Handshake deal at the centre of Vancouver legion branch eviction fight

A Royal Canadian Legion branch in Vancouver’s Kitsilano is gearing up for a fight.

The legion is getting evicted on Dec. 31 for not paying rent, but its members say they don’t owe any rent because of a handshake deal made 50 years ago.

Second vice-president of the legion’s B.C.-Yukon command Bob Underhill says the Shalom Branch #178 has been an integral part of the community for the past five decades.

The “dry” branch of the Royal Canadian Legion raises funds for various charitable organizations, and it’s existed on land paid for by the legion.

According to Underhill, the legion bought the property and gave it to a housing society. That group then used $1 million to build an auditorium as well as units of housing.

Part of the deal struck 50 years ago was that the legion would be able to continue using the hall in perpetuity, rent-free, but there has never been a lease agreement. It was all done on a handshake and goodwill.

Property lawyer Ashley Syer says that kind of deal is legally binding.

“A handshake deal is what we call an oral agreement,” said Syer. But it is difficult to prove, she said.

“Especially when 50 years have gone by and people that were originally part of that deal aren’t around anymore.”

The legion has never paid rent, but recently Maple Crest Housing Society, which runs the BC Housing complex in which the legion is located, has been asking for money.

The legion refused to pay, citing the previous verbal agreement, and on Nov. 17, the housing society issued an eviction notice to the legion.

It is expected to vacate by the end of this year.

‘It just doesn’t seem right feel right. It isn’t right to do this over the holidays to a group of veterans,” said MP Taleeb Noormohamed.

While the legion has support from the area’s MP, it is under provincial jurisdiction. Underhill is hoping the community speaks out in support.

“Contact your MLA and say this isn’t right. Please help us,” said Underhill.

The tenants who live in the building next door, like Katrin Jardine, are especially worried about what this eviction could mean for them.

“We believe if the legion is evicted we might be next,” said Jardine.

She says her concern stems from changes she’s noticed in the building the last couple of years.

“It’s supposed to be for low-income seniors, disability, veterans but it’s not really the case any longer. Even repairs aren’t being done. I’ve been waiting six months to have my taps fixed. Today there is barely any heat,” said Jardine.

Underhill says over the last few years the relationship between the legion and Maple Crest Housing Society has been contentious.

“At one time you had to be a member of the legion to be on the board, but over the years they have eliminated that requirement so they can do whatever they want. They hold meetings in Richmond at the same time that the legion holds its meetings so people can’t be in two places at once, and the housing society will not negotiate with us at all,” said Underhill.

CTV News reached out to Maple Crest Housing Society but did not get a response.

BC Housing responded with the following statement.

“Maple Crest Apartments, located at 2229 Maple Street in Vancouver, is owned and operated by the Maple Crest Housing Society. As a provider of affordable housing for seniors, BC Housing provides a subsidy to the Society so they can offer the apartments to tenants at below-market rates.

“BC Housing is unable to comment on matters between the Legion and the Maple Crest Housing Society around any lease agreements or understandings they may or may not have with one another. “

Eviction day is only days away but legion members say they are not going anywhere.

“If you vacate the premises you have basically given up hope, so we are not leaving,” said Underhill.

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