.

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Opinion: Are you prepared for a flood or earthquake in Vancouver? Vancouver Courier September 11, 2017

A "Quake Cottage" was set up at city hall in 2015 to allow people to experience what an earthquake might be like. Columnist Michael Geller would like to see an earthquake simulator exhibit set up at a venue such as Science World.

Forest fires and hurricanes highlight importance of disaster planning 

Hurricane Harvey brings catastrophic floods to Houston. Crews battle large wildfire near Peachland. Irma takes aim at U.S. — six million Floridians flee home.  Mexico recovering from deadly 8.1 earthquake.

      Floods, fires, hurricanes, earthquakes. So much misery around the world.  Is this the result of global warming? What if this happened in Vancouver?
While Vancouver may not be prone to hurricanes and forest fires, we are certainly susceptible to flooding and earthquakes.
      A June 2016 story in the Richmond News reported on a review of future flood scenarios by the Fraser Basin Council. It revealed that Richmond and municipalities upstream are extremely vulnerable to flooding as sea levels continue to rise, glacier runoff becomes more pronounced, and the potential for more extreme storms increases.
      Unless a comprehensive flood management plan is put in place, the council estimates a major flood would result in economic losses of $20-30 billion, making it the costliest natural disaster in Canadian history.
      It is not just Richmond and the Fraser Valley that are susceptible to flooding. Rising sea levels could threaten many parts of Vancouver.
      As someone who lives on an island in the Fraser River, I often think about flooding. But since my house was designed and built well above the Flood Construction Level, I don’t expect it to be affected by rising sea levels in my lifetime.
      However, I do foresee a day when I may not be able to get off my island because neighbouring Southlands will be under water.
      Given what has been happening in Houston and Florida, this may be a good time for Vancouver residents to consider Benjamin Franklin’s axiom that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.
      A good place to start is the City of Vancouver’s website on how to minimize the dangers of flooding.
      While the danger of flooding is real, so are the consequences of an earthquake.
      I have never been in an earthquake, but in 2007 I experienced one in the Earthquake House exhibit at the Museum of New Zealand in Wellington.
      This display simulates a 6.6-magnitude aftershock from an actual 1987 earthquake. It is frightfully realistic. While you are sitting in a house, it suddenly starts to shake. Pictures start crashing off the walls, furniture tips over, and the sound of breaking glass is deafening.
       When the shaking stops, an urgent news bulletin interrupts regular TV programming. New Zealand’s version of Peter Mansbridge appears on screen to report on what is happening. Live video reveals the devastation around the city, including collapsed buildings, bridges and a pending tsunami.
The exhibit offers visitors a compelling reminder to ‘quake-safe’ their homes. Indeed, when I returned to Vancouver, I removed heavy glass-framed pictures from above our beds and prepared an emergency kit.
      I would urge Vancouver officials to create a similar exhibit in the Vancouver museum or science centre.
      In 2015, a “Quake Cottage” earthquake simulator was set up in a parking lot at Vancouver city hall to mark Emergency Preparedness Week in Canada that year. The Insurance Bureau of Canada partnered with Vancouver and other municipalities to have a California company transport it to Metro Vancouver.
      Watching the recent flood and fire evacuations on TV, I am sure I was not the only one wondering how Vancouver would respond in the event of an emergency.
      Fortunately, Metro Vancouver has undertaken considerable planning in this regard. There is an Emergency Operations Centre (EOC), a fortified bunker-like structure in Hastings-Sunrise. You can read about other emergency preparedness measures here.
      The City of Vancouver also has a website here.
It urges every household to prepare an emergency plan so each family member understands what to do if there is an earthquake or other disaster.
      Households should also have an emergency kit including food, water, and extra clothing, to be self-sufficient for at least 72 hours following a major emergency since city services will be affected.
I would add: put some cash in your emergency kit since ATM machines will probably not be working, check insurance policies now, not later, keep slippers under your bed so you don’t have to step on broken glass, and get in the habit of not letting your gas tank get too empty.
      The recent spate of hurricanes and fires is not the result of climate change. But due to climate change, hurricanes and major floods are expected to increase in magnitude and frequency.  There is a role that community planners must play. But that’s another story for another day.