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Province promises to help Alberta life-lease holders owed money to reclaim it


The provincial minister overseeing life-lease legislation in Alberta says the government is working to ensure each person affected by withheld funds will be "made whole."

Dale Nally, the minister of Service Alberta and red tape reduction, said Thursday at the legislature he and his staff have met with Greg Christenson, president and co-owner of Edmonton-based Christenson Developments, multiple times in efforts to find ways of retrieving money lifelease holders have provided to the developer-operator of seniors residence facilities around the province.

"(It's a) terrible situation where 180 Albertans of vulnerable seniors can't get their life savings, their deposits back," Nally told media.

"I want to be very clear that we side with them. We have met with Greg Christenson 12 times — I personally met with him nine of those times — and the purpose of that is to put pressure on him to pay everybody back."

The life-lease concept, which has existed for decades, sees leaseholders loan a housing company a large sum of money as an entrance fee.

In return, the leaseholder occupies a housing unit for life until the arrangement is ended or they choose to leave.

More recently, some life-lease holders and their families say it's been difficult to get their money back from operators once an arrangement has ended.

Nally's comments come the day a group initially formed in the fall and gaining non-profit status in December to lobby the province to resolve issues related to life leases asked the Alberta government to recall proposed legislation dealing with the repayment impasses.

The non-profit Alberta Life Lease Protection Society says they want Premier Danielle Smith to repeal Bill 12, which the government introduced on March 18, saying it would establish consistent requirements for life leases.

Dozens of seniors protested the proposed bill outside the legislature on Thursday.

The society says it also wants the province to replace Nally as the government representative in charge of shepherding the life-lease legislation.

Jim Carey, vice-president of the society, told CTV News Edmonton the protestors wanted to get the attention of Nally and the government as the legislation has already gone through first reading.

"We want to be consulted," Carey said.

"We have good ideas. Nobody knows better as to how harmed we are than the actual 400 families owed this $201 million. Should our voice count? Why is he only listening to these operators? He said yesterday in the legislature again and again that if we make these operators put this money in a trust -- more than just promise to pay them back -- these businesses will fold.

"We don't know if that's true. We've never been party to what even the meetings were with the developers. He's never shared that with us."

Christenson told CTV News Edmonton in a statement last month his company is working behind the scenes to free up the life-lease money for the families.

He said about 170 people are currently in the life-lease repayment queue and that about 400 residents are still on life-lease contracts at the nine Christenson facilities that have them.

The province says Bill 12, called the Consumer Protection (Life Lease Protection) Amendment Act, will set out consistent requirements for the arrangements.

The new legislation would require the return of entrance fees within 180 days of the cancellation of an agreement and a 10-day cooling-off period in which a life-lease buyer can cancel it if they reconsider the deal.

The act would also let the government further regulate the life-lease industry.

Nally said the purpose of the legislation is to prevent future conflicts and includes penalties such as fines up to $250,000 and up to two years in jail.

"The legislation is to make sure what happened does not happen again," Nally said.

"We put some requirements in there, things like prescribing time frames, disclosure and penalties — penalties that we’ve never seen before in this space.”

With files from CTV News Edmonton's Marek Tkach and Chelan Skulski Top Stories

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