People driving past Aberdeen Square in Richmond last week might have seen multiple Chinese-language handwritten signs hanging outside the mall.
It was set up by a group of people from Metro Vancouver who claim to be victims of a Chinese developer who sold them homes they can't live in near Hong Kong.
“We are desperate and hope by doing this we can raise attention on the issue. Every one of us has lost tens of thousands of dollars,” Lambert Lo, a spokesperson for the group and an owner of a Richmond car rental business, told the Richmond News.
Behind the rally is a group of more than 200 people in Metro Vancouver, the majority of whom are Hong Kong immigrants, who bought a unit in Zhuhai, a city in southern China.
Homes turned out to be offices, say buyers
After paying thousands of dollars, they allegedly found out that it was illegal to live in what turned out to be an office building.
In 2019, Lo wanted to buy a retirement home near Hong Kong.
His Hong Kong agent introduced him to a project in Zhuhai developed by R&F Properties, a Hong Kong-listed real estate company that has more than CA $76 billion in total assets.
The listing was advertised as a fully renovated hotel-like unit with a washroom and kitchen that buyers “can invest in or live on their own,” according to Ho, who showed the News a copy of the newspaper ads with this statement.
"It’s about one hour drive to Hong Kong so I can visit my family regularly, and the price is half the price as a similar unit in Hong Kong,” said Lo.
He then signed a purchase agreement with the seller and paid more than $HK 2.1 million ($CA 370,000) for the 848-sq.ft. unit.
On the agreement Lo showed to the News, it said that the unit is a commercial property that's used as an apartment.
However, when the project was delivered, Lo was shocked to find out that the "home" he purchased turned out to be an office unit that has no kitchen or washroom as what was promised, and was illegal to live in.
He later found out there were many other people from Canada, Hong Kong and Macao who had the same experience.
Developer offered 20 per cent compensation
The developer insisted what they bought was an office unit and offered 20-per-cent compensation, which Lo declined.
“I paid the price for a home I can live in, not for an office unit, which is valued much lower than what I paid for. We want our money back or have the developer give us another unit we can live in, but the company refused to do so,” said Lo.
He said the developer argued the purchase agreement was not a valid legal contract.
Some of the victims took the company to court but, because of the complexities of the issue, they ended up losing the lawsuit or not being able to move the case forward.
"We hope the rally can help raise attention, get help for us, and we also want to warn others about it so they don't fall into the same trap."
The News has reached out to R&F Properties for comment but has yet to receive a reply.