British Columbia

Victoria tenants upset ground floor daycare will use apartment's common space

Plans for a commercial daycare to use residential common space in a downtown apartment building lead to tenants filing a complaint with the province's Residential Tenancy Branch.

Tenants on Cook Street say plans to allow daycare to access their common sun deck, sitting areas misguided

Mands Burnette her partner Andrew Poucher and their son Arlo outside of their apartment at 1488 Cook in Victoria. (Kieran Oudshoorn/CBC)

When Mands Burnette and her family moved into their new apartment at 1488 Cook in downtown Victoria they thought they had won the lottery.

The 13-storey building opened in 2018 and offered pet friendly apartments and stunning views with chic modern design.

Along with large open air hallways the building has several common areas, including a large viewing deck and sun chairs on the 11th floor and sitting areas and a playground on the 2nd.

But those common spaces are about to get smaller.

'Completely unfair'

Starting in July a new branch of the Maple Tree Daycare will be opening its doors in one of the commercial spaces on the ground floor of the building.

Along with the 5,000 square feet storefront location, the 76 spot daycare's 10-year lease includes access to the common spaces in the residential part of the building.

"It's completely unfair considering that people pay a lot of money to live here," said Burnette. "It seems ridiculous."

The daycare is taking over and renovating large portions of the spaces, turning them into fenced playgrounds that will be used exclusively by the daycare throughout the day and will be available to residential tenants in off hours. The play spaces on the higher floors are currently under construction, but when they are finished climbable equipment will be kept away from the building edges and extended barriers will be built to keep kids safe, according to the daycare.

Burnette said she and her neighbours are not on board with the changes, arguing that added noise, congestion and limitations on the use of space were not part of the lease they signed.

In addition they say there has been little to no consultation or communication with the building's owner.

The fenced in playground on the 11th floor takes up about half of the shared common space. The play spaces are under construction, when finished climbable equipment will be kept away from the building edges. (submitted)

According to the owner of Maple Tree, the daycare has been in the works for a year and a half, however tenants were only informed of the changes in a June 3 letter.

Burnette said it's wrong for a business to set up shop in what is essentially her front yard.

She said the building's common spaces, especially the playground just outside her apartment, were a major selling point for her and her family moving in. 

"If they moved another business in would they be able to use it like that? If it was a restaurant could they use it for a bar or a rooftop patio?" she said.

In the past few weeks Burnette has conducted a building wide survey, reached out to the city's bylaw department and the fire department, and has filed a complaint with the province's Residential Tenancy Branch along with six other tenants.

Daycares are not commercial, says building owner

The owner of the building, Steven Cox, said he is sympathetic to Burnette's concerns but feels justified in allowing the daycare to use the common space, saying it fits with his vision of a family friendly building.

"A daycare under B.C. rules is a residential use, not a commercial use," said Cox. "So I think it is a legitimate use of residential space."

The building at 1488 Cook Street has commercial space on the ground floor and residential units above. (Kieran Oudshoorn/CBC)

Cox said part of his decision was informed by the need for more daycare spots, especially downtown.

He said he has met with Burnette and other tenants to try to work out solutions, like allowing them to move to other empty apartments in the building or getting out of their lease early.

'Let's give it a try'

He also admitted that he did not  do enough to inform tenants about the changes but said if they are willing to be flexible, he is willing to be too.

"Let's give it a try and I'll just keep making adjustments until we get it right," he said.

Cox said he welcomes the review at the Residential Tenancy Branch and will abide by its ruling.

For her part Burnette said she appreciates the need for more daycares, but if Cox had properly consulted with tenants he would have seen the plan as a non-starter.

"Just because we don't own our units doesn't mean we don't have rights and you don't have to consider us in your decisions," said Burnette.