“Morality is the judgement to distinguish right and wrong, vision to see the truth, courage to act upon it, dedication to that which is good, integrity to stand by the good at any price“
(Ayn Rand – Atlas Shrugged)
On October 5 2010 the Squamish Chief newspaper posted an articled titled “Marina Estates leaky condo owners win some, lose some“. A more accurate title might have been “Numerous Marina Estates Residents Lost Their Homes as a Result of Strata Council Negligence“. The article went on to discuss the unfortunate reality for numerous home owners who lost their homes as a result of not being able to pay their assigned levies for the Building Envelop Replacement Project. The original article in the Chief was inaccurate and biased-only one side was presented. I realized that the Chief may not have been aware of all the facts, and so I got in touch with the editor. I indicated that many of the statements by the Marina Estates strata council president (Corey Lancaster), were flat-out FALSE and in light of owners losing their homes, extremely insulting to them as well. The article implied that those who lost their homes were “unlucky” and that these building envelope repairs were “not something that anybody anticipated”. This is unequivocally FALSE, DECEPTIVE and an insult to every single owner at Marina Estates, especially those who lost their homes!
Note: Once the Squamish Chief Newspaper realized that it had previously reported on an engineering report back in 2007, they significantly re-worded the article to draw attention to the comments by Corey Lancaster and also removed the statement which implied that those owners who lost their homes were “unlucky”. Therefore the tone and focus of this post is now directed towards the statements, and conduct, of our strata council and president, rather than the Squamish Chief Newspaper. Other reports on Marina Estates in the Squamish Chief have indicated “a decade of destructive leaks“, “rot in the Marina Estates complex” and that “liens will be registered” on those owners unable to pay their levies.
What also needs to be pointed out here is that I have NOTHING PERSONAL against Ms. Corey Lancaster and I am sure she is a wonderful, kind, responsible and capable person in other areas of her life. In fact, I ran into Ms Lancaster in the elevator on July 16th 2010 and tried to carry on a polite conversation with her which I have transcribed below. What I am questioning though, is her suitability to be representing the interests of the owners in her capacity as Marina Estates Strata Council President.
Comments in the Squamish Chief by Corey Lancaster
Before I go on, one thing should be made clear. I had no intention of putting out all these embarrassing facts and details until I read the insulting and blatantly false public statements by our strata president, Corey Lancaster. Had she not made those false and insensitive statements, this particular blog would not have been written. So lets return to the Squamish Chief article and Ms Lancaster’s comments. With regards to many owners losing their homes as a result of foreclosure and an inability to pay their levies, the original version of the article in the Squamish Chief Newspaper quoted the Marina Estates President, Corey Lancaster, as saying:
“A year later it turns out some were lucky, some weren’t.”
To claim/imply that those owners who lost their homes were simply “unlucky”, is absolutely preposterous and insulting to those unfortunate (now ex) owners who lost their homes. The strata (and Ms Lancaster) knew about the reports of building envelop failure starting in 2003, the need for a total building envelop replacement as well as the huge costs associated with these repairs. During subsequent years, there were 2 more engineering reports which basically stated EXACTLY THE SAME THING – YOUR BUILDING ENVELOP IS FAILING REPLACE IT NOW. There were also numerous reports, communications and even a legal recommendation from a lawyer hired by the strata, making various recommendations to FIX THE ENVELOPE and/or take various legal steps. All of this was IGNORED by previous strata councils and only when a costly and misguided attempt to “patch” the buildings failed, and the systematic/structural failure previously reported was visibly confirmed, was there any effort taken towards actually doing what was recommended back in 2003 and subsequent years/reports!
Note: The Marina Estates Building Envelop and all reported structural damage is currently being repaired and so we will soon have a new and warrantied building which is likely to last for decades without any further problems, provided we implement the recommended maintenance plans. However, the many serious issues of misconduct, negligence, lack of transparency and mismanagement STILL need to be addressed if we hope to avoid similar problems, or costs, in the future.
Back to the article. Ms. Lancaster goes on to claim that “It’s not something that anybody anticipated – that we would have to be spending so much money…” and ““We were very, very fortunate that we had started the process and that we had hired these professionals to guide us through a completely unforeseen circumstance…”
Not anticipated and completely unforeseen? This is so remarkably insulting, false and a clear demonstration of the level of GROSS NEGLIGENCE the owners in Marina Estates are faced with. Multiple engineering reports going back as far as 2003 ALL CLEARLY INDICATE BUILDING ENVELOP FAILURE, yet nobody acted on repeated, and costly reports which all stated/recommended the same thing.
Last year, owners were faced with HUGE levies, and building damage which was around double what it was back in 2003, when previous strata councils were supposed to have acted. Back in 2003 the amount of damage, and cost for repairs, was far less than they were when we started in 2009. Also, the HPO was still in full operation back then and so it is possible, and likely, that at least some of the owners may have been able to secure funding and retain their homes. For 6 years, successive Marina Estates strata councils have intentionally and repeatedly ignored all evidence, “expert opinions” and dozens of written/documented DEMANDS, often from multiple owners, to comply with the recommendations to replace the building envelop. These are the DOCUMENTED FACTS which our strata council would like to prevent the public, and many owners, from knowing. So if these statements are indeed true and supported by reams of documentation, is it an honest and respectful statement to say now, that those owners who lost their homes were simply “unlucky” and these costly building envelop repairs were “not something that anybody anticipated“?
Presenting a Positive Public Image at Any Cost?
I can certainly understand, from a public relations perspective, the need to put on a good face, focus on the positive, the future and present our strata in the best possible light. But at what cost? Does the need to “put on a happy face” trump the moral obligation to tell the truth and show some respect to those poor unfortunate owners who lost their homes? I think not. Generally, it is fairly common knowledge that when someone fails to accept responsibility for their actions and mistakes, it is more likely that those same mistakes will occur over and over. We have seen this at Marina Estates time and time again. I am one of a number of owners who have fought relentlessly from day one, to get these repairs done. I have also amassed a huge amount of documented and irrefutable negligence on the part of numerous strata council members and property management companies which have, and are, costing the owners dearly. Not to mention various acts of misconduct and negligence which have put owners safety at risk.
Are My Statements Defamatory?
Absolutely! Defamation is the “written or spoken injury to a person or organization’s reputation”. There is little doubt that many of my statements in this post (and another) are defamatory. However, just because a statement (spoken-slander or written-libel) is defamatory does not mean it can (successful), or should, be pursued in court. A statement may have hurt your reputation, but if it was true then anyone can say it and have a good defence in a lawsuit. And even if a statement is not completely true, there are also other means of defense especially if they were made without malice and/or considered to be in the public interest.
“The defense of justification or the truth is a complete defense, and if the facts, which make up the defamatory material, are true, then a plaintiff’s action cannot succeed. The press and other media are entitled to communicate true facts. A second defense of conditional or qualified privilege occurs when the untrue and defamatory statements are fairly made by a person in the discharge of some public or private duty (whether legal, social or moral), or for the purpose of pursuing or protecting some private interest, provided such statements are made to a person who has some corresponding interest in receiving it. A third defense of fair comment protects words that are prima facie defamatory provided they are comments based on true facts made honestly without malice in reference to a matter of public interest. This defense is based upon the values of freedom of speech. No matter how prejudiced, extreme or biased the opinions are, the test is whether a fair-minded person could hold them based on the proven facts.” (Rene Larson)
Although I am somewhat familiar with a few areas of civil law, I am certainly no lawyer. But what I can say, and to the best of my current knowledge, is that everything I claim in this post, and the previous one on Dynamic Property Management are supported by (at least) the defense of “Justification” – the statements are TRUE. Basically, any defamatory statements with regards to strata council, Dynamic Property Management or Sea To Sky Fire Protection (STSFPS) are supported by documented evidence and multiple witnesses. Therefore, any attempt to pursue an action of defamation WILL (likely) FAIL. In fact I have received two “Cease and Desist” letters now with regards to this blog. The first from lawyers representing our Strata Corporation and the second from lawyers (Double Diamond Law) representing Sea To Sky Fire Prevention Services. I believe I simply ignored the first one and responded to the second one with something along these lines. Everything claimed is true and (likely) defensible by way of either/or/all “Justification (Truth)”, “Qualified Privilege”, “Fair Comment” and the new one “Responsible Communication in the Public Interest“. I also submitted a proposal to the lawyer representing Sea To Sky Fire Prevention Services offering to take down the blog, remove all defamatory comments about their clients negligent, dangerous and threatening conduct. I even offered to send a letter to those agencies contacted, indicating that STSFPS has taken full responsibility for their actions in the public interest. All they had to do was fire the employee (Shawn Huard) who trespassed, failed to complete the job, (likely) misrepresented the completion of the job, attempted to claim the job was done when it clearly was not and then refused to complete the work and uttered an implied threat “Fine, I wont do your unit and I hope you burn“. The only response I received was a formal “Intent to Sue” letter from Double Diamond which was ignored. A few weeks latter I received a final communication from Double Diamond indicating they are not going to pursue legal action on behalf of their client, Sea To Sky Fire Prevention. No surprise there, they had no legal basis for the claim and it would have been a costly and failed effort had they decided to try anyway.
Once again, I am no lawyer and so how far any of these defenses would hold up in court, may be questioned. However, what cannot be questioned, are the DOCUMENTED FACTS demonstrating GROSS NEGLIGENCE on the part of Marina Estates Strata Council, Dynamic Property Management and Sea To Sky Fire Prevention Services. In both cases of the “Cease and Desist” letters I ENCOURAGE the lawyers to collect a nice fat retainer from their clients and we can test their version (statements are false and defamatory), in court. Neither party has decided to move forward, and one (Double Diamond) has made it clear they withdraw their action on behalf of their client, Sea To Sky Fire Prevention. Remember, even if a statement is defamatory, if it is true THERE IS NO CASE/CLAIM! All of this could have been avoided and everything would go so much smoother, not to mention everyone’s best interests would be served, if only people possessed sufficient moral character to be fully, and unconditionally, honest and forthright.
What I Hope to Accomplish
So exactly what do I hope to accomplish and why have I gone public? Am I simply a “FIGJAM personality” (I had to look this up) as one person (likely an owner) claims in a comment. Or, also claimed, have my “lack of people skills” caused all of this? I wont comment further on the naive claim that my “lack of people skills created this problem“. The comment speaks for itself. However, I am more than willing, and able, to legally challenge the claim that my statements are defamatory, false and were presented with a malicious intent. If strata council believes that such an action is in the best interest of the owners, and the ONLY solution, call a Special General Meeting, take a vote and if you get 75% of the owners to agree (I believe thats the number), file your petition/claim and we will see how far you get. However, I have another suggestion which has been presented in writing and in one form or another on more than one occasion. Instead of misleading the owners or the local media; ignoring owners and numerous opportunities to resolve these issues in a manner which is in everyones best interest; withholding important information about our strata, which EVERY owner is legally and ethically entitled to; trying to intimidate an owner and threaten a costly battle that you will ultimately lose; why not consider the following alternative.
Accept responsibility for your mistakes, be open, transparent, honest and contrite, take advantage of the many documented offers to assist, obtain additional or independent management advice, and move forward with an evidence-based, SPA/PIPA compliant and rational, professional, management style respectful of, and in collaboration with, owners. This would be an approach which I believe demonstrates acting “…honestly and in good faith with a view to the best interests of the strata corporation, and exercis[ing] the care, diligence and skill of a reasonably prudent person in comparable circumstances.”
This is what I have hoped for, encouraged and requested, from the start. Yet, in spite of numerous requests to meet with strata council, offers to come to an amicable solution which was in the best interests of everyone and which would have avoided going public, the Marina Estates strata council have simply ignored all opportunities to avoid this now public and personal embarrassment.
Now back to the point. What am I trying to accomplish. Lets re-consider some of the issues/concerns:
- Owners have been subjected to gross negligence, loss of their homes, safety risks and HUGE levies to repair damage that was known for many years.
- Since 2003 there have been no less than 3 engineering reports all stating exactly the same thing – your building envelope is, or has failed, fix it NOW or you risk further structural damage and failure. These were all ignored until 2009 and hundreds of thousands of dollars spent/lost/wasted on reports and levies for failed “targeted repairs”.
- Attempts to communicate with strata council are often ignored.
- Sections of the Strata Property Act and Personal Information Protection Act are, or have been, breached.
- A formal investigation by the Office of the Privacy Commissioner is currently in progress.
- Numerous attempts/requests to meet with strata to address serious issues, and to discuss what it would take to have the blog removed, are all ignored.
- Instead of accepting any of the 4-5 meeting requests (actually required in the SPA) and offers for an amicable solution in everyone’s best interest, strata council chose to spend strata money on a lawyer to send a threatening, but baseless “Cease and Desist” letter to an owner. To my knowledge none of this has ever been presented to the owners.
- Owners have seen their property’s devalue, or they have lost their homes entirely as a direct, or indirect result of some of these issues.
- Strata council continues to withhold important strata information, legal actions, decisions and other details from owners, including a recent Supreme Court Decision which is public information.
- Strata council president, Corey Lancaster misrepresented the facts to the local media and implied that the owners who lost their homes were “unlucky”.
- Various acts of negligence on the part of strata council and Dynamic Property management have put many owners at risk, both financially and physically (potential safety issues ignored or mishandled).
If you can allow me the benefit of the doubt, and assume that my claims and the supporting documentation are REAL/TRUE, what then is an owner supposed to do in order to protect his home, and other home owners who may not be capable, or willing to speak up or take a stand? Last year both my partner and I spoke with more than one home owner, literally in tears, at the thought of losing their homes due to the levy. Unfortunately, as we already know, many did lose their homes. We also still hear from other home owners frustrated with the strata council and property management company who ignore their concerns. Yes, owners can petition the Supreme Court of Canada to force the strata council to comply with the SPA and other regulations. This option/right, and other potential legal actions, are currently being considered, if not already in the early stages.
In the mean time, since strata council is unwilling to comply with the various Acts, regulations or ethical-obligations which they are governed by, and they are unwilling to meet, discuss or resolve these issues amicably, I have made them public so that OWNERS can know more about what is going on and to protect other strata owners, especially with regards to the property management company or fire safety companies they choose.
Conversation with Marina Estates Strata Council President
Now I would like to draw attention to a very short conversation I had with our strata president, Ms Corey Lancaster. On July the 16th, 2010, I ran into our strata president, Corey Lancaster, in the elevator. I can state unequivocally that Ms. Lancaster’s body language, lack of eye-contact and overwhelming sense of emotion was palpable. I was calm, cheerful and I thought, very polite, but maybe a bit sarcastic. The MOMENT I got back to my unit I transcribed the conversation, which lasted as long as it takes for an elevator to traverse 2-3 floors. While reading this transcribed dialog between myself and Corey Lancaster, try to keep in mind what the Strata Propert Act expects as a “Standard of Care” for all council members:
“In exercising the powers and performing the duties of the strata corporation, each council member must act honestly and in good faith with a view to the best interests of the strata corporation, and exercise the care, diligence and skill of a reasonably prudent person in comparable circumstances.”
I believe I entered on the ground floor and found Ms. Lancaster already in the elevator.
(J) “Well hello Corey how are you?”
(J) “So how are you doing today?”
(J) “Not talking today are we?”
(C) “No, not to you anyway”
(J) “Well, it sure seems you have a great deal of emotion and strong feeligns towards me. I suppose those are valuable skills for managing a strata.”
(C) “Well its frustrating when people continue to misinform the owners.”
(J) “If you feel that anything I have claimed is not true, where is your evidence to the contrary?”
As we reached her floor, Ms. Lancaster started to walk away and as the elevator door closed I heard something faint along the lines of “I already sent you that” or something to that effect.
Let me be perfectly clear. Other than a “Cease and Desist” letter, there has been absolutely no constructive response from Corey, the strata council or our agent, Dynamic Property Management with regards to numerous concerns regarding SPA violations, failure to protect our privacy or address a recent privacy breach, safety issues regarding the failure to complete the sprinkler job or the appalling, risky and threatening conduct of the fire safety contractor. Nor has there been a single response to numerous offers to meet and resolve these issues amicably and in the best interests of everyone, especially the owners.
So here is my question with regards to this dialog with the president of the Marina Estates Strata Council, Corey Lancaster. Regardless of one’s personal feelings towards someone, if you are in a position of responsibility where you make decisions designed to serve the best interests of 100 or more owners, how effective can you be as a leader or decision-maker if your feelings and emotions appear to be so overwhelming that you are unable, unwilling or simply refuse to communicate with some owners? Also, does this dialog suggest that Ms. Lancaster is in any way adhering to the “Standard of Care” outlined in the Strata Property Act?
Owners Left in The Dark
Owners of the Marina Estates complex also continue to be left in the dark with regards to the goings-on at our strata, even when its GOOD NEWS! In this case, multiple attempts by the defendants (builders, engineers, DOS etc) to have our (owners) negligence claim dismissed, were DENIED. Fortunately (for the owners) court decisions are public information. I also wonder how many owners are aware of the privacy breach by Dynamic Property Management and the strata council’s failure to respond adequately or take full responsibility for putting owner privacy, and safety, at risk in spite of a formal investigation underway by the Office of the Privacy Commissioner.
In a previous post, I pointed out that earlier this year we all faced the possibility of losing our insurance certification, and a potential fire-risk, due to incompetent fire safety contractors who not only failed to complete a sprinkler replacement job, but trespassed onto our balcony without notice. This contractor tried to claim that “I think your unit was done” and then threatened me and my elderly/handicapped mother-in-law with “Fine, I won’t do your unit and I hope you burn“. This same contractor (as a result of a privacy breach) then started harassing me (email) and my partners employer (voicemail). To make matters worse, these same contractors were actually invited back to finish the job! All of this is documented, and not one response from anyone involved, other than the “Cease and Desist” letters demanding that this blog be taken down. Has anybody on council heard of the sentence structure called a “question”? Why not simply engage in a dialog and ask, straight up, “what will it take for you to remove these embarrasing blog entries?”
Publicizing our “Dirty Laundry”
Some have criticized the open publication of these strata issues. Granted, this entire situation is an embarrassment and draws a great deal of negative, and very public attention to the conduct, or misconduct, of many people. I did not take this decision lightly, not was it made in haste, or as a result of emotion. The decision to make these issues public was carefully considered, and at great length, in order to determine if the best interests of the owners, and the public, would be served. I still believe this was the “right thing to do” but of course only time will tell if in the long run, we are all better off in some way and things change for the better at Marina Estates. Other people have also commented on my desire to “do the right thing”.
“..of the people I have met outside a philosophy department, [Johnny is] one of the most concerned about doing the right thing for the right reasons. Whereas most people decide what to do on the basis of what they think will make them look good, some on the basis of what they think will convey an advantage to themselves, and some on the basis of rules they pick up unreflectingly along the way, Mr Stork genuinely deliberates about what is the best thing to do.” (Dale Beyerstein, [previous] Chair of Philosophy, Langara)
Attempts to Help and Participate
There are multiple letters, emails and other communications which repeatedly show that I tried to avoid going public. I made numerous requests, in writing, to meet and numerous suggestions as to how we could resolve many issues in the best interest of everyone involved. I have also made numerous offers to participate and assist with many areas of strata management, project management, information management and privacy protection. I have offered to hand over the marinaestates.ca domain, assist in the building and management of a “members only” web site and I believe I may have even offered to donate a “strata computer” at one point. I have offered to help create “Best Practices” manuals and to create a communications and information management infrastructure which would simplify the daunting task of maintaining all strata-related communications. For Pete’s sake, I have been working in, and providing consulting services for, many of these areas for more than 20 years! One would think that these skills and offers to assist would be of some value to the strata. Recently I have also started a Facebook Group for owners-only which could be used as a means of fostering owner/council communication and collaboration. I encourage owners to consider joining this group which is of course, ONLY available and visible to CONFIRMED owners. Do you have an opinion, or suggestion on these issues? That would be the place to start a dialog. I have also started working on a booklet/article titled “Effective Strata Management and Community Building“. I welcome input and collaboration with ANY owner. Once I have a reasonable draft of the paper, it will be posted on the Facebook Group.
In spite of dozens of offers to assist, and numerous requests to meet and resolve our differences, not one single response to any of these communications or offers for a meeting/resolution request has been received, beyond the “Cease and Desist” letters. None of my numerous offers to assist or donate time or services have been acknowledged, let alone taken advantage of. Nor have any of the numerous issues I report, been refuted with supporting evidence. Really folks, how hard can this be?
Owners Who Lost Their Homes
With regards to the 1/2 dozen (or less) owners who were forced into foreclosure (also public information-I believe-in the Land Titles Office), I can only hope they have sought legal action since they may not have lost their homes if strata council acted when they were required to act. I would be happy to provide the necessary evidence and documentation to any owner seeking legal action.
Ongoing SPA violations; refusal to communicate with owners on all strata issues; privacy issues/breaches; public misrepresentation of the facts; frivolous and baseless legal action against an owner; decisions made in secrecy by a rogue council; refusal to consider or accept numerous offers to assist from qualified owners. These are some of the issues which continue to plague our complex. There is still a chance to move past all of this and for our strata council to “do the right thing”. It only requires council to put aside their personal feelings, biases or emotions and make a rational, objective decision to do what is in the best interest of the owners, including the council members. All that is needed to move past this is for strata council to take responsibility for mistakes, communicate with owners in an open and transparent manner, comply with ALL Acts and Regulations and at the very least, FULLY comply with the standard of care set out for strata council members in the SPA:
“In exercising the powers and performing the duties of the strata corporation, each council member must act honestly and in good faith with a view to the best interests of the strata corporation, and exercise the care, diligence and skill of a reasonably prudent person in comparable circumstances.”
Why am I belaboring many of these points? After all it is in the past and we are NOW getting the building envelop repaired, right? So why not “focus on the positive” as suggested by the strata president. Simple. If mistakes, errors in judgement, negligence, flawed or corrupt management styles are not acknowledged and corrected, it is far more likely that those same mistakes, or similar mistakes, WILL BE REPEATED.
Those Who Ignore History are Doomed to Repeat It
And remember the most important point. SOME OWNERS LOST THEIR HOMES. It is very likely that at least some of these owners may not have lost their homes if previous strata councils had acted when they first knew we had serious and systemic building envelop failures back in 2003. Also, those owners who did cover their levies likely paid DOUBLE what they would have paid back in 2003! Not to mention the thousands of dollars and thousands of hours of time I have lost collecting the “expert opinions” and other evidence to support doing “the right thing”, ensuring owners had “the facts” and trying to engage owners to “circle the wagons” and collectively voice their concerns and DEMAND accountability by those making decisions on their behalf.
I believe I have said all that I can on this matter and so it is now up to the Marina Estates Strata Council, and the owners, to determine how best to move forward towards the creation of an efficient, transparently managed, and truly collaborative community environment which will serve the best interests of everyone. Once again I suggest to the owners who might be interested in open dialog, or would like to participate in the development and writing of the “Effective Strata Management and Community Building” paper, to please consider joining the Facebook Group.