British Columbia

Vancouver couple ordered to remove rainbow doormat, flag after condo neighbours complain

A couple living in a North Vancouver condo say their building is letting harassment and discrimination go unchecked after they were told this year to remove a rainbow doormat and rainbow flag or face fines.

Residents say building is allowing neighbours to discriminate against them

Vanessa Dong adjusts the rainbow flag on the balcony of her North Vancouver condo on Thursday. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

A couple living in a North Vancouver condominium say their building is letting harassment and discrimination go unchecked after they were told this year to remove a rainbow doormat and rainbow flag or face fines.

Last May, Vanessa Dong, a 33-year-old tattoo artist, and her partner, Kerri McNicol, placed a small rainbow doormat outside the door of their new two-bedroom condo in North Vancouver to show support for the LGBTQ community.

That same month, the couple, who rent the condo, received a bylaw violation notice from the building manager. The doormat was on "common property," and if they didn't remove it, the two would be issued a $100 fine. 

Their neighbour down the hall had a plain, grey doormat and, according to the couple, was given no such notice, except when leaving shoes outside their door. 

Dong and McNicol were told a couple on their floor had complained about the mat — and more recently, a rainbow flag on their balcony.

"When the rainbow is representative of the LGBTQ+ community, the only thing it looks like to us is, of course, homophobia," said McNicol, 27.

"The strata should be shutting it down," she said, referring to the term used in British Columbia for condos, townhouses and duplexes. 

The couple's building manager said a neighbour complained that the doormat was 'dirty' and 'she didn't like the colours.' (Submitted by Vanessa Dong)

Stratawest Management Ltd., which manages the property, says it has zero tolerance for harassment and encourages the tenants to report their complaints to the strata council and the RCMP.

"We absolutely stand in solidarity against any and all forms of discrimination," Jason Kurtz, the company's vice-president, said in an email.

Kurtz said the management company does not speak on behalf of the building's strata.

The building's strata council, which enforces bylaws, did not respond to a request for comment. 

'We can't live peacefully'

The couple's troubles started in mid-May, when they received a text from their building manager, M.J. Austin.

He said the neighbour complained that the doormat was "dirty" and "she didn't like the colours," which she said would turn off guests who visited. 

The couple noted the bylaw rules around objects left on common property applied to such items as shopping carts and said they wouldn't remove the doormat unless others were asked to remove theirs.

Austin advised the couple to escalate their complaint to the strata council's president. "My opinion is somebody on council should really look into discrimination on this," he wrote.

Strata bylaws can't be enforced if they violate the B.C. Human Rights Code.

Dong and McNicol relented, however, and removed their doormat, after their neighbour was asked to do the same when the couple said the notice was unfair. 

They were hit with a second bylaw violation notice on Dec. 1, this time about a rainbow flag hanging on the inside of their balcony. 

McNicol said they hung up the flag for the holidays, as their neighbours decked out their balconies with lights, trees and Santa Claus displays.

'When the rainbow is representative of the LGBTQ+ community, the only thing it looks like to us is, of course, homophobia,' Kerri McNicol says about her neighbours' complaints. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

The violation notice said "hanging or displaying articles from balconies is not permitted."

The couple say their strata is enabling their neighbours' harassment by issuing the notices. 

"We can't live peacefully and we feel just terrible living here every day, just being in the hallways even," McNicol said.

'Nothing to do with homophobia'

In an email to the couple last week, the building's strata property manager, Niina Mayhew, wrote that she received a complaint about the flag and directed the warning be issued under the bylaw, which stipulates nothing can be hung from railings. 

Mayhew oversees the building manager who had told the couple he suspected discrimination.

"The reminder you got yesterday was in regard to a bylaw and had nothing to do with homophobia," she wrote in an email.

Regarding the doormat, Mayhew wrote, "Hallways are common property, and no personal belongings should be left there. Period." 

The couple provided photos to CBC News that show neighbours hanging Christmas lights from their balcony railings.

Dong and McNicol say their neighbours have Christmas lights on railings, while they have been asked to take down their rainbow flag. (Submitted by Vanessa Dong)

The couple say they haven't filed a complaint with their strata council because they've only been allowed to speak to Mayhew and their building manager.

Kurtz, with the management company, said the strata has no authority to police harassment and the RCMP is better equipped to deal with it.

He said Dong "continues to insist (to 115,000 followers on Instagram) that we support/enable harassment," referring to an Instagram post last week by Dong where she shared her experience.

Dong said she received numerous messages from LGBTQ tenants who have had similar experiences, including some who were also asked to remove rainbow flags.

"It's really heartbreaking to hear that people are still being affected by their sexual orientation," she said, noting her next step will be to contact the RCMP if the neighbours' complaints persist.

The couple removed the rainbow flag from their railing so that the condo unit's owner wouldn't be fined. Instead, they wrapped it around their balcony Christmas tree.

Clarifications

  • A previous version of this story identified the name of the condo building. CBC News has removed the building name to protect the couple's safety.
    Dec 13, 2020 3:14 PM PT

About the Author

Alex Migdal

Journalist

Alex Migdal is a journalist with CBC News in Vancouver. He's previously reported for The Globe and Mail, Guelph Mercury and Edmonton Journal. You can reach him at alex.migdal@cbc.ca.

With files from Tina Lovgreen

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