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Eviction by neglect: Tenants of Vancouver rental building chronicle years of poor living conditions

Nearly half the units sit vacant, while those renters who remain deal with mice, no intercom, and an unresponsive manager

Mice, a broken buzzer and intercom, sparse heat during the winter, hall carpets that haven’t been vacuumed, an unreachable property owner and almost nonexistent landlord. 

These are just some of the challenging conditions tenants living in a Kerrisdale apartment building say they have endured over the past six years. 

Currently, there are 12 empty units in the 27-room, three-storey apartment building that was built in the 1960s. 

According to a Goodman report, a 597-square-foot bachelor goes for almost $1900 in the building, while one of its 668-square-foot one-bedroom units goes for $800. 

Tricia Barker, Park Board Commissioner for Vancouver and building resident, took to Twitter on May 28 to discuss the situation: “Another long term tenant moved out of my apartment building today… The place is so run down no one wants to move in. I wonder how many other buildings have the same problem?” 

Throughout the Twitter thread, Barker highlighted that the basic upkeep of the property hasn’t been met, and, when asked about contacting her landlord, she explained that the closest piece of information to a name available to her is a numbered company.

The "property is held in a bare trust," as described by a report online. "8 suites have been held back as vacant, allowing a prospective buyer to rent at full market rates.” 

A bare trust, in realtor terms, can be a person or a company that owns the legal title of a property, without actually benefiting from the ownership. In other words, it’s a legal structure put in place that alleviates any responsibility the person or company has towards a property. 

One of the biggest benefits of having this in place is not paying the property transfer tax (PTT) when the property is sold. 

To weigh in on the matter, Morgane Oger, Lead Human Rights Tribunal Advocate & Director at Morgane Oger Foundation and a landlord for more than 15 years, mentioned that one of the reasons for the decline in upkeep is that the owners are likely simply waiting for everyone to leave the building. 

Doing so would allow the owner to either renovate or sell the building of their own will.

“Vancouver and B.C. are lacking mechanisms that protect people who are being creatively evicted from their homes,” Oger told V.I.A. in an interview. “And this [building's] story is a reflection of that.” 

And the current tenants understand this. Two of them have spoken up about the living conditions of the building, with two common critiques discussed in both of their stories: maintenance and communication. 

The decline in maintenance 

Beatrice is a tenant in her 60s who lives alone and has been living in the apartment for 16 years. 

She said that the previous owners used to be a mom and three sons, one of whom would always be around the building or doing yard work daily. 

Throughout the 10 years of their ownership, a janitorial maintenance person would manage upkeep in a timely manner. 

But when 2015 came around, everything changed. 

“When the new owners took over they put a paper under the door and gave us a numbered company, a phone number and name. That phone number and name have changed about four times,” Beatrice said. 

All the personnel that maintained the property left, and have not been replaced. 

“I have a lawn outside my suite, a south side lawn that attracts mice and rats. We do have mice inside which we’ve never had,” said Beatrice.

Allison, a current tenant of three years can attest to the rodent problem because her cat caught one of them. 

But the maintenance issues don’t stop there. 

Both tenants shared that starting in February, they’ve had the heat turned off two to three times. Although the weather has been getting warmer, the heat still hasn’t been turned on, with no compensation given, since it’s supposed to be included in their rent.  

Barker also mentions in a tweet posted May 29 that there is no heat, that the hall carpets have never been vacuumed, the boiler sounds like it’s going to explode and that the intercom is broken. 

Allison and Beatrice both vouch for these issues. 

“The intercom has not worked properly for seven years. Two weeks ago it stopped working altogether. Even the buzzer,” said Beatrice. The frustrated tenant said Canada Post left a note indicating they were unable to deliver the mail, leaving tenants only a small window of time during working hours in which to visit a postal facility 10 kilometres away.

Tenants also have concerns about potential safety issues that could arise if the fire department or police need to enter the building due to an emergency and a tenant in need doesn’t have the ability to go down and open the door. 

On June 28, a note was posted at the main entrance of their building, letting tenants know that a technician is set to fix the intercom. 

Should a tenant not be available during the work hours listed, the message reads: ”If you don’t provide access, and we require it to make the repairs, we will be forced to drill your lock and provide you with new keys.” 

While the buzzer was fixed on June 28, tenants say they are still not receiving their mail and the speaker system is still disconnected. 

"Some of our tenants are in their 70s, I don't know how they're supposed to always walk downstairs to check who's coming to visit them," said Beatrice. 

Poor communication

Barker, Beatrice and Allison said they have each tried to contact their property manager, Kyle. 

Along with 911, Kyle left his number on the wall of the laundry room, in case of any emergencies. 

Allison described one troubling experience when her kitchen light started shooting sparks. In a panic, she called and got a hold of Kyle, asking him to send someone to fix it.  

“He fixed it with a YouTube video,” she said. But other times, the tenants aren’t as lucky. 

“For two years I sent emails for him to repair the intercom speakers–he just ignored it,” said Beatrice. 

Having not been able to receive their mail, she and three other long-term tenants have tried contacting Kyle about having a meeting to express their concerns and give him the opportunity to understand the situation they find themselves in. 

After multiple times of trying to get a hold of him, he said he could be available during an upcoming afternoon — a time when the majority of the tenants were at work.

Allison recounts a time when she had to sleep in her living room for six months because he claimed he couldn’t do anything about a loud TV coming from the room right beside her bedroom. 

It turned out that the tenant living in that apartment beside her had to be moved to a long-term care home. 

“Last week, I phoned the property manager for four days and the message I got was “voicemail is full” so I sent text messages for four days. Still no answer,” said Beatrice. “If my plumbing or my stove stopped working, that would be four days without using those. If I was locked out of my suite, I’d be living out of my car.” 

Another tenant mentioned that when her fridge stopped working, Kyle told her to use the fridge in the unlocked empty suite next door. 

Although the sign at the front mentions there are multiple rooms available, it’s clear that there’s no rush to find tenants to fill them, especially since they’re also left unlocked. 

Beatrice has tried asking Kyle for the landlord's number but she says he will not disclose an address or phone number for them. 

V.I.A. tried to reach Kyle for an interview, but he hasn’t responded. 

Tenancy rights 

According to B.C.'s Residential Tenancy Act, “The landlord is generally responsible for regular or minor repairs, as long as the damage was not caused by the tenant, their pets or guests.” 

The Act also indicates that all requests for repairs should be documented in writing and if the landlord still fails to accomplish them tenants can apply for a dispute resolution with the Residential Tenancy Branch (RTB).

In the case of this particular Kerrisdale building, the tenants attest to be being all too familiar with this process.

Both Beatrice and Allison have taken copious notes on the repairs needed to make their living situation more comfortable and have applied for dispute resolutions with the RTB. 

With no address associated with her landlord, Allison stuck the papers for her dispute in a slot of the "office" door– the same door where she deposits her rent. With no response, Allison took her dispute to the RTB. 

Allison mentioned that it costs $100 to file a dispute resolution, which only gets refunded if the RTB solves your case. Since this is never guaranteed, Allison said that forces tenants to be choosy about which maintenance and repair disputes are actually put forth. 

Allison's dispute resolution was resolved, but the property owner at the time didn't follow through with the repairs. 

Beatrice was less successful. Following the steps outlined by the RTB, she mailed in a repairs request to the landlord of the building at the beginning of February 2022, indicating a four-week time frame for the repairs to be fixed. She mailed the address to a PO box number that was included on the yearly notice of rent increase. 

"The PO box number has changed multiple times," she said. "First it was in Port Moody, then North Vancouver and now this one is from the West End, but it's never been an actual address." 

V.I.A further investigated into the contact address of the landlord. The apartment number of the address found is empty and has been put up for rent. 

“I tried calling the RTB, they put me on hold for hours and they told me to print these forms. I filled out one form and listed seven different things; of course I got no answers. It’s just so exhausting,” Beatrice said.  

An estimated 40 per cent of the building's tenants are over 60 years old and many may struggle to access and correctly use online forms. This potential issue is something both Barker and Beatrice brought up in relation to paying rent. 

For some tenants, rent used to be payable by cheque or money order and was collected through a slot in a locked door of the laundry room. Now management is insisting on electronic fund transfers. 

“I wanted to continue paying by cheque, but when I paid by money order, they lost it,” said Beatrice, who said she's uncomfortable making an electronic funds transfer to a numbered company. "They forced me to opt into their system. They forced me by losing my rent.”

The Ministry of Attorney General and Responsible for Housing provided estimated wait times for specific resolutions in an email. 

To hear emergency disputes, the wait time is 5.3 weeks, while the wait time to hear monetary disputes is 30.4 weeks. While it's mentioned that emergency disputes usually take around four weeks, it also depends on how long it takes to process relevant information and evidence. 

Moving is not an option

In Vancouver’s current rental housing climate, moving is not always an option, although both Allison and Beatrice have expressed that they’ve considered it. 

“For the amount I'm paying for the square footage, it’s a good value for the price,” said Allison.

Beatrice also mentioned that moving entails other expenses and disruptions that would have to be sorted out. 

“That would mean that the owners are winning and I don’t want that,” she said. 

So while both of them feel that the living conditions are unfair, they also want to be able to afford to live in Vancouver. 

But Barker points out that affordability is only half of the greater issue at large here since 12 rooms stay vacant in their building today. 

“I'm sure this isn't the only building with empty suites. There must be others," Barker said to V.I.A. "But no one wants to live in a rundown place with black mold and endless problems."