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The former Olympic Village in Vancouver, February 9, 2010 . (Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images/Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)
The former Olympic Village in Vancouver, February 9, 2010 . (Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images/Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)

Olympic village buyers suing for refunds Add to ...

Almost a quarter of the original buyers in the Olympic village have filed lawsuits to get their money back, claiming their condos are not worth what they paid because they leak or the doors don't work properly or the work is shoddy - or all of the above.

To make their point, owners taped videos showing water streaming out of a bathroom light fixture, a ceiling sawed open to get at malfunctioning capillary heating mats, bedrooms that are so small the owners can't open closet doors without hitting the bed, and cracks in hallway ceilings.

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Lawyer Bryan Baynham, who filed the suits Wednesday on behalf of 62 clients in five buildings, said the buyers feel they were promised and paid for luxury suites, but received medium-quality apartments that they could never resell for the same price.

"These aren't speculators. The vast majority are living in the units and putting up with the problems," said Mr. Baynham, as he showed selections from the videos in his downtown law office just before filing the suits. "They're upset because they were promised world-class luxury and they got poor workmanship and shoddy design."

In one video clip, the translated comment from one glum owner is: "I just paid $1.3-million for this unit and it doesn't have a heating system or a cooling system."

Mr. Baynham acknowledged that preconstruction buyers of Vancouver condos often find surprises or deficiencies when they finally move in. For the village, however, he said "the gap between what they promised and what they delivered is the greatest" of any project he's experienced.

The lawsuits, which come less than a month after a new sales effort at the village was launched with significantly reduced prices, also allege that buyers should be refunded their money because the documents they originally signed never properly disclosed that the City of Vancouver was the real owner.

The city was the land owner, the city dictated the design of the buildings and the city had to agree on any sales prices, Mr. Baynham said. He argues that made Millennium Development Corp., the private developer, little more than a general contractor.

In B.C. real-estate law, buyers' contracts can be cancelled if condo sellers don't disclose important details of ownership.

But lawyer George Macintosh, who is acting for the village sales companies that are the legal sellers of the condos, said he is confident that there was no misrepresentation in the disclosures.

He said he was surprised to hear complaints about deficiencies, since Mr. Baynham, who has been the contact with the city and the receiver for the Olympic village over the past several months, had never brought that up before.

Mr. Macintosh said he would have to find out more before commenting on the lawsuits.

He did say it's not uncommon to see lawsuits when there are big swings in the market. If the market goes up, sellers try to get out of deals they think are too low.

When the market goes down, buyers try to get out of deals they think are too high and will look for whatever arguments they can to have the sale cancelled.

"If the price goes up, they're happier to live with [deficiencies]"

Mr. Baynham also represented another 19 people in the fall who refused to complete their sales and sued to get their deposits back.

The Olympic village, which many had seen as a potential showcase to the world for Vancouver design and environmental building, ran into a perfect storm of difficulties as the 2010 Olympics approached. The private developer, who bid a record $193-million for the site, got hit with rising construction costs, the worldwide recession and an increasingly balky American hedge-fund lender. The city eventually had to take over the loan to ensure the village was finished on time.

The project was also built to unusually tight timelines at the same time that architects and builders were pushing to create the greenest housing development in North America. Sales were healthy until the recession hit, and efforts to sell the expensive units were slow after the Olympics. Last November, the developer agreed to city pressure to put the project in receivership.

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