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Told to get out: No-fault evictions ensnare renters in Victoria and beyond

B.C. tenants’ rights advocates calling for change as the province leads the country in evictions
Mary Thompson and her daughters were evicted from her Fernwood apartment. The landlord had said her mother was moving in, but Thompson says the apartment is now being rented out for more than double what she paid. (Mark Page/News Staff)

When the landlord who owned Mary Thompson’s apartment in Victoria’s Fernwood neighbourhood decided to sell, the stability she had finally found for her family was suddenly threatened.

It was a small place in an old character home and her two daughters had to share a bedroom, but on a single income she could afford the $1,080 per month. Her daughters had grown up in the house having previously lived in another of the units, and they liked living there.

But Thompson says it was clear when the house sold and the new owners moved in downstairs they wanted to get more money out of her unit.

This was during the early part of the pandemic, when landlords’ ability to increase rents and evict tenants was extremely limited.

“One of the first things they brought up was the fact that my rent was so low,” she recalls, reflecting on the circumstances of her eviction a couple years ago while sitting on a bench near where her 16-year-old attends high school.

“They said, ‘Well, it was assessed at $2,300 a month.’”

The memory caused a look of disbelief to flash across her face.

“And I said, ‘There’s no way I can do that — ever. There’s just no way.’”

After giving up and leaving that house, Thompson has now found herself in another property slated to be sold and is resigning herself to what she says is inevitable, being forced out yet again.

Several B.C. tenants, including Thompson, have shared their eviction stories with Black Press Media, painting a picture of a system that sides with landlords by default, and is at times bewildering for vulnerable individuals to navigate.

One of these people — a 62-year-old man with disabilities — has successfully rebuffed multiple eviction attempts through the Residential Tenancy Branch’s dispute process. But there are no rules preventing another try.

Others have had less fortunate outcomes. A New Westminster woman who lost her tenancy branch dispute was given four days to get out of an apartment she’d lived in for a decade.

The landlord for each one of these people was contacted, with a voicemail left for every one. These landlords range from single-home owners to companies with buildings in multiple provinces. Not one responded to a request for comment.

B.C. has nation’s highest eviction rates

No-fault evictions like these — without any missed rent payments or damage to a unit — account for roughly 85 per cent of the total in B.C., according to a 2023 University of British Columbia study of the period between 2016 and 2021. During that interval, one-in-10 B.C. renters studied were evicted.

These rates outpace the rest of Canada in both total ousted tenants, and ones kicked out for no fault of their own.

The system in B.C. is meant to protect renters by limiting evictions and putting caps on rent hikes.

There are strict rules for rent increases that vary year-to-year, with rates set as low as zero during the pandemic. This year, landlords are only allowed to raise rents by 3.5 per cent unless a tenant agrees to a bigger increase.

But if a landlord can get a tenant out of a unit, they can raise the rent as much as they like for the next renter.

There are several ways a landlord can accomplish a legal eviction: Moving themselves or a family member in for at least six months, putting a caretaker in a unit, tearing the building down or doing major renovations.

Recently, the B.C. government made the rules stricter for some of these justifications, such as the 2021 law that now requires landlords to put in an application to the tenancy branch if they want to kick out a tenant to do renovations.

But for landlord’s use and caretaker use, it still falls on the tenant to file a dispute and collect evidence, or else the eviction is not reviewed. And it can be difficult to prove a landlord is acting in bad faith.

The B.C. housing minister has said new legislation is on its way to tighten these rules, but no details have been released. At minimum, tenant advocates would like to see the rules regarding renovations extended to all types of no-fault evictions.

Advocates for landlords say the system is fair already, but needs tweaking to speed up the process.

“Ensuring that there is access to timely justice through dispute resolution, that is our biggest concern,” Hunter Boucher of LandlordBC says.

He also says more enforcement is needed from the government to get evicted tenants to actually leave, as it can currently be financially burdensome for landlords if they must hire a bailiff to remove a tenant.

‘He would be facing homelessness’

Robert Fulton has disabilities that mean he cannot work and has difficulty advocating for himself.

He has lived in the same Nanaimo apartment for 16 years and pays $658.92 per month in rent, according to documents from his tenancy branch dispute hearings.

In May of last year, Fulton was served a notice that he had to leave his apartment in four months. The owner wanted to use his unit for a caretaker to live in.

He scrambled to find someone to help, and his sister Linda Dawes stepped in, helping Fulton contact a legal aid organization to assist him in disputing the eviction.

Because of a backlog of cases, Fulton’s hearing wasn’t scheduled until a week before he was supposed to be evicted.

“So we were concerned that should he lose, we’d only have a week to find him a place to live,” says Dawes. Because of his limitations, Fulton had his sister tell his story for him.

The landlord didn’t show up for the hearing, and the arbitrator ruled in Fulton’s favour, finding on Sept. 21, 2023 that the landlord had failed to provide sufficient cause for the eviction.

Then on Jan. 27, 2024 Fulton was again served with a notice of eviction by this same landlord. Again, he was told he had four months to get out.

“A second four month notice, for the same reason,” Dawes says.

So, for a second time the family scrambled. Since the first eviction attempt, the tenancy branch had hired a bunch of new arbitrators to address the case backlog. Now the process was happening too fast.

The organization that helped Fulton the first time was too busy with the increased caseload, but the Together Against Poverty Society had recently opened an office in Nanaimo, and was available to help.

Fulton’s new team gathered evidence. They found ads showing that during the time in which his landlord was trying to kick him out, several other units in the building had become vacant, any of which could have been used for a caretaker.

A screenshot from the landlord’s own website was provided showing a one-bedroom available last July, just after the first attempt to evict Fulton, with a rent listed that was double what Fulton was paying.

Fulton’s team also testified that the building never had a caretaker the entire time he has lived there.

The landlord’s representative countered that a caretaker is needed due to the number of police, fire and other after-hours emergency calls that come from the building.

The landlord also presented evidence of a signed agreement to hire a caretaker, but Fulton’s team found out that the person lived in Ontario and was already associated with a company connected to the landlord.

At one point during the hearing, the landlord offered to transfer Fulton to another building – but not at the same rent.

The arbitrator again found in Fulton’s favour, calling the landlord’s testimony “self-serving” and questioning their credibility in a March 15 decision.

“The difference in his tone of voice speaking to him on the phone in the last couple of days, you can see that there’s been this big weight lifted off of his shoulders,” says Dawes of the the stress relief her brother has clearly expressed in the days since the decision.

“He would be facing homelessness if he had to try and find a place in Nanaimo for double or triple the rent that he’s currently paying.”

But, she also says they have been warned to expect another attempt to oust her brother.

“They can keep doing it as many times as they want, it is not considered harassment, it does not cost them one cent to go through this paperwork,” she says.

A spokesperson for the Residential Tenancy Branch says a landlord is entitled to keep serving these notices, but that this can, in fact, be considered harassment and that a tenant is entitled to “freedom from unreasonable disturbance.”

‘I was sick to my stomach’

Unlike the landlord who can keep serving new eviction notices every time they lose, a tenant cannot reapply to stay in their home if the landlord wins.

When 57-year-old Angela Hutchinson lost her dispute on Feb. 24, 2023, she was given just four days to move out of her New Westminster apartment.

“I was sick to my stomach,” says Hutchinson, who described her lengthy tenancy branch dispute process in a telephone interview. “I was gonna die. How was this possible?”

She had been in her apartment for about a decade, paying $832 per month by the end. For the past few years she said the owner had regularly been pestering her and her neighbours to get them to allow him to up the rent beyond provincially mandated limits.

These issues were confirmed by Hutchinson’s neighbours, one of whom, Nathan Woods, says the landlord had a record of bullying and asking for rent increases beyond the regulated amount.

“People were scared of him,” says Woods.

These threats included the landlord telling tenants he would move into someone’s unit himself to get them out if they didn’t agree to rent increases, according to Woods.

Eventually, many of the tenants got together and sent the landlord a letter telling him to stop the bullying.

Hutchinson told the arbitrator all this in her hearing — even providing copies of text messages from the landlord that included the threats.

According to the decision documents, the landlord argued that he had said those things because he was trying to illustrate that he could have moved in and kicked Hutchinson out in two months using the landlord use provision, but was being nice and using the caretaker provision, which gives a tenant four months to get out.

His other evidence included a signed letter from someone who had agreed to be the caretaker, as well as proof of his ill health showing he couldn’t maintain the unit himself.

The arbitrator decided in favour of the landlord, and because it had taken so long for the hearing to be held, by the time the decision was made it was at the end of the four month period.

In a case where a tenant loses and the eviction notice period is up, the arbitrator can decide how long to give the tenant, but it must be at least 48 hours.

Roughly four days later, and in the midst of a snowstorm, Hutchinson was forced to move out.

‘That’s when they got rid of me’

When Thompson was evicted, she figured she’d need a lawyer if she was to contest it, something she couldn’t afford.

So she just accepted that she’d have to leave.

“I didn’t have a fight in me,” she says. “It was deep COVID times — I had no money; wasn’t working.”

The new owners had offered her a year lease for $1,600 per month, but on her salary and with the lack of work during the pandemic, that was impossible.

Thompson thinks this offer was made in 2021 — she says it’s all a bit of a blur now — when there was a rent freeze. Even if it was 2022, rent could have only been raised by 1.5 per cent.

If accepted, this offer would have increased Thompson’s $1,080 rent by 48 per cent.

That’s when she says the new owners started asking if anything needed fixing in the unit, doing some small work to improve the apartment here and there.

Eventually the landlord sprung the news on her that their mother was going to move down from up-Island. Thompson had two months for her and her daughters to get out.

Thompson says it felt a bit disingenuous because the mother had another home and wasn’t planning to move in full-time. She says it was just an excuse to be able to do more renovations and then rent the place out for more money.

“When it got to the point that they had to do bigger renos, that’s when they got rid of me.”

Thompson says her friend who still lives next door to her old house told her the unit is now being rented out for $2,500 per month. More than double what she had paid.

When she left, Thompson and her daughters were lucky enough to be able to rent another apartment owned by the landlord who had sold her place to the people who kicked her out, and at a discounted rate because the landlord felt bad for her.

Now that landlord told Thompson she is selling again and getting out of the rental market altogether, offering to sell Thompson the house at a discount — about $900,000 instead of $1.1 million.

But she doesn’t have the credit or income needed to get a mortgage.

“They’re not going to give me a loan,” Thompson says.

This leaves her searching for another place again.

“I just want to relax and live somewhere,” she says with an anxious chuckle. “I get tired of worrying all the time.”

In a situations like Thompson’s, it is up to the tenant to file a dispute and try to prove the landlord is acting in bad faith.

Antonia Mah of the Together Against Poverty Society. Her organization helps renters dispute evictions and advocates for tenants rights. (Mark Page/News Staff)

“If the tenant is totally overwhelmed and discouraged by that process, and they decide to walk away without challenging it, then it’s not hard for landlords to evict with no intention of ever moving into the suite,” says Antonia Mah of the Victoria branch of the Together Against Poverty Society.

And she adds it is not uncommon for landlords to keep filing to try to wear out a tenant.

“There really isn’t anything preventing them from filing again, if they’re really determined,” she says. “Sometimes landlords even issue multiple at the same time.”

The UBC study on evictions was clear that the trend for evictions is toward people being kicked out at no fault of their own because landlords have a financial incentive to do so.

“British Columbia has both the highest housing prices, and highest average rents in the country, giving landlords increased incentives to evict tenants so that they can raise rents or sell properties for a profit,” the study found.

Proposed solutions range from limiting rent hikes even if a new tenant moves in, to forcing landlords to have to apply for any type of no-fault eviction, similar to the rules brought in to limit evictions for renovations.

An idea from a group in New Westminster is to remove the landlord-use and caretaker-use clauses altogether for owners of more than two units.

“Landlords should simply have to wait for natural vacancy to occur before they can place a caretaker or a family member,” says David Hendry of the New Westminster Tenants Union.

Housing Minister Ravi Kahlon — who was in Saanich on March 21 to announce new subsidized rental housing throughout Vancouver Island – acknowledges the system can be taken advantage of by landlords in B.C., and has committed to change. His ministry is responsible for overseeing the Residential Tenancy Branch.

“When you have such a tight housing market that we have, it makes the difference between a person having a home to finding themselves homeless,” he says.

Details are still sparse, but he did say the new legislation will balance the right of landlords to move into their own property, while still protecting renters from unjust evictions.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau also announced a new renters’ bill of rights on March 27, but that is also slim on particulars so far, except that it will include a legal aid fund for tenants and alter the rules so that paying rent on time improves credit scores.

And the Residential Tenancy Branch has been on a hiring spree, according to a spokesperson. This includes more arbitrators and a doubling of the compliance and enforcement division.

What new rules those new hires will be enforcing should be determined sometime later this year.

READ MORE: New bill of rights helping renters unveiled by Trudeau in B.C

READ MORE: Victoria asks B.C. to clamp down on no-fault evictions, rent increases

About the Author: Mark Page

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