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Fed up Victoria tenants flood tenancy branch with complaints

People living in several large apartment towers in Victoria are seeking compensation after living in a construction zone for more than a year.

"It's been two years of varying levels of discomfort in the building with no end in sight"

Tenants are frustrated that renovations on several apartment towers in Victoria's James Bay neighbourhood have dragged on for well over a year. (Megan Thomas/CBC)

People living in several large apartment towers in Victoria are fed up and seeking compensation after living with construction dust and noise for well over a year.

Several hundred people live in the buildings on Douglas and Michigan streets in the city's James Bay neighbourhood.

The towers are under major interior and exterior renovations.

"It's been two years of varying levels of discomfort in the building with no end in sight," said tenant Paul Mitchell.

Frustrated by what they see as a lack of concern for people living in the building, Mitchell and about 100 other tenants are banding together to send a flood of complaints to the province`s Residential Tenancy Branch.

Residents say they have a right to a quiet home

They met over the weekend to compile information about their experiences and compare notes on applying for compensation. 

They argue the construction work has violated their right to the quiet enjoyment of their units. 

In some cases, tarps covered the windows for months. And one of the buildings was evacuated for several weeks last year because of concerns that asbestos in older building materials had been disturbed.

The tenants have not been offered a rent reduction, Mitchell said. Instead, their rent has been raised to the legally allowable limit.

John Roberts is among about a dozen tenants who have already won settlements about the construction disturbances.

Roberts was awarded a 10-per-cent rent reduction because the hallway outside his unit has not had any flooring for more than a year.

Tenant John Roberts says the hallway on his floor has not had carpet for over a year and construction dust and noise is constant. (Megan Thomas/CBC)

"Dust and dirt accumulates. The whole hallway echoes with noise, even from somebody opening their door," he said.

While some other tenants have been successful in getting settlements through arbitration, the results have varied widely, said Mitchell.

Legal advocate Emily Rogers of Victoria's Together Against Poverty Society says the situation demonstrates the need for better protections for renters. 

"I would like to see the Residential Tenancy Branch take a more proactive approach in investigating large-scale, building-wide complaints," she said.

No rent reductions planned

A spokesperson for building owner Starlight Investments says the company is doing its best while undertaking extensive and challenging renovations.

"Certainly you don't want to have tenants taking you to the [Residential Tenancy Branch]. So anytime we do have to go that route we are not thrilled about it, obviously, but we respect the process," said Danny Roth.

Despite the number of complaints, Roth said the company has no plans to provide sweeping rent reductions,

"The millions of dollars worth of work will result in buildings that are far superior to what they are now," he said.

The Ministry of Housing says an information officer from the Residential Tenancy Branch has been assigned to answer questions about the dispute resolution process.

The ministry says temporary discomfort or inconvenience may not be a breach of tenant rights, but ongoing or unreasonable disturbances may form the basis of a claim.