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Discount-price condos were to be sold only to first-time buyers; 13 sued for buying when they didn't qualify

Civil suits filed by B.C. Housing allege 13 of the units at Vivid at the Yates on Johnson Street went to people who already owned property, or who rented out their units instead of living in them.

One of the purchasers of a unit in a downtown building subsidized for first-time homebuyers already owned six single-family homes in the Victoria area worth more than $7 million, says a civil suit filed by B.C. Housing.

It’s one of several lawsuits filed by B.C. Housing against 13 people who bought condos in Vivid at the Yates at 845 Johnson St.

The 20-storey tower was built as part of a pilot project for B.C.’s affordable home-ownership program to give middle-income residents an opportunity to buy homes at below-market rates, the lawsuits say.

The province provided a low-interest $52.9-million loan to Chard Developments to finance construction, which allowed the developer to pass savings on to buyers.

Units were subsidized by B.C. Housing and sold to purchasers for an average of 12 per cent below market rates.

The program required that buyers have a household income of under $150,000 per year, not own property anywhere in the world, and live in the unit as a primary residence for at least two years.

When construction of the building finished in 2021, David Eby, then attorney general and minister responsible for housing, touted the project as an example of government working with the private sector to create affordable housing for people who might not otherwise be able to own a home.

But civil suits filed by B.C. Housing allege 13 of the building’s 135 units went to people who already owned property, sometimes multiple homes, or who rented out their units instead of living in them.

In the lawsuits, B.C. Housing calls the conduct of buyers who applied for and bought a subsidized condo, never lived in it, and refused to return the unit to B.C. Housing for the price paid “egregious and reprehensible.”

Those being sued include a retiree, a scientist, a server, an insurance broker and a real estate agent who earned tens of thousands of dollars in commission on units that are now part of B.C. Housing’s lawsuits. They paid between $300,840 and $479,320 for their units.

One of the owners facing a lawsuit co-owns a $1.7-million home in Nanaimo that appears to be operated as a small hotel. Another told B.C. Housing they use their unit when they visit Victoria for work “as staying in a hotel can be expensive,” the lawsuit says.

Another owner listed their unit in September 2022 for $122,640 more than they paid for it after B.C. Housing served them with a lawsuit. The listing said “a quick close was needed,” court documents say.

B.C. Housing is suing real estate agent Janet Yu, claiming she “realized significant personal profit” by acting as an agent for multiple purchasers in the building. Yu also bought a unit, the suit says, despite owning or co-owning properties worth more than $2.8 million.

Yu earned more than $52,000 in commissions on 12 units, including her own, the lawsuit says. It accuses her of giving clients incorrect advice regarding their obligations under the affordable home-ownership program, saying nearly everyone she represented also failed to comply with eligibility requirements.

B.C. Housing is seeking the return of commissions Yu received and the return of her unit’s title in exchange for the price she paid, as well as all rental income earned from the condo and damages.

In a response to the civil claim, Yu said she purchased the unit at fair market value and did not personally profit by acting as realtor. She said the unit has been her primary residence since she purchased it.

Yu said English is not her first language and her understanding of it is limited. She was never provided any evidence that the condo she bought had a greater market value, she said in her response.

Yu said by phone Tuesday she won’t be commenting while the case is before the courts.

B.C. Housing is seeking the return of titles for the units in question in exchange for the original price paid, plus rental income earned and punitive damages.

Housing Minister Ravi Kahlon said in an interview Tuesday that it was the responsibility of the developer to vet buyers for units in Vivid at the Yates. The province first became aware of concerns that some owners were not living in the units in 2021 through an audit by B.C. Housing, he said.

The province started reviewing every purchaser to confirm their incomes and whether they were living in the units, he said. It raised those concerns with Chard, which hired an independent third party to monitor compliance, he said.

Some owners had declared only a portion of their income and were hiding other income in real estate corporations, or did not declare all incomes in the household, Kahlon said.

Five owners identified through a review as skirting the rules returned their units when asked, he said. Those who refused face legal proceedings.

Vivid was the only project in the pilot and the affordable home-ownership program has been “completely reformed” with a different structure and more stringent rules, Kahlon said.

Initially brought in under a B.C. Liberal government, the program had few rules when it was launched, he said.

The province now partners mostly with not-for-profits and requires two years’ worth of tax records from buyers, he said. Buyers must have lived in B.C. for at least 12 months before purchasing under the program.

Under the revamped affordable home-ownership program, B.C. Housing takes out a second mortgage assigned to eligible buyers of 10 per cent or more of the purchase price, which lowers the monthly mortgage payments for buyers.

Kahlon said it’s infuriating to see people abusing a program that’s intended to support first-time buyers.

“In this case, it was clear we had a bunch of investors who decided to take an opportunity to make money at the expense of people who are desperately trying to get into the home-ownership space,” Kahlon said.

Byron Chard, president and CEO of Chard Developments, said in an emailed statement the company would not be commenting because the issue is before the courts.

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