A legal battle is brewing over an iconic North Burnaby church.
Two congregations (Grace Christian Chapel and Heaven Bridge Church) hold church services and other religious activities at the old Vancouver Heights United Church building on the corner of Albert Street and Ingleton Avenue.
Built in 1926, the church’s castle-like design and three-storey tower have made it a landmark in the Heights neighbourhood for nearly a century.
$2.5 million church real estate deal
The church is currently owned by Grace Christian, but Heaven Bridge claims it made a deal to buy a 50 per cent interest in the property for $2.5 million and that Grace Christian has broken the agreement, according to a lawsuit filed in B.C. Supreme Court last week (July 20).
Heaven Bridge claims the two congregations first made the deal in April 2017, agreeing Heaven Bridge would come up with $1.5 million of the purchase price on its own.
For the rest, Grace Christian would apply for a $1-million mortgage and lend it to Heaven Bridge at an interest rate of three per cent per annum, according to the notice of civil claim.
But Grace Christian was unable to secure the $1-million mortgage, so the two parties agreed “expressly and/or implicitly” to change the agreement.
Heaven Bridge was to obtain the $1 million on its own and pay it to Grace Christian “over time, without a deadline.”
The rest of the agreement was to stay the same, according to the notice of civil claim.
The two congregations made a second agreement in about January 2021.
By that time, Heaven Bridge had paid Grace Christian $1.85 million, according to the claim, and the two congregations agreed Heaven Bridge would pay another $150,000 when the agreement was signed; Grace Christian would then lend it the remaining $500,000 to repay “over time, without a definitive repayment deadline.”
In the meantime, Heaven Bridge claims Grace Christian agreed not to sell the church property without its prior written consent, according to the claim.
Contract breach alleged
By June 2023, Heaven Bridge had paid $2 million toward the purchase of the property and informed Grace Christian it was prepared to repay the loan and complete the deal, according to the notice of civil claim.
But Grace Christian refused to complete the sale, according to Heaven Bridge, announcing instead that it intended to sell the property to a third party.
It listed the property for sale for just under $7.5 million, according to the claim.
Heaven Bridge claims Grace Christian wanted Heaven Bridge to repay the $500,000 without handing over a 50 per cent interest in the property as per the second agreement.
Heaven Bridge also claims Grace Christian tried to “pressure” it to buy “in addition to the Heaven Bridge Interest, the other 50 per cent interest in the Church Property for $3 million, which Heaven Bridge did not expect, and was not in a position to do,” the claim states.
If Heaven Bridge tried to impede the sale or took any legal action, Grace Christian said it would dissolve itself, according to the claim.
Heaven Bridge is now suing Grace Christian for damages for breach of contract.
It is also calling for a court order compelling Grace Christian to live up to the second agreement and for a certificate of pending litigation to be registered against the church property’s title.
Church sues its own lawyer
Heaven Bridge’s former lawyer and her law firm are also being sued for breach of contract and negligence.
The Heaven Bridge hired Fatima Noorullah Qamar and the Deer Lake Law Group in January 2021 to represent its interest in the purchase of the church property and to prepare the second agreement, according to the notice of civil claim.
But Qamar committed errors and omissions, according to Heaven Bridge, including failing to determine the church property was made up of two lots and then failing to include one of the lots in the description of the property in the second agreement.
The second agreement could therefore “potentially be construed” as a contract to buy only 50 per cent of one of the lots and not the whole church property – and that was not the plan, according to Heaven Bridge
“Heaven Bridge never agreed (and would never have agreed) to purchase only 50 per cent of lot 11 for $2.5 million,” the claim states.
Heaven Bridge is asking for a court order to fix the alleged mistake or a different order to rescind the second agreement entirely.
If the agreement is rescinded, Heaven Bridge will sue Grace Christian for $2 million for “unjust enrichment,” according to the claim.
None of the allegations in the notice of civil claim has been proven in court.
Grace Christian, Qamar and Deer Lake Law Groups have not yet filed responses to the allegations.