Residents’ associations have been in the news lately because of a legal dispute over unpaid fees in the northwest neighbourhood of Sage Hill.
In that case, homeowners organized a petition with the intention of removing their residents’ association’s board members after the association board threatened hundreds of residents with legal action over unpaid fees. Most of the residents say they didn’t receive invoices for unpaid fees.
The idea of residents’ associations has been a staple of many new community developments for decades as an amenity to entice people to buy homes in those neighbourhoods.
Leslie Evans, executive director of the Federation of Calgary Communities, says the associations have been around for some time and are either called residents’ associations or homeowners’ associations.
Some of the older lake communities in Calgary, such as Lake Bonavista, were pioneers in that area.
“It’s a construct that’s been around that developers have used to add amenities before full build-out,” Evans explains. “I call it to sell the homes, but really it’s to add quality of life to the community as well. So they build it, they sell the homes, the homeowners then pay those fees.”
Becoming more and more common
The fees are mandatory, Evans adds.
“It would appear in the last couple of decades that every developer is exercising the option to create a residents’ association or a homeowners’ association so they can add whatever amenity. Lots have been created, and we have no idea how many.”
Some communities have actual facilities where events, programs, and services are housed. Others use the fees for pathways or landscaping. Fees on a yearly basis range as low as $50 per year, into to the thousands of dollars — all dependent on what’s in place for those associations.
They also have not-for-profit status.
“Through the land titles, they are able to put that caveat on a title to be able to charge that fee,” Evans says.
Buying into the concept
Historically, these associations were found in prestigious communities, but now they are increasingly appearing in developing and new communities.
Evans says it’s ideal when there’s one developer and they make one residents’ association for the full development.
“That is when things really work well because one set of volunteers become the board of directors of the association, they work well with our community associations and all residents pay towards that one physical space, whether it’s a lake community or just a large facility. They all buy into it.”
Evans said there is no directory to indicate how many of these associations actually exist in the city.
She says people generally don’t understand what a caveat on property is about unless there is a physical space in the community that represents what the association is doing and offering its residents in a tangible way.
Maintaining community amenities
Anthem Properties is one developer in the Calgary area that provides residents’ associations in some of the communities it develops.
Brady Morrice, director of land development for Anthem Properties, says residents’ associations manage and maintain community amenities that the developer creates for the residents above and beyond what the city would ordinarily provide in terms of maintenance.
For example, one of Anthem’s developments, Cornerstone in northeast Calgary, has a homeowners’ association with annual fees of $50, plus GST.
According to the company, the HOA fees pay for general maintenance of the community that is not covered by city’s municipal programs, including ongoing maintenance of parks, boulevards, entry monuments, and structures.
In Symons Gate, residents pay only $84 a year, which covers Christmas Lights, landscaping, snow clearing on pathways, and community events.
In southeast community Cranston’s Riverstone, fees are about $470 a year compared with $167 in Upper Cranston, according to cranstonra.ca.
Of course, it’s important to keep in mind different fees cover a different variety of services, but as you can see the fees vary a lot throughout the city.
A community sense of pride
Morrice said the size of a community ultimately determines if an association will exist and what amenities will be in place.
“For a residents’ association, if you have a smaller community, you don’t have the scale to create a really high quality or large, robust amenity package,” he says.
“It’s about community beautification. It’s an ability or a vehicle to provide enhanced amenities directly to the community for the residents that live there. It instills a sense of community pride and ownership. And overall generally it promotes community involvement for the residents that live there. It allows them a sense of pride and a sense of place in something that they want to take care of.”
Morrice says it’s human nature to feel proud of something you’re a member of.
“What we’ve seen and what is demonstrated in the market is when you have these residents and homeowners associations, residents really kind of take the torch and really become the champions of their own community.”
Not a new concept
Brian Hahn, CEO of the homebuilders’ group BILD Calgary Region, said residents’ associations are not new to Calgary. Some developers install “extra mile” amenities that are unique in their communities.
“It’s not unusual that new communities have those sorts of amenities provided directly by the developer,” Hahn says.
Broadly speaking, those developers are trying to build communities with all of the amenities nearby.
“Part of that is making walkable communities, cyclable communities. You don’t have to go across town to get the sort of things you need or to find the preferred recreation that you’re looking for. That is really the focus of it,” Hahn says.
A ‘feather in our cap’
Hahn says most developers are trying to position their product competitively, so they’re doing things that align with the brand value they’re trying to sell to homebuilders.
“And ultimately homeowners as they purchase homes in those communities,” Hahn adds.
Hahn said the developers are trying to achieve that as affordably as possible. That’s an important thing. The benefit in Calgary is that the city is among the most affordable Canadian centres for home costs when compared with wages.
“That’s a real feather in our cap.”
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