B.C. grandma barred from seeing grandchildren in mortgage dispute

The mother says she hasn't seen her son and grandchildren 'for years,' as a result of the ordeal

The B.C. Supreme Court in New Westminster | BC SUPREME COURT

A B.C. mother’s desire to enter a retirement home or see her grandchildren is being thwarted by her son’s refusal to pay rent or sell the home on which she holds the mortgage, according to court documents.

Ella Rhodes is in a battle with her estranged son Christopher Robert Rhodes and his partner Patricia Russell over ownership of a townhouse in Langley.

Ella, 70, claims she bought the property as an investment in 2008, with the idea that Christopher and Russell would buy it from her when they could afford it. 

Christopher claims his mother offered to advance him the $80,000 down payment so he and Russell could buy the townhouse. Ella used a line of credit for the down payment.

"During the purchase of the property, Ella told me that [Ms. Russell] and I only needed to pay her back $40,000 of the down payment, as she wanted to gift the remainder of the down payment to us to start our lives together," reads Justice William Veenstra's ruling.

At times, payments made by Christopher and Russell have been $1,200 or $1,400 per month, in the form of rent. That money was used to pay the mortgage, taxes, strata fees, insurance and other ownership-related expenses.

However, the judge noted the couple hasn't made a payment since November 2019. Christopher explained he did this because “Ella refused to transfer the property over to me in accordance with our agreement.”

Ella, a former nurse who retired in September 2013 due to a workplace injury, lives on a combination of benefits from the WorkSafeBC, the Canadian Pension Plan and Old Age Security.

She argued selling her home was "necessary" to fund her retirement, particularly her move to a long-term care home. The judge denied that request, noting the townhouse's most recent assessed value is $515,000. He said her remaining mortgage is just over $185,000, with equity "in the range of $325,000."

"The amount she is required to provide from her own funds is only a few hundred dollars a month and the financial information she has given in her application materials indicates that she has sufficient income to make those payments," the decision said.

The judge said selling the home would be advantageous for Ella but not for the couple, who have lived there for 13 years.

Recognizing “the unfairness to Ella in being required to continue to carry this property, and the risk she faces of losses arising from any market correction,” the judge ordered the couple to provide an undertaking on damages should they be unable to establish their claim in further court proceedings.

He set that amount at $40,000.

“This is the amount the plaintiffs say they would be able to pay to Ella for the property if they are successful in the action, and is slightly less than 10% of the assessed value of the property,” he said.

As a result of the ordeal, Ella said she hasn't seen her son, his partner and their children "for years."

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