NEWS

Victims claim condo fraud 'destroyed' lives

09/15/2011 08:36 EDT | Updated 01/12/2012 02:08 EST

Everywhere Golam Chowdhury turns in his condo building, there are reminders of the alleged mismanagement of a property manager who was supposed to protect them.

"Look at this!" Chowdhury says. "You call this being renovated?"

Large water stains mark the walls in the underground garage that contractors were supposed to waterproof. A tarp hangs from the ceiling above a parking spot, protecting vehicles from crumbling debris. Cracks snake throughout the garage floor.

Two loans totaling nearly $6 million were taken out on the behalf of the unit owners of 236 Albion Road by Channel Property Management, which began managing the condo in 2007.

Chowdhury says the loans were taken at the urging of Channel Property and the money was quickly spent on a flurry of renovations, many of which are uninsured or were improperly completed.

"It felt like they wanted to get rid of the money as soon as possible," he says of the flurry of renovations.

The garage is the worst example, but not the only one. Carpets in the hallway were redone twice. Windows replaced two years ago are now rusting. Balconies were rebuilt.

A nearly $1.5-million civil lawsuit filed by the owners of 236 Albion Road alleges that Channel Property Management and its owner, Manzoor Khan, rigged tender processes to favour companies Khan secretly directed. Then those companies, some which were companies in name only, allegedly subcontracted out the work, overcharged for the projects and pocketed the extra money. Khan denied the allegations in a statement of defence.

Khan, his company and two former employees also face a $3.1-million lawsuit from 25 Grenville Street, a downtown condominium that alleges they fraudulently obtained a loan by falsifying documents pretending they were condo board members, then absconded with the money.

None of the allegations have been proven in court. In a statement of defence, Khan denied all the allegations. He could not be reached for further comment.

Rare kind of fraud

The fraud alleged by 25 Grenville St. was rare, according to industry experts.

"I've never seen this kind of fraud in my 21 years of doing condominium law," said Armand Conant, a condo lawyer and former president of the Canadian Condominium Institute.

Conant notes that getting a condo loan is a multi-stage process that first involves obtaining a so-called borrowing bylaw that must be passed by the board of directors, voted on by the owners and then registered on the title before a lender can even be approached.

One of two lenders named in the lawsuit for the 25 Grenville St. case is Equitable Trust. Channel Property Management has allegedly left the publicly-traded company on the hook for four fraudulent loans worth $14 million.

Residents there were in shock after learning of alleged loan fraud and wondering how it might affect their future.

"That kind of freaked us all out in terms of what can we do if we want to sell our unit? What will happen?" asks Sarah Burrell, who owns a penthouse suite at the 200-unit condo.

Since 2007, when Channel Property Management was first hired, Chowdhury's maintenance fees doubled from $500 a month to nearly $1,000. He's also been financially helping his parents who live next door.

Among the others affected in his building are retirees forced to return to work and those who even foreclosed, says Chowdhury, who has taken it upon himself to educate owners.

"It basically destroyed people's lives," says Chowdhury.

Life on hold

Chowdhury and his wife have also had to put plans on hold to buy a home and start a family.

"I was really young when we bought the condo," said his wife, Khatune Zannat, 28. "I didn't understand how it is to buy a property. Right after, we fall into this situation, which is quite hard."

Chowdhury says willfully ignorant condo owners are partly to blame for not paying enough attention to their board of directors and its transactions.

"The reason we are in this mess is I, myself, we weren't as active as now that we are facing this situation," he said.

Condo law experts say it's unclear whether anything can be done to prevent similar incidents from happening in the future.

The Association of Condominium Managers of Ontario has called on the next provincial governing party to revamp the decade-old Condominium Act and licence or regulate property managers in a manner similar to other professions.

If you have any tips on this story, please emailamber.hildebrandt@cbc.ca.

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