Homeowners in Calgary’s Sage Hill neighborhood face the threat of a legal battle with the residents’ association that could cost them each more than $1,000 in late fees that are only a tenth of that cost.
Hundreds of residents are facing a potential lawsuit from the Sage Hill Residents Association (SHRA) over unpaid charges, with some saying they were never billed or told about overdue charges.
The association and others like it in Calgary are responsible for landscaping and other maintenance of common areas that would normally be the responsibility of the city. For some newer communities, the city transfers responsibility to a developer, who then creates a residents’ association funded by liens on each property title that requires the payment of an annual fee.
In Sage Hill, those fees range from $90 to $120 a year, including taxes, depending on the type of housing. According to attorney Richard John of Bridgeland Law, about 1,200 of the 1,700 households in the area failed to pay the fee by the May 1 deadline of this year, and of those, 361 have not paid the fee for multiple years.
John says he has sent out demand letters to homeowners who have not paid for two or more years in a row and that SHRA’s contracted property management company is contacting those who have not made payment this year alone.
“We have an organization, the SHRA, that if they don’t get paid, they’re going to go bankrupt. They will not be able to pay the contracts they have signed to maintain these common areas,” John told Postmedia on Monday. “So they hired me because they have a large number of files… where (the owners are) more than a year.”
The demand letters, sent on June 13, state that in addition to delinquent fees, residents are also responsible for legal fees, interest and administrative fees. Cumulative totals are nearly $1,000 for some homeowners.
In the letter, John states that if residents do not pay the required amounts, “I have been instructed to initiate legal action and can advise that this legal action may lead to the sale of your property.” He noted that legal costs alone could go up to $1,500 if claims need to be filed, though he admitted that is not his or SHRA’s desire. John says that he is willing to negotiate legal fees with residents to ensure they can pay before legal action is required.
But some residents say the extra costs are too much for their wallets.
“I need that money. My baby is eight months old,” said Renee Edison, a single mother who has owned a small condo in the area for about eight years. Edison says her late payment of her $89 membership fee will now cost him more than $800.
“I am using this money, a lot, to feed my son.”
According to residents, the SHRA has been in existence since 2019 and has gone through three management companies since then, the most recent change in March. Edison says the constant changes in management have caused serious communication problems, with several people saying the legal notice was the first thing they heard about their back membership dues and the new management company.
“Everyone says, including me, that we haven’t received any bills. The only communication we get is from the attorney,” Edison said.
“We have a very, very small community; Sage Hill is not a big community. It’s so strange to me that (SHRA) decides to scale it so quickly.”
Laurie Elliot, who owns a Sage Hill home that she rents, says the less than three weeks’ notice for payments of about $1,000 is too short and the attorney’s letter appears intended to scare people into paying.
“People say, ‘Am I going to lose my house because I didn’t pay a $105 resident association fee?’” Elliot said. “You can imagine the level of fear people get when they receive a letter saying their house can be sold.”
Elliot says he agrees to pay the association’s arrears, but the responsibility for legal costs should rest with the association, as he claims it did not follow its own policy for collecting arrears, outlined in a document in your website. It establishes that two notices must be sent, one in the first month and another in the second following the payment due date, before the association takes any legal action against delinquent accounts.
“It looks like they just went to the last step,” Elliot said.
“I understand that there is an attorney and services have been rendered to SHRA. I understand that this lawyer has to be paid, but I don’t think we should pay him.”
Residents say that SHRA does not accept calls from residents who have not paid their dues and who have also had difficulty contacting John.
“Residents feel like they have nowhere to go for answers,” Elliot said.
Postmedia contacted SHRA for comment but did not receive a response.