For eight years, Jonathan Korst has been happy with his one-bedroom apartment in Cloverdale’s Kolumbia Garden.
The carpet is a little wrinkled around the entrance to his living room, but the 34-year-old doesn’t mind. It’s an older building, and his suite hasn’t been renovated since before he moved in. But the rent is good, he said, $690 a month.
“It’s quiet. It’s affordable,” Korst said, sitting on the couch in his apartment. “It’s in a good location. I have good neighbours.”
Korst has gotten to know his neighbours a lot better since May, when everyone in his building was issued an eviction notice.
“We have a good relationship now because of this,” he said about the other tenants in his building. “Unfortunately, it came under very stressful circumstances.”
In February of this year, Kolumbia Garden (17719 58A Avenue) was purchased by Lower Mainland investor Guy Bouchard. Bouchard is the principal for Top Down Investments, a real estate investment company that appears to specialize in taking older buildings and flipping them for profit.
Korst found out about Top Down Investments in late April, when he heard through the tenant-grapevine that an investor had bought the property.
In late May, everyone in the building got an eviction notice. The reason? Renovations to all suites and the common areas. (The eviction notice also said the building envelope and landscaping would be renovated, although that appears to no longer be the case.)
“I straight up told him, I said I’m going to talk to everyone in the building and we are going to fight these eviction notices,” Korst said, remembering his conversation with the man who delivered the notices.
“I wanted us to stand together, united, against this injustice,” he continued. “There’s a lot of people here who are disabled, people who are old, elderly. People who have pets, for example — it’s not easy to find a place now if you have a pet. People with canes, people with mental health issues.
“A lot of vulnerable people here, low income, who will be hurt by this, just so they can make money.”
The Cloverdale Reporter reached out to Bouchard for an interview about the situation at Kolumbia Garden and his plan for the building. He declined to comment.
The plan, according to the brochure listed on Top Down Investments’ website is simple: renovate and flip the 39 apartment suites, selling all the individual units by 2024.
Bouchard bought the building for $6.6 million, and his company was looking for $2.5 million in investments to renovate the 39 units. (The $2.5 million can be bought at $250,000 a share.)
According to the investment brochure on his website, Kolumbia Garden was an “underutilized asset that is in good repair,” with rents that are significantly below market value.
After the renovations, the brochure said, the company will rent out the updated suites until they are in a position to be sold. The new rental prices are estimated to be between $1,275 and $1,325 for a one-bedroom, and $1,600 and $1,675 for a two-bedroom.
Korst’s rent hasn’t risen much since he moved in eight years ago. It went from $650 a month when he moved in to $690 now. His mother, who moved into a two-bedroom apartment in April of this year, pays more: about $1050. Other rents in the building are likely between those two numbers, Korst said.
According to the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation, the average rent for a one-bedroom apartment in Cloverdale was $856 in October 2017, while a two-bedroom came in at $1,110. Many listings for basement suites, apartments and houses on Craigslist in September of this year are higher — averaging $1,100 for a one-bedroom and $1,500 for a two-bedroom.
However, it’s not clear exactly what will happen to the suites at all. According to Korst, the plan for Kolumbia Garden has changed from the information that is available in Top Down Investments’ brochure.
In Korst’s original eviction notice, the renovations included work on the building envelope — something that requires a permit from the City of Surrey in most cases. In the scope of work and construction schedule included in the company’s dispute evidence provided to the residential tenancy board (which Korst shared with the Cloverdale Reporter), only interior renovations are planned.
Construction is scheduled to start Oct. 1, and is staggered among the units. The expected finish date is in July 2019. The brochure said the intent was to renovate a few units at a time to “maintain cash flow.” However that idea seems to have changed, as units 1 to 32 are scheduled to have construction start between Oct. 1 and and Nov. 30, while the remaining units are scheduled to see construction beginning in the first two weeks of February 2019.
According to Korst, Bouchard told the tenants it’s possible Kolumbia Garden will remain a rental building. It’s also possible individual suites will be sold.
Kolumbia Garden is currently listed as Top Down Investments’ featured project. Other projects on the go include a 20-unit apartment building in Abbotsford, and a 12-unit apartment building in Mission.
The company’s website lists three other completed investments — two single-family homes in the Fraser Valley and one apartment building in Chilliwack — but Bouchard has undertaken similar projects without Top Down Investments.
One, an apartment building in Maple Ridge that Bouchard took over in May 2017, saw protests from residents about the “renovictions.”
In that instance, Bouchard said affordable housing is a problem for the government.
“Landlords can’t be expected to keep rents low as market values rise,” Bouchard told the Maple Ridge-Pitt Meadows News in August of last year. “We’re trying to have a positive impact.”
At Kolumbia Garden, 25 of the 39 units are disputing their eviction notices. Some are complying with the eviction notice, and at least one unit has taken a cash incentive to move out by November 1.
Although the original eviction notices were for Sept. 30, units that are part of the dispute had been given an extension to Dec. 1 to give them enough time to find a new place if they lose.
Korst feels they will win. He wants to win.
“I doubt I will [live here in six years] to be honest,” he said. “But I want to move out on my terms … I want to move out on my terms, when I want to.”
The final hearing on Kolumbia Garden’s dispute will be held on Sept. 25.
-with files from Neil Corbett