A New Roof

Once upon a time a townhouse complex realised the roof was showing signs of wear.

The strata council hired a roofing expert to examine the roof.

The expert told the strata council they needed to put on a new roof as soon as possible.

The strata council thanked the expert and hired a different company to put on a nice new roof.

All the owners lived happily for the next 25 years.

This is a true story, but it wasn’t quite so simple. What made it more complicated?

Democracy. Here’s what I mean, but I should warn you that I’m going to ask you to vote yes in the Transit Referendum. Only fair.

After renting homes for several years, Leanne and I were able to buy a townhouse in Burnaby about 10 years ago (with the help of our parents, of course). Later, in 2007, when we bought what is now Hammond Forever House from Leanne’s mom, the terms were so favourable that we have been able to keep the townhouse as a rental property.

The tenants pay for the Vancity Credit Union mortgage payments every month as the value of the townhouse goes up. It’s a lovely scenario, but even townhouses need roofs sometimes (who knews?)

By the way, it is the townhouse that makes it possible for us to borrow $150K from Vancity to renovate. Will that pay for the entire reno? Nope. Ridgewater Homes is going to help us hold up the house and dig a deeper basement, extend the addition at the back and add a dormer on the top floor, but the wiring and all the finishing will be left for us to do.

A key element that is also not covered in our Ridgewater contract is the heating and ventilation system. We plan to invest in a super-insulated envelope first and then see what we can afford in terms of heat. It sounds crazy, but we’ve survived one (admittedly mild) winter with no furnace in a draughty house, I think we can do it again.

I’m just not willing to give up my dream of a sustainable home over a little cash-flow problem!

Okay, back to the townhouse complex that needed the new roof.

As you may know, many apartment buildings and townhouses are run by strata corporations which consist of all the owners together. A strata council is elected from among the owners to make decisions, but some decisions need all the owners to vote.

The strata council of our complex, being on the ball, hired a roofing expert who determined that we needed a new roof. The owners received notice about a Special General Meeting to vote on whether to pay for a new roof via a special levy above and beyond our monthly strata fees.

At the meeting, the roofing expert explained that there was a risk that the roof would leak in the coming winter and water damage would be more expensive. He noted a few key mistakes or shortcuts that had been made when the roof was originally installed which had caused the roof to wear out more quickly.

The strata council explained we would each pay a special levy according to the size of our unit, but we had to vote on it.

In the discussion that followed the expert was criticized and accused of exagerating the issue–in spite of the fact he had nothing to gain (he would not be hired to do the work). The strata council was accused of wasting owners’ money by replacing the roof too early. Filled with mistrust, a majority of owners voted against the special levy.

That’s right, they voted no. They wanted to stick it to the man.

The council, who are really just a few owners who are willing to volunteer and steward our common property, were flabergasted. The roof remained as it was for another winter. Another special resolution notice was given out for another meeting.

At this second meeting, our president apologized for presenting the roof levy as “a fait accompli” at the last meeting (foreshadowing the BC Liberals apologizing for how the HST was introduced to the public). Luckily, there had been no leaks over the winter, but hey, we needed a new roof.

A few owners started raising their doubts as they had done before. They were upset they would have to pay between 2 and 3 thousand dollars. Motions were introduced to allow owners to pay in installments. I was trying to figure out why they thought the council, who would also have to pay the levy, was trying to scam them.

Finally, one of the most vocal owners accused the president of the council of being “a dictator”. That was it for me.

I told the owners that no matter what a few owners think, this was a simple good-news story. I remember saying something like:

“Before any leaks have occured, an expert has told us we need a new roof. We paid him for his opinion and if we don’t listen to him, why did we hire him? Calling anyone here a dictator is ridiculous. Now we have a chance to improve the re-sale value of every unit and prevent costly leaks.”

“Please vote yes.”

And thank goodness a majority did vote yes and now the townhouse has a new roof, we have great tenants, and hopefully the owners recognize the value of the investment.

Yay us.

Our current regional transit system has been called the best in North America, but we have had experts advising us for decades to invest more and give people more options to get around. Of course nobody wants to. Some people seem to be saying that the government should pay and leave taxes alone, not understanding that the government gets its money from taxes.

I think the Transit Referendum we are voting on right now is just as simple as my new roof story.

1. Experts tell us we need better Transit infrastructure (not just one, many experts in many fields) and so does our own experience (even the staunchest ‘no’ advocates get this)
2. Our government (or the Mayors’ Council playing the part of the government) listens to the experts and proposes a way to pay for it. (Instead of basing the amount on how big your unit is, it is to be based on how much you spend on PST taxable items. The idea is these are “descretionary” items like cigarettes, gas, alcohol, etc. so people with lower incomes who benefit from transit more will pay less, and people with higher incomes will pay more and be encouraged to drive less.)
3. We ask our questions and then we vote yes.

Democracy works best when we consider carefully the choice before us and the opinion of experts we have paid to give us good advice.

If we don’t listen to the experts, why did we hire them?

Published by

James Rowley

James lives in Maple Ridge, BC, Canada with his amazing partner, Leanne Koehn, and their two amazing kids in their beautiful house. He studied Science and English Literature at the University of British Columbia where he met Leanne. He also studied acting for a while at Studio 58 in Vancouver. He works as a teacher of English and curriculum writer for new Canadians.

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