British Columbia

Vancouver family forced to fight holiday eviction notice

A single mother and her two daughters are fighting to stay in their apartment after a months-old dispute with their landlord has now resulted in an eviction notice that could force them to move in January.

Problems started in March when single mother and daughters complained about mice in apartment

Tunde Zalaba and her daughters, 15-year-old Cintia Szabo and 10-year-old Zsofia Szabo have no idea where they will go if their eviction noticed is enforced in January. (Belle Puri/CBC)

A mother and her two daughters are fighting to stay in their apartment after a months-old dispute with their landlord resulted in an eviction notice that could force them to move in January.     

Tunde Zalaba, 42, is a cancer survivor and lives on social assistance with 15-year-old Cintia and 10-year-old Zsofia in a third floor apartment in Vancouver's Marpole district.

The provincial government and the Jewish Family Service Agency are supposed to pay Zalaba's subsidized rent.

Documents Zalaba showed CBC indicate the payments are up-to-date.

But the family received an eviction notice earlier this month.

"The resident has not been paying full rent for several months," wrote Katrina May, communications specialist with Hollyburn Properties, in an email.   

Stacks of paperwork document the months-old fight between Tunde Zalaba and Hollyburn Properties. (Belle Puri/CBC)

Problem started in spring

The family says the trouble started last March, when they noticed mice in the apartment.

"Under the oven, we noticed a bunch of poop and under the fridge," said Cintia.

"A couple of days later we noticed a mouse running into a hole in the wall and once we saw the mice just run up the curtain." 

When — according to the family — the building manager didn't do anything about the rodents, they filed a complaint with the Residential Tenancy Branch (RTB).

On May 26, 2016 an arbitrator determined there was a mouse infestation in the tenant's unit and ordered the tenant be given a rebate of 50 per cent of her rent for May 2016 continued until full eradication was accomplished.

In a second RTB hearing on Aug. 16, 2016, an arbitrator found the landlord had failed to produce evidence of intensified efforts to eradicate the mouse problem and awarded the tenant an 80 per cent reduction of her rent retroactively for June, July and August 2016.

On Nov. 29, 2016 there was another RTB hearing.

Hollyburn Properties claimed rent arrears and requested that rent in full be payable as of Sept. 1, 2016 as a pest control company had confirmed there was no longer evidence of a mouse infestation.

Hollyburn told the RTB it had twice given the tenants a 24 hour notice of entry for pest inspection in October and November but the family would not allow them in.

In a decision in favour of Hollyburn, the arbitrator wrote about the tenants "I find their evidence is self serving and may be motivated by obtaining further rebates." 

"It was determined by an arbitrator at the Residential Tenancy Branch that any issues have been resolved," continued the email from May.

"We have been actively working with this resident to resolve any concerns."

Nowhere to go

A 10-day eviction notice was issued on Dec. 2 but Zalaba has appealed it to the RTB.

A hearing is scheduled for Jan. 10, 2017.

If the RTB rules against Zalaba, the family may have to move quickly.

They say they have nowhere to go.

"It's a two-day notice," said daughter Cintia. "We will have to be out in 48 hours."

The family is looking for a lawyer.

Mouse traps have been set-up throughout the apartment and droppings are everywhere. (Tunde Zalaba)

Eviction notices are tough at any time but particularly so during the holiday season.

For Zalaba and her family the deadline to move came close to Hanukkah.

The three were refugees when they arrived in Canada from Hungary in 2011 but have since become permanent residents.

A previous version of this story omitted details of some hearings and rulings by the Residential Tenancy Branch in 2016. The story has been updated to include that material.

Corrections

  • A previous version of this story omitted details of some hearings and rulings by the Residential Tenancy Branch in 2016. The story has been updated to include that material.
    Apr 18, 2017 4:58 PM PT

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