Tenants of a fourplex in Prince Rupert were hit with eviction notices on Nov. 30, forcing them to look for new housing with less than four weeks until Christmas.
The eviction is illegal because the landlord did not go through the proper processes to end the tenancies in order to do repairs or renovations, said Paul Lagace, tenant advocate at the Prince Rupert Unemployed Action Centre.
The reason provided in the letter was to fix a flooded area of the building that is exposed to electrical circuits.
“As it poses an extreme risk to the safety of the residents occupying the building, we require the residents to move out as soon as possible,” the letter states.
Landlords in B.C. have to apply to the Residential Tenancy Branch (RTB) before asking tenants to move out for the purposes of renovations or repairs. Through the proper process, both the landlord and tenant have an opportunity to speak, prior to an arbitrator making a decision about whether the eviction is necessary.
When Lagace heard about the evictions he contacted residents in the buildings to offer his services. He has spoken with three units but believes a fourth was also evicted and possibly even a fifth. He estimates 14 to 15 people will be left to find somewhere new to live as a result of the ‘renoviction’.
The vacancy rate in Prince Rupert is around one per cent, Lagace said. Current tenants were paying $1,400 to $1,800 for two-to three-bedroom suites, and it is very unlikely they will be able to find comparable rentals for the same price in Prince Rupert, he said.
He was fighting for the landlords to pay one of the tenants $5,000 in compensation but they were not willing to pay.
While the tenants do not have to leave, because the notice is not legal, if they do expect tenants to leave, they need to give them something, Lagace said. He suggested $5,000 would be a fair amount because it includes one month’s rent at $1,800, return of the tenants’ damage deposit at $1,000 and $2,200 to cover moving expenses.
“You need to give some type of compensation if you want these folks to consider leaving,” Lagace said.
“Because one, it’s the first week of December so you’re not going to find something immediately, and it’s holiday time, it’s just ridiculous, the expectation.”
Jaspal Padda, one of the landlords, declined to comment at this time. The other landlord, Daljit Singh, did not respond to a call from Black Press Media.
While Lagace said it is a legitimate problem, he does not believe that the repairs warrant an emergency. Two people at the residence approached him within the past year to tell him about repairs that needed to be done and the landlords have been neglecting them until now, he said.
On April 21, just over seven months before the eviction notices, a tenant spoke to Lagace about some issues with their landlords. The tenant told him the landlord entered their unit without permission and had not reattached their balcony railing, which was detached three weeks earlier by a contractor. Lagace said the landlord’s response was that the tenant only leased the inside of the building, not the outside.
The tenant also told Lagace about ongoing water issues.
On Nov. 9, the landlord shut the water off to the four units and Lagace was working to get an emergency order but it was turned back on before that was needed, he said.
Another tenant contacted Lagace Nov. 10, and said a sewer line failed, creating a sewage flood in the unit with thousands of dollars worth of property damage, including the loss of a king-sized bed, love seat, upholstered chairs and clothing.
The tenant advocate was working with residents on these issues when the eviction notices were posted.
A new bylaw passed by city council in April, the Business Regulation and Licensing (Rental Units) Bylaw 3476, specifically outlines minimum maintenance requirements for rental units. This includes that a basement be kept dry and all plumbing kept in good working order and repair, free from leaks and other defects. It also states that structural components of buildings, including railings, be kept in good condition.
The new bylaw also outlines rules to further protect residents from renovictions. However, a fourplex is exempt from these new regulations.
Lagace advised council that these types of buildings should be included in the bylaw, as that is where many of these problems are occurring, but they did not take his advice.
This is not the first time landlord Jaspal Padda has come up in Lagace’s work.
In December 2020, Lagace advocated for a tenant who was evicted by Padda due to renovations. The case was prior to the government’s regulation changes requiring landlords to apply to the RTB before renovicting someone.
Padda had followed proper protocols by issuing a four-month notice, however the arbitrator ultimately sided with the tenant, stating that Padda did not have any permits in place when it was issued and also the original notice did not include all of the renovations. During the hearing, she said a kitchen wall had to be taken down and this was a significant basis for her argument that the unit had to be vacant, but it was not cited in the original notice.
Lagace spends about half of his time working on tenancy-related cases, but he estimates that for everyone he helps, there is somebody else who just believes their landlord and moves out without fighting an illegal eviction.
“You can’t just say, ‘Hey, get out tomorrow’”, he said. “Even if [their reason] is legitimate, there’s a process to follow and it’s not [the tenant’s] fault.”