'It feels like a jail': Surrey renters revolt over 'heavy-handed' strata fines, surveillance

Residents of a Surrey high rise are critical of a sudden onslaught of fines they have received for incidents they say are minor, such as not compacting garbage and for wearing improper footwear in the gym.

Residents of d'Corize criticize onslaught of fines after living in building for years

Errol Povah is a longtime activist, and when he caught wind of the fines, he says he went back to his protesting roots. (Jon Hernandez/CBC)

Errol Povah has had enough.

For six years, Povah said he's lived at Surrey's d'Corize high rise without any issues — until the building managers issued him a $200 fine, which he described as "heavy-handed."

The ticket was for leaving the parking garage before the security gate closed completely.

Normally, he says he tries to keep a close eye on the gate through his rear view mirror before driving away, but admits he may have been caught up in the everyday rush of life.

"I'm as concerned for safety and security as anybody else," he said.

Povah thought the fine was uncharacteristically harsh for the strata, but was alarmed to discover other residents were getting similar fines for incidents they viewed as minor, such as not compacting garbage, and for wearing improper footwear in the gym.

Ami Ulici moved into the d'Corize in December 2016 and says more surveillance cameras have been installed throughout the building. (Jon Hernandez/CBC)

Tickets increase

Some renters have received thousands of dollars of tickets in a day, and believe they're being watched by surveillance cameras.

Povah says the fines began after tenants noticed that surveillance cameras were installed throughout the building in recent months. In July, he said the number of tickets issued dramatically increased.

However, the strata said that the sudden spike in fines was in response to a constant reoccurrence in offences, which lead to health and safety concerns.

A written statement from the strata said that the security system is partly meant "to meet statutory and regulatory requirements, including the enforcement of the bylaws and rules."

Cameras inside the garbage area help monitor who is and is not compacting garbage, say residents. (Jon Hernandez/CBC)

Starting a protest

Povah is one of many concerned residents protesting the management of the building. They say the use of cameras to film potential tenant transgressions violates the tenants' privacy.

"I've been an activist all my life," said Povah. "I thought it's time to take some action here."

Tenant Erik Derenowski believes he was filmed disposing of a broken down door into the garbage bin, after being advised by a waste disposal company to do so. Days later, he received a fine for disposing of demolition materials in a garbage bin.

"A couple of weeks after that, I came home and my door was just covered in fines,"  Derenowski said. "And not just [my door], actually — every door on my floor."

That day, Derenowsk said 110 of the 180 units in the building received tickets. He is now moving out of the building.

Erik Derenowski is moving out of the d'Corize, citing a toxic living environment. (Jon Hernandez/CBC)

Privacy concerns

Derenowski, Povah, and many other residents believe the strata is using video surveillance to justify the levied fines — a practice that goes against guidelines authorized by B.C.'s Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner.

Residents argue that the only way many of these fractions could be observed is through the use of cameras.

All the residents interviewed were tenants who rent condos in the building.

According to the OIPC's Privacy Guidelines for Strata Corporations and Strata Agents, "personal information obtained from video surveillance or key fob systems should not be used to justify levying fines" for minor bylaw infractions.

"It's much easier and less privacy invasive to educate people about what's appropriate," said OIPC acting information commissioner Drew MacArthur "That's the way to approach that — not to put in surveillance cameras."

The OIPC has the power to order strata to remove cameras if they are in violation of residents' privacy.

A strata is also obliged to provide residents access to tape that contains their information, according to the OIPC.

Signs in the garbage room warn residents that failure to compact their garbage will cost them "$200/incident." (Jon Hernandez/CBC)

'It's like a jail'

Tenant Ali Ulici wants to see a third-party property management company take over the d'Corize, which is currently run by a self-governing strata.

Ulici said she's alarmed by the increased surveillance, and concerned for the privacy of her four-year-old son.

"As of July, everything's just gotten worse. There's cameras everywhere, it's a terrifying feeling.

"You come home from work, you're stressed and then you feel like you're under constant surveillance," she said, adding that a group of residents are currently in communications with the OIPC and are considering filing an official complaint.

"It's horrible. It feels like a jail."

About the Author

Jon Hernandez

Digital Associate Producer

Jon Hernandez is an award-winning multimedia journalist from Vancouver, British Columbia. His reporting has explored mass international migration in Chile, controversial logging practices in British Columbia, and the global HIV/AIDS epidemic. Follow Jon Hernandez on Twitter: