British Columbia

PoCo renters score win in renoviction case

Described as a victory for the little guy, 100 renters avoid eviction thanks to decision by Residential Tenancy Branch arbitrator.

Described as a victory for the little guy, 100 renters avoid eviction thanks to RTB ruling

Cheryl Sanftleben, 68, has lived at Bonnie Brae Apartments for 23 years. Residents of the Port Coquitlam apartment building are relieved the Residential Tenancy Branch cancelled the eviction notices sent out to the entire building by a new landlord. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

Residents of the apartment building at the centre of Port Coquitlam's renoviction debate are celebrating after successfully fighting a mass eviction attempt by their new landlord.

The May 24 decision by the Residential Tenancy Branch found that the building's owner, 1995 Western Apartments Inc., could not prove "they do not have another purpose of ulterior motives for ending the tenancies," at the 65-unit Bonnie Brae Apartments.

Arbitrator R. Lanon also ordered the company to pay the $100 filing fee of each of the approximately 40 appellants in the case. 

Tenant leader Gary Crane said the group was "relieved beyond comprehension."  

Residents of Port Coquitlam apartment building Bonnie Brae get to stay in their apartments after an arbitrator ruled to cancel eviction notices sent out by the new landlord. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

"We have many seniors and good tenants in the building and they were not being evicted for just cause. They weren't late paying their rent and they weren't rowdy — they were being evicted under the guise that major renovations needed to be done."

4-month eviction notices

In late February, approximately 100 tenants received four-month eviction notices that stated renovations and repairs to the building were "so extensive that the rental units must be vacant" by June 30. 

But tenants believed the company was trying to force them out so they could jack up rents beyond the 2.5 per cent per year allowed by the province. 

"There's a loophole in the current regulations whereby if the landlord can get the building empty, when the tenants return they can charge whatever they want," said Crane.

Mike Jarrett has lived at Bonnie Brae for 25 years. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

Mike Jarrett, who has lived in the building for 25 years, said after the tenants organized, the landlord's true intentions became clear.  

'Willing to bend over backwards'

"The tenants were willing to work with building ownership — temporarily relocate, even out of the building — while the renovations were going on," said Jarrett. 

"We were willing to bend over backwards ... and the landlord absolutely refused to entertain that."

Jarrett pays just under $1,000/month for his two-bedroom suite in Bonnie Brae. He figures his rent would have at least doubled had he been forced to find to a comparable suite at current market rates.

A call to 1995 Western Apartments Inc. owner/landlord James Malinousky was not returned by the time of publication.

Crane says the family that used to own and operate Bonnie Brae sold the building in the fall to new owners. The 1968-era building and 1.5 acre property was listed for $13.5 million. 

Victory for the little guy

Port Coquitlam Mayor Brad West, who rallied behind the Bonnie Brae residents, described the RTB ruling as a victory for the little guy.

"The people we're talking about here are longtime residents of the community, and many are seniors on fixed incomes," said West. "So often we hear stories like this that go the other way."

The 65-unit apartment was built in 1968 and had an assessed value of $12.830 million in 2018. Last year it was listed for sale at $13.5 million. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

In March, Port Coquitlam city council unanimously passed a bylaw amendment making renovictions more difficult in buildings with more than five rental units. 

One month later, 1995 Western Apartments Inc. launched a lawsuit against the City of Port Coquitlam in B.C. Supreme Court claiming the bylaw amendment is illegal and invalid.

Mayor West says the city will defend its position. 

"We believe that we have the ability to act in this area ... and ensure that Port Coquitlam residents are protected," he said.  

Both Jarrett and Crane say they're happy to have the stress of the ordeal behind them.

"There are people who have been here 30-plus years," said Jarrett. "It's a slap in the face to hear not only that you have to vacate your longtime home, but then realizing you'll have to pay basically twice your rent — assuming you can even find a place to live."

"There's no where to go," said Crane. "Our option [if we lost] was where can we park our tents."

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