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Alberta life lease regulation needs more work, group waiting for repayments says

A group of Alberta seniors and their families owed money under seniors’ housing contracts is calling for the provincial government to rethink proposed legislation on life leases.

Members of the Alberta Life Lease Protection Society said Tuesday that the recently tabled Bill 12 should be rewritten or significantly reviewed.

Society president Karin Dowling said at a news conference organized Tuesday by the Alberta NDP that the group is disappointed by the regulations in their current form.

“The legislation does not come close to meeting our needs,” she said.

“There are many loopholes within the legislation as it is… not a robust life lease legislation, like other provinces have.”

The society advocates for residents who each put large sums of money into life leases at retirement homes operated by Edmonton developer Christenson Group of Companies. In the life lease model, the majority of the initial payment is returned when the lease is terminated, usually because the resident dies or can no longer live independently.

But an estimated 170 people are waiting for their money back from the Christenson Group, and some have been in a repayment queue for more than two years.

Bill 12 proposes to bring life leases under the authority of the Consumer Protection Act, introducing rules and penalties to a previously unregulated housing option.

But the new protections, including mandating entrance fees be repaid within 180 days of the life lease ending, would apply only to future agreements.

Repayment queues are a feature of many life lease contracts. In the Christenson Group’s case, a queue begins when more than six per cent of life lease residents terminate their leases at once.

Three elderly women sit in chairs, with one holding a sign that says "Alberta Life Lease Protection Society."
Members of the Alberta Life Lease Protection Society listen to a news conference about Bill 12 on March 26, 2024. (Madeline Smith/CBC)

Christenson says the queue started to grow out of control during the disruption of the COVID pandemic, and the company is now moving away from offering life leases entirely.

NDP planning amendments

Parmeet Singh Boparai, the Opposition critic for Service Alberta and consumer protection, said that the NDP will propose amendments to Bill 12 to make the legislation retroactive, mandate repayment within 90 days of terminating a life lease and require future life lease entrance fees to be held in trust.

Asked whether he would consider changes to Bill 12 on Tuesday, Service Alberta and Red Tape Reduction Minister Dale Nally said, “We will always look at any thoughtful amendment.”

But, he said he’s told the NDP that requiring life lease entrance fees to go into a trust “would actually impact the affordability aspect of it.”

He said the legislation will have the flexibility to provide security through surety bonds, if they become available for life leases.

During Tuesday’s question period in the legislature, Speaker Nathan Cooper had to call for order several times during an exchange about life leases.

Boparai said “families are feeling left out and abandoned” after the introduction of Bill 12.

“Why did the minister break that promise and refuse to consult with those who are impacted? … Will he at least apologize?” Boparai asked.

“The only one that should be apologizing is the critic for Service Alberta, who was too busy to attend any of our consultations,” Nally responded.

“We brought in enhanced disclosure, we brought in improved transparency, we brought in penalties.”

A bald man wearing a suit stands at a podium, with other people behind him.
Alberta Life Lease Protection Society vice president Jim Carey speaks about Bill 12, surrounded by other society members. (Madeline Smith/CBC)

Alberta Life Lease Protection Society vice president Jim Carey said seniors in the Christenson queues are facing a situation where they can’t access hundreds of thousands of dollars of their own money, and they don’t know when the situation will be resolved.

“And what does the legislation do to help them? What does the legislation do to help the thing being repeated in the future? Nothing,” Carey said.

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