Residents of a Ladysmith apartment complex are stuck choosing between tenancy buyout offers in a zero per cent vacancy market, or digging in and fighting against a looming renoviction.
“I will have to leave this community because there is nothing available,” said Susan Burron, who lives at 110 Esplanade. “All I want to do is continue living here respectfully.”
The heritage building recently changed ownership and the new owner hopes to make significant upgrades, which he said cannot be done with tenants residing there.
“Our goal is to bring it back to its original structure and have nice rental units for the area and to bring back that heritage building to its original intention and make it as beautiful as we think it can be,” said Jan Frederik Ludvik.
He said the building is more than 100 years old and has not had a building permit issued in its lifetime to upgrade plumbing and electrical. Once renovations are complete, Ludvik said he wants to keep the building as long-term rental units.
Currently, there are about a dozen tenants and four vacant units in the 15-unit building, according to Burron. Ludvik said he was unable to say how many accepted buyout offers, or if part of the agreement was to be able to move back after the renovations. He will have to go through the Residential Tenancy Branch (RTB) to legally evict anyone who does not accept a mutual agreement. Ludvik said with the Town of Ladysmith discussing a new renoviction bylaw, the eviction process for renovations is “very grey.”
Dale Yeryk, another resident, is concerned the renovations will take away from the small affordable rental market still available in Ladysmith. He is concerned there is a possibility the units will be converted into short-term rentals — a possibility Ludvik rejected.
“We have never even considered short-term rentals in Ladysmith,” he said. The affordability of the renovated units will depend on the cost to renovate, according to Ludvik.
Yeryk is also concerned about the treatment of residents during the renovation and eviction process. He is currently facing eviction, which he is fighting. “I am standing fast and I am not tolerating it. I am fighting tooth and nail and will not be treated like this.”
Ludvik said he has offered free rent and money to tenants to help them find a new place to live.
“We are very interested in helping our tenants as much as possible,” he said. “We’re in constant communication with them and we are really happy to help them in every way we can.” He added that Ladysmith is not an island and there are options to move to surrounding communities.
Provincial regulation does not prohibit buying out tenants with a mutual agreement to end tenancy, but tenants are not obligated to accept an offer. One tenant, who is 77-years-old, signed an agreement and accepted a buyout, but is now waiting for a hearing with the RTB to fight the eviction.
Burron said she is concerned because she and other tenants do not feel comfortable with the form of communication between landlord and tenant.
“His preference of communication is to knock on the door or corner someone when they are walking through the hall, rather than call or email,” she said. “There is a consistent, routine, almost daily walking back and forth throughout the halls,” she said. “It makes nobody want to leave the apartment because we don’t want to run into him.”
She said she feels like her home is being patrolled and people living there feel uncomfortable. She believes he is trying to make tenants want to leave before it comes down to going through the legal process for eviction.
A new provincial law, effective July 1 this year, says if a landlord wants to end tenancy for extensive renovation or repair they need to apply for an Order of Possession from the RTB. There will be a dispute resolution proceeding to decide if ending the tenancy is the only way to complete the work.
Requirements to end tenancy include: proving the landlord has all necessary permits and approvals; the work requires units to be vacant; the renovations are necessary to prolong or sustain the use of the rentals; and the only reasonable way to achieve the necessary vacancy is to end the tenancy agreement.
Yeryk and Burron said they are happy with their units, as the previous landlord completed renovations about five years ago without removing any tenants.
Ludvik said previous renovations were only “small cosmetic work.” He also said he is working with the town to get building permits for the planned changes but has not submitted a complete application yet.
The Town of Ladysmith has introduced a bylaw to regulate renovictions, which was discussed at a Committee of the Whole meeting on Nov. 9. It has not yet come to the council table. According to town staff reports for the meeting, the Community Charter specifically gives power to municipalities to regulate rental housing and The Tenancy Act regulations for renovation-related evictions were designed to set a minimum standard across the province.