Henry Yao was shocked after seeing dozens of Richmondites trapped in a tough situation that his friends had been through 20 years ago.
The Richmond News published an article on Dec. 20, 2019, titled "Richmond condo leaseholders forced to pay $40,000 each for renos." The renovation bill is causing panic among seniors and lower-income families who live at 6420 Buswell St.
"When I read the article, I was thinking, are you kidding with me? Shouldn’t the government have already stepped in and brought a new law to protect leaseholders?" said Yao, a community advocate who started an online petition to force the provincial government to enact laws for leaseholders.
Yao, who lives in Richmond, said the petition rose out of frustration that nothing has been done over the past few years to help people who can’t keep up with the skyrocketing local housing market and choose a more affordable way to live.
One of Yao's close friends was overjoyed after purchasing a leasehold property in Richmond. But his dream home turned into a nightmare four years later when he was slapped with a $40,000 bill - something most local families aren't able to afford, said Yao.
Landlords usually offer 24 or 48 monthly payments with a fixed interest rate for people who can't come up with a lump-sum amount at once. However, these options aren't that helpful either.
"For example, a $40,000 bill could translate into monthly payments that range from $900 to $1,800. These fee hikes are particularly challenging for seniors and people living with disabilities.
"To add salt to the wound, the investment made in the renovations will add value to a property that only belongs to the property owner, not the leaseholders - they don't own the land their home sits on, but the right to occupy a place for a certain period," said Yao.
To make things worse, most banks and credit unions are hesitant to lend money to leaseholders, so they are stuck in unfortunate situations, added Yao.
This online petition, called Left Stranded: Time for a Law to Protect Leaseholders, can be found at change.org. It has also been forwarded to the premier and other provincial officials, the Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing and the Attorney General.
The petition aims to bring the provincial government, landlords and leaseholders all to the table to establish a law to protect the rights of leaseholders.
Meanwhile, Yao hopes more people will have empathy for leaseholders who are caught in this trap.
"Some people called me an 'idiot' when I launched the petition. They said to me: why didn't the leaseholders ask a lawyer to review the contract first? They should do their homework."
Yao said he agrees that home buyers need to do as much research as they can before closing a deal. Still, the challenge is most leaseholders are unaware that they are buying into an unbalanced relationship.
Also, they are among the most vulnerable population who try to find the cheapest place in an unaffordable housing market.
"In this tight housing market, each penny counts. These people who are struggling to make ends meet might not have the ability to look for a lawyer. We need to harbour more empathy and compassion for them."