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An interview with Anand Sharma where we are discussing Bill 23 and the Age Restriction changes which are happening in Alberta.
Anand has been a condominium manager for 10 years and is the president and owner of 113 West Management, a condominium management company serving Edmonton and area. He is also the president of the Canadian Condominium Institute, an association which educates and represents condominium board directors and . They are the voice of condominium across Canada.
Rafal Dyrda: Welcome to the Condo Web Show, the place where industry experts share their tips, advice, and help answer your questions so you can run a more efficient condo and spend less time in those pesky board meetings. On today's episode I'll be interviewing Anand Sharma where we will be discussing Bill 23 and the age restriction changes which are happening in Alberta. Anand has been a condominium manager for 10 years, and is the president and owner of 113 West Management, a condominium management company serving Edmonton and area. He's also the president of the Canadian Condominium Institute, an association which educates and represents condominium board directors and owners. They are the voice of condominiums across Canada. So stay tuned for today's interview.
Welcome to the show Anand, it's a pleasure having you on here. I've known you for many, many years. You're a great condo manager, you're involved with CCI. So for those people who don't know you, could you please introduce yourself, what do you do, how long have you been doing it for?
Anand Sharma: Thanks Rafal, it's a pleasure being here finally, right? My name's Anand Sharma, I'm the owner and president of 113 West Management. As well, I've been the president for CCI North Alberta for a number of years. I lead up the government advocacy committee as well. So, pleasure to be here and excited to talk about this topic.
RD: So how long have you been the president of CCI for?
AS: I've been the president for now six terms. So six years. Which has been an amazing six years, so happy to serve and continue to serve.
RD: And you know what, I'm on the board as well, and you're doing a fantastic job. I know everybody, owners, members, are really happy with what you're doing. But those that don't know what the Canadian Condominium Institute is, especially the Northern Alberta chapter, could you tell our audience what we do and how we serve the condo industry?
What is The Canadian Condominium Institute?
AS: Sure. CCI is a national organization, we're one of the chapters, North Alberta. And we've been around since 1981, so since I was born. And we are a non-profit, volunteer-based organization that works to educate condominium owners, condominium boards, industry members, through a number of courses that we offer throughout the year and seminars. A newer aspect that we've taken on is advocacy, standing up for consumer protection in particular, but standing up for condominium owners and their rights, and boards and their rights, vis a vis legislation that's been coming out. So that's a new aspect that we've taken on over the last six or seven years. So we are everything that is condominium. We are the voice of condominium, and we're the condominium connection to each other. So that is what CCI is.
RD: And recently we had a major issue in regards to age restriction in condominiums, which CCI had a huge campaign running. Could you tell us a little bit about that, because that's what we're going to be discussing at this interview?
Age Restriction in Alberta Condominiums
AS: Sure. Yeah, the history of it actually goes back a couple years. One of the MLAs locally determined that he wanted to encourage people to get rid of age restrictions in buildings because it was problematic for some of his constituents who came forward, who indicated that they couldn't find housing for children in the downtown core of Edmonton. So we had a discussion about it, but we again at that time discouraged movement of that. And it did go away.
However, recently, last year actually, Ruth Adria brought up a court challenge and it was to protect seniors who were driving from having to take driver's tests. It was thought that that was discriminatory. So it was brought before a court and the justice agreed, gave the government one year to read in age into human rights legislation.
So the problem with that of course was it was a bit of a boomerang effect for seniors, because ultimately their right to live in an age-restricted condominium was potentially being taken away. Which is certainly not the intention I think of people like Ruth Adria who fought all their lives for seniors protections. So certainly that issue emerged.
And we were asked what do we think about it. And so we started to consult our members. So this is where the issue came from, a judicial kind of decision. The government had one year to act, and then we had obviously some other groups pushing very hard politically to eliminate the right of owners to live in age-restricted condominiums.
What is CCI's Stand on Age Restriction in Condos in Alberta?
RD: Okay. And where does CCI stand on this?
AS: So, CCI, first we started off with some consultation on the issue because we wanted to know what our members and what the general public in condominium thought about this. Hugh Willis, who's our co-chair in the government advocacy, led off with a number of forums across the city of Edmonton and in the suburban communities to ask, what do owners and boards and individuals think about age-restrictions in condominiums.
And the overwhelming response, and Hugh always talks about this, of the 400 or 500 people there was maybe a handful who did not like the fact that condominium corporations had the right to self-determination using 75% of owners in the typical threshold of a special resolution. You know, a very small group of people opposed that ability or the ability of the developer to set the character of the building in the development stage. So there was very few people who opposed, and in fact, overwhelming support to allow that restriction to continue. And people, even at the moment early on in the consultation, were indicating, what can we do about this issue? What can we do to convince the government and others that we should have this right?
So we had public forums. And then the thought process was, we only managed to get out to about 500 people, which is still pretty good, but we did a survey through our CCI organization. We sent it out first to our members and then to the general public. And we had within a short period nearly 1400 responses to a fairly in depth questionnaire as to what people thought. And more than 75%, Rafal, indicated that they were in support of age restrictions being allowed in condominiums.
So from our perspective there was overwhelming sentiment. And that wasn't just people living in age-restricted condominiums, that was also people who were not living in age-restricted condominiums. They wanted that right to exist. And again, it's around self-determination for their community. Because condominiums are unique, I will say this, they're a corporation but they're also a community. So it's unique in that people, this is where they live, and they want to be able to live in a place that they feel safe, that the rules that they live in are comfortable for them. And they're willing to give up some of those rights as well to live in a condominium community. And that's what that balance was.
RD: So you did survey members, you got in the condo industry 1400, was it?
AS: 1400 people responded.
RD: So that's a huge number, right?
AS: In a short period, yeah.
RD: Because not a lot of people are really involved in condos. Even though they live in condos, they think that everybody's going to take care of their problems, they want everything to be taken care of, they don't want any responsibility, they don't want to make any decisions.
Age Restriction Survey Results
RD: So when you got that feedback you probably made a stand, and did anybody attack you personally that you were anti-children in condos?
AS: Oh, yeah. So after we took that position, and I just want to add one more thing, I mean, CTV and some of the news outlets also did a survey on this issue and the numbers were very similar. 75% in their survey also indicated that people should have the right to determine in condominium whether they'd be allowed age restrictions. And the feedback was intense. A lot of letters from owners and individuals saying, "What can we do?" So yeah, CCI took a public position saying we believe that condominiums should be exempt, and we outlined the reasons why.
And the other side of the coin was a small group of people, the Child Friendly Housing Coalition who were talking about how oppressed people were, particularly in the downtown core, but how this was a real systematic issue. But they didn't have statistics to back it up. We certainly hadn't heard over the number of years that finding a place for children was an issue in Alberta, and Edmonton specifically. So certainly there was a lot of emotion around the issue, which was that we were anti-children.
And so certainly I got attacked on my Facebook page, I think I posted something, a response, a question to a lawyer about some legalities around the issue. And I think within overnight there was over 110 responses, people felt very strongly about it. Even recently, I posted a happy birthday to my niece, and the immediate post after was, "Well, I'm glad you love your niece, but I wish you would love children as much in Alberta." So the rhetoric on the other side is very, very strong. And is meant to really stoke the fire on an issue that is quite complicated.
It's really easy to say that you shouldn't discriminate against children, but the complexity around that in terms of children's rights can be extended to so many segments of our society. And the other side was equating it to being anti-woman, which is also problematic because I have a number of friends who are women who don't associate being a woman as being a child-bearing role. Yes, so obviously biologically there is something there. But I think saying that is actually very anti-woman. And they equated it to things like apartheid and struggles for people. So the rhetoric was quite extreme. To talk about people's rights to survive in South Africa and to equate it to this issue, tells you how unbalances sometimes some of their approaches were in terms of trying to stoke anger over an issue that I maintain is not a significant issue in Alberta given our current climate in terms of housing.
RD: And you know what, I'll have to agree with you on that. I live in a condo downtown and we have kids. Actually, our neighbors have a three year old right across from us, our neighbors to the left just had a newborn. What I found is actually the rental apartments, the smaller ones, those are the ones that limit children. I haven't really come across a condo ... Actually, sorry, my mother-in-law's condo is age-restricted, but it's seniors, right? So I'm happy they were able to be grandfathered in and still enjoy the lifestyle that they basically signed up for.
However, yes, I think some people did take the issue a little bit to the extreme. And I'm happy that there was somebody to stand behind those current owners that decided to move into a specific type of condo because of the condo. And I think they should have every right to live in there based on what they were sold.
But you know what? If people want to find a place downtown Edmonton, I know several buildings that are, I don't know if I should say this, but maybe kid friendly. There's plenty of kids downtown. I see kids, moms and dads walking with kids, pathways, playing with balls and everything, running around, and you see that life downtown. So I think our downtown is really becoming kids focused as well, because there's a lot of things going on for families. It's not really focused on young adults, it's becoming a really family friendly and oriented place.
AS: And my position to that is, you know, they're fairly extreme positions, but there is a discussion that needs to happen. But it has to be respectful discussion. And it has to take into context the fact that people should also have choice in the residence that they live in. These are not people who are multi-millionaires who, "Oh, we don't want to deal with children," or whatever the case may be.
These are grandparents who said, you know, I had a letter from a grandmother from down south near Calgary, you know, "I loved raising my kids, but I'm at a stage in my life where I want to live in quiet and I want to be living with people in the same age group so that we can share our experiences. And I don't feel like I should be made to feel guilty of wanting to do that. I've worked really hard. I've raised my kids and they're raising their kids. I still want my grandkids to be able to visit, but at the end of the day I want them to respect the rules of this condominium." And so there was a lot of correspondence like that. A lot of emotion from our side that the argument is very simplistic to say it's just about children's rights.
How did CCI communicate their stand on the issue?
RD: So once CCI positioned itself allowing for age restriction in condos, how did you communicate this to the public?
AS: Well, it became really clear to me that our voice needed to be heard. That the public sentiment was clearly on the side of allowing in condominium for age restrictions to continue to exist. And not just 55 plus or 65 plus, there was strong support for 18 plus. So it was really important that we get that message out. We certainly touched upon it in the media. We talked to government. And then we decided to engage in a campaign, which we'll talk about, Hands Off Our Homes. And that was really the sentiment, was, these are our homes that you're talking about. This is not some idea, the conceptual idea out there. You're fundamentally going to change my home because of a lobby effort by a few, and a judicial decision that wasn't really meant to address this issue, it was meant to address an issue to protect seniors. So lots of sentiment. I had people who wanted to rally on the steps of the legislature, and I have not heard that from this community before.
RD: That's a first.
AS: Well, it excited me. It was really an interesting concept. So we had to channel that energy in a positive way. And that was to encourage people to write letters from their own perspective. We didn't want to do what the other side was doing, which is say, "Here's a cookie cutter message." We wanted people to express how they felt to their local MLA, to Minster Ganley in Justice, and to let the government know that we wanted to be exempt. We also provided a postcard campaign, and it was just meant to kind of get the word out about this issue, which we circulated to a number of condo corporations. But we did so, actually more so, on a request basis. And I ordered 10,000 postcards, Rafal, and they were gone.
RD: I remember that.
AS: And then I had to order another 10,000. And I knew there was something happening, there was a groundswell of anger and support for the position that we were taking. So that campaign just kept growing. We put it up on the website. Thank you to Rafal for helping organize that on our website. Again, we're a volunteer-based organization so this was all done kind of on the side of our desk.
And we all pulled together in a short period of time to give condominium owners, boards, industry members, an opportunity to voice their opinion before it was too late. So we were able to pull together this Hands Off Our Homes campaign, we're really proud that we were able to get that out. And one of the primary things the Minister said in her press conference announcing what the results of this process would be, was how much they had heard from condominium owners about this issue. And how that really did influence public policy.
And often you feel like you should just give up, you know, these people are pushing this issue. But know that your voice matters, and in this case directly impacted some of the decision making. That's really powerful, and it's something that we can learn in all aspects, that our voice as condominium owners and the industry is worth a lot. And I think that was reflected in this discussion. If there's a message I want to send out to owners and industry members and board members, is your voice mattered. And you should be very proud, because we were able to move the yardstick a little bit on this issue.
RD: And I would like to thank everybody that contributed, took an effort to do something about this. Actually did something instead of just sitting at home and just complaining that what does the government need to do, right? Whereas here we had an association that basically, that stood behind the owners of condos. So the campaign was successful, the Hands Off Our Homes campaign, right?
What are the outcomes of bill 23?
AS: Yeah, I think so. I mean, we didn't get what we wanted. And one of the reasons why I think we didn't get what we wanted, which was a full exemption, is because of trends across the country. It's hard when all the other jurisdiction had moved to not allow restrictions from 18 plus onwards. And we did a lot of research talking to our colleagues out in Toronto and other jurisdictions and the context is also different. That argument that every other province is doing it in a certain way, we should follow, well, you really have to look at housing patterns and history. Alberta has the oldest condominium corporation, 50 years old this year. And so from our perspective we have a long history in Alberta, and that the right to age restrictions has been afforded right from the get go. So, to throw that away was problematic to me.
Did we get everything that we wanted, Rafal? No. What we ended up getting was a 15 year extension so that current corporations that are age-restricted would have a phase out period of up to 15 years. And we were able to achieve a 55 plus exemption permanently, which would allow seniors' condominiums to continue to be seniors' condominiums as well. So that was big and that was important.
And I want to be really, really clear, the other side, the Child Friendly Housing Coalition, were really pushing against seniors, allowing them to have that restriction. The only area that they were willing to maybe give some support to was supportive housing. But certainly seniors living in 55 plus or 65 plus was not on their agenda to permit. And we had to fight very hard for that.
And again, it's thanks to our members and the general public that pushed back and we were able to mobilize them that we got these exemptions. Because if we hadn't, I'm convinced that we may have even lost those rights. So the fact that we got the 55 plus exemption and the 15 year extension for current condominium owners, I think it's good enough. The ideal would have been to exempt all age restrictions 18 plus, and that's what we were pushing for, we didn't get it. But sometimes good public policy is finding an in between solution and that's I think what the government found here. So, are we satisfied? Yes. Satisfied, yes. Are we elated? I wouldn't say we won everything that we wanted, but ...
Was the decision fair to Albertans?
RD: Do you feel it was a fair decision for all the owners and residents in Alberta?
AS: That's a tough question. I mean, I do think it was fair enough, if that's a way to put it. I don't think the other side did a very good job, in my opinion, other than emotional arguments, of outlining that this is a problem in Alberta. That there are droves of people that can not find housing throughout Alberta because they have children, I don't believe that to be true.
They often confounded the issue of affordable housing with condominium living. And what I've always said is condominium living isn't a cheap alternative. It can be, but there are condominiums, as you'll know Rafal, that are 4 or 5, 600,000 in this city, or more. So it's not necessary that condominiums are an affordable alternative. So I thought that was a really interesting approach by them. And so from my perspective, I think we got what we could get. But the fact that all the other provinces in the country had moved to some form of not allowing age restrictions I think hurt us in the long run. And I don't think we could overcome that.
RD: No. And I don't think you can combine and mix age restriction with affordable housing, right? Especially if you're talking about the core of any town or any city, values always are going to be higher than on the outskirts. So regardless if there's age restriction or not, the values are going to be higher. Like even by our place, there is a senior complex. Their properties are high as well, right? So I don't think you can really combine the two, it's a totally different issue and should be discussed in a different matter.
But you know, with all the changes going on in Alberta right now, we're going to jump to a different little topic. Bill 23 was introduced. How do you feel about it and about the changes that are coming? And sorry, for people who don't know what Bill 23 is, what is Bill 23?
What is Bill 23?
AS: So, Bill 23 is what we basically essentially just talked about, which is the government reading in human rights related to age into legislation. So that is before the legislation, it's passed the second reading currently and is expected to pass. And it does talk about the exemption for condominium, which is the only area that they have exempted for that 15 year extensions and the 55 plus in condominium living. So everything that we've talked about is now in Bill 23. So we were able to translate our lobbying and our efforts and our recruitment into a bill that we at CCI North Alberta have endorsed. Because, again, it takes our concerns into consideration.
It's not everything that we want. But it certainly is a practical solution and bridges the concerns brought by both sides. So we're happy to endorse that position. Had the restriction only been for two years for that transition period, or four or five, I don't think we would have been very satisfied. Because, again, people have made investment decisions around their homes, and then to expect them to adjust within a two to four year period is not reasonable. So I'm really glad that they moved to a 15 year model so that there's multi-decade approach to people currently living in condominium. Obviously moving forward, age restrictions is not permitted in condominiums unless it's 55 plus. So no new condominiums can be 18 plus anymore as age restrictions.
But we also, just to bring up ...
Does Bill 23 apply to rental buildings?
RD: Sorry. Does that apply to rental, residential rental buildings as well?
AS: No. So, rental buildings are going to be, the age restriction does not ...
AS: ... apply. They will not be allowed to restrict based on age. Sorry. So that's right from January 6th, I believe, onwards. Unfortunately, they weren't able to get their message out as successfully as we were. And you know, we had the backing of a number of organizations, the realtors, the home builders, we had a wide cross section, seniors advocacy organizations. So we had widespread support. And we tried to build that consensus in the greater community. And unfortunately for the landlords, they weren't able to articulate their case. So the application is across the board for them.
Is there anything else people can do about Bill 23 and Age Restriction in Condos in Alberta?
RD: So, the bill's introduced. Is there anything people can do? Should they keep on rallying to make changes? What's the next step with that?
AS: I keep getting emails, even today, "What can we do?" I mean, the issue is effectively, has been dealt with in legislation. It is still before government, and the opposition and government members can bring forward amendments. But I think the issue is fairly settled. So I think our campaign was effective.
And at this stage we kind of have to now work with and educate condominium owners in this next transition period. And that's where CCI steps in. We are offering a session on January 16th, I believe. Check out our website. Hugh Willis has agreed to chair that and he'll be talking about some other topics that we can get into in a second. But that's kind of the phase that we're at.
The rallying at the legislature, sending in postcards, while much appreciated, I think the message has been heard, the government has taken their middle approach on this issue, and it's before the legislature as we speak. So, as much as I love hearing from people, and I do, stop sending me emails saying, "What are we going to do about this?" Because the issue has kind of passed now.
Any steps condominium corporation should take right now?
RD: And we will post some information below the video about the session that CCI's going to be hosting in January. Just to wrap it up, for the time being is there anything that condo corps can do to get ready for the change that's coming up? Because they do have 15 years. Any steps that they should be taking or thinking of right now at this stage?
AS: Well, I think it's going to be really important to talk to your lawyer. Because of course, all good condo corporations have a lawyer that they work with and trust, condominium lawyer. And talk about how this bill is going to impact them if they age-restricted condominium. Especially if you're a seniors age-restricted condominium and your age restriction is 65, you're okay. What if you're 45? How does that get implemented? That kind of minutia and detail I think is best left with your condominium lawyer. But we'll certainly be working in the session that we're doing in January to address some of those issues as well. So, come out to our session and we'll be happy to address it. We're working on getting a second lawyer out as well, beside Hugh and myself. So, I'm not a lawyer, by all means. So yeah, we will definitely be working on education. We do have some time. But yeah, it's the next phase.
RD: Okay. Awesome. Well thank you. As Anand mentioned, make sure you talk to a condominium lawyer that specializes in condominium law. Condominium law is very specific, they have to be aware of the Condo Act, the regulations, and your bylaws. Because every property has its own specific bylaws. So there's a lot of things to consider. Hopefully, I hope you learned something, got some information of the changes that have been happening, the support that CCI has been supporting the condominium industry and the owners. Anand, is there anything additionally you'd like to add before we wrap it up?
AS: Yeah. Just a quick thank you to the participants, the people who wrote in, the people who came to the sessions. Hugh Willis in particular, who's Willis Law, gave of his time freely and participated every step of the way. Todd Shipley, another lawyer in the city of Edmonton, was great to consult with. Melissa Stafford as well, Stapler, sorry, with Hugh Willis' firm. So it was a group effort, and I encourage people to get involved. Because this was exciting to engage in a campaign. While it was very emotional at times, it was nice to see that we could impact public policy in the way that we have in Alberta. And it was great meeting so many condominium owners that I haven't traditionally met. So, thank you to everybody, all our members in CCI. And if you're not a member, really you should be, because these are the kinds of things that we're fighting on your behalf for.
RD: Well, thank you Anand.
AS: Thank you.
RD: I was mentioning earlier we will post a little bit of information below the website, I mean below the video. We're actually going to add a form if people are interested in joining CCI, we're going to include that.
AS: Oh, great.
RD: We're going to include some information on the coming up sessions, how you can contact the organization. And right now I would like you to thank you for joining us today.
AS: Thank you.
RD: And I hope that the session was beneficial, and I'll see you on the next episode.
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