Water lot leaseholders along the Fraser River are organizing in an effort to fight rate hikes.
A large group of frustrated float home and business owners came together last month after many started receiving notices from Port Metro Vancouver about rate increases and new insurance requirements.
Of those that have already received the notice, many are looking at rate increases of as much as 100 per cent. As well, new insurance requirements could potentially add thousands to strata expenses and are unwarranted, said Don Flucker, a float home owner who's part of a five-home strata along River Road.
Flucker received his notification back in May and was given a month to sign it or leave. He said he signed it under duress and noted that all the additional cost for his strata, which has to be divided among the float home owners, adds up to around $5,000 a year.
The water lots along the river are owned by the Crown and managed by Port Metro Vancouver, which leases the foreshore zones from the province.
Port Metro Vancouver introduced new rates for 2012 to bring water lot rents up to what it considers market value.
Port chief financial officer Allan Baydala, who attended last month's meeting, said the formula isn't a new one and rent renewals take place every three to five years, but it's only recently those on the river have seen sharper increases.
Baydala explained the port is required by the province to charge "fair market value for the water lots," but the challenge had been determining such a value.
Baydala said in 2005, the water lot rate was set at eight per cent of the upland value, but because industrial land values have been climbing sharply, the port dropped that to six per cent in 2008. For the 2012 calculation, the percentage was dropped to four per cent, and all the increases are phased in.
It's all a case of déjà vu for Frank Archer, a long time float homeowner in Ladner Reach and vice-president of the Community Residential Waterlot Leaseholders Association of B.C.
Archer, who has been a float home owner since 1985, said leaseholders faced a similar situation in the mid-1990s and the association was formed as residents came together to fight what he called "astronomical" rent increases.
He said that in 1993, water lot lease rates were increased by about 40 per cent. Three years later they went up again, this time by more than 350 per cent in some places.
Archer was part of a group of residents that came together and formed the association to approach the port authority, which was then the Fraser River Port Authority, about how the rates are calculated.
He said two years of negotiations ensued, but the group was able to secure a reduction in the lease rates and reimbursement for water lot leaseholders. As well, Archer said, the port authority and the association drew up a memorandum of understanding that included "assurance that what happened recently would never happen again."
He said it appears the agreement has been forgotten due to the lack of "corporate memory" after the merger of the three Lower Mainland port authorities that created Port Metro Vancouver.
Many of the float home and business owners came together for a second meeting and decided to let Archer and the association take charge of the situation.
While Archer said any water lot lease holder can deal with the port authority on their own, the association will act on behalf of its members.
He said the first action will be to organize a meeting with the port authority to answer any outstanding questions and to make sure all parties are on the same page.
At the initial meeting, which was organized by Delta South MLA Vicki Huntington after she was approached by several concerned float homeowners, Baydala admitted things could have been done differently, including explanations given individually, when it came to how the water lot users were notified.
"What they've done is inexcusable," Huntington said after her second meeting with leaseholders.