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'Utterly disgusting': Group that wants life-lease money back slams new Alberta legislation


The Alberta government is introducing legislation to give customers who enter into life-lease housing arrangements more protection when it comes to accessing money they're owed when they withdraw from them.

A group representing former residents who say they're owed tens of millions from an Edmonton-based operator say, however, the government's plans don't go far enough to address those who are waiting for repayment.

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

The life-lease concept, which isn't new, is a form of housing that sees a leaseholder occupy a unit for life, until the arrangement is ended or they choose to leave.

They usually require the leaseholder to loan the company providing the unit a large sum of money as an entrance fee that is usually returned if the agreement is terminated.

In more recent times, some leaseholders and their families have said it's been difficult to receive the return of their entrance fee once the arrangement has ended.

Dale Nally, the minister of Service Alberta and red-tape reduction, said at a media conference on Monday the proposed legislation "takes a balanced approach protecting vulnerable seniors and their families from ambiguous contracts and processes."

"It would allow Albertans to choose this housing option if it is the right one for them," Nally said.

Karin Dowling, president of the non-profit Alberta Life Lease Protection Society, said at another media conference her group — whose members say they're owed $55 million from Christenson Developments — is disappointed in the way the province has handled the issue, calling Monday's announcement "a slap in the face."

"To have this blindsided on us like this is utterly disgusting, actually, from our Alberta government," said Dowling, adding her group didn't know the province was introducing the bill until Monday morning.

"They're supposed to be here to serve the people of Alberta, here to ensure the protection of these seniors, who are a vulnerable population and who was taken advantage of by operators for the lack of legislation."

Nally said he couldn't comment on the group's situation because "an investigation is ongoing."

The Official Opposition's critic for Service Alberta said in a media release Wednesday pointed out how the new legislation "does nothing" for those who have "millions of dollars tied up in life leases."

"The Minister needs to be working closely with these life-lease holders and strongly consider what oversight and enforcement role the government can play to ensure Albertans’ concerns are addressed adequately," said Parmeet Singh Boparai, the MLA for Calgary-Falconridge.

“It is important that the new legislation apply not only to future but also to current life-lease holders.

The new legislation would include requiring 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, "including the authority to establish security requirements" for it if necessary, according to a media release.

Alberta will join Saskatchewan and Manitoba as Canadian provinces with life-lease legislation.

With files from CTV News Edmonton's Chelan Skulski and Darcy Seaton