Hollyburn is threatening another 32 longstanding tenants with eviction from their West End building to accommodate more than $2 million worth of “extensive improvements.”
The latest eviction notices arrived on May 19, just two weeks after landlord Hollyburn Properties Limited told fellow Emerald Terrace residents Andrew Simmons and Lynn Stevens that they are being evicted from their suites to make room for two on-site managers.
In this latest move, Hollyburn issued two sets of letters to tenants: eviction notices to those who’ve lived at Emerald Terrace for a long time, and not-to-worry notices to those who’ve moved in recently and pay higher rents.
Hollyburn told the latter group of tenants they wouldn’t have to vacate Emerald Terrace since their suites were previously refurbished, and they will “not be drastically affected by the planned upgrades.”
However, tenants served eviction notices will have to vacate their suites by August 31.
Both letters offer to make the “affected residents’ transition as smooth as possible” and offer to transfer them to “any vacant Hollyburn residence in the West End renting within their budget.”
Both letters describe upcoming changes to the building’s flooring, plumbing and electrical systems as “extensive” and say they cannot by law “be performed while the suite is occupied.”
They also mention balcony improvements and “cosmetic retro-fits” to in-suite flooring, fixtures, cabinets and appliances.
According to the Residential Tenancy Act (RTA), you cannot evict people for cosmetic renovations, West-End MLA Spencer Chandra Herbert told a media conference outside the Nelson St building on May 20. “It’s not legal.”
Attempts to reach Hollyburn before posting this story were unsuccessful.
Chandra Herbert says Hollyburn has had “a record of trying this kind of thing.” He points to another West End building it owns, the Bay Towers on Harwood St, whose tenants fought Hollyburn’s attempts to evict them all the way to the BC Supreme Court, and won.
In 2007, the BC Court of Appeal also sided with 120 Richmond Gardens tenants in their fight with landlord Amacon Property Management Services. Two out of three judges ruled that tenants cannot be thrown out to make way for renovations unless vacant possession is proven necessary.
“Yet here we are again,” Chandra Herbert says.
Long-term residents are being forced out of Emerald Terrace so that rents can be “massively” increased, he alleges.
Despite the Bay Towers and Richmond Garden court victories, he says, the RTA’s loopholes have yet to be plugged to prevent landlords from pursuing the eviction-by-renovation strategy.
He says it’s time to tighten up the legislation, and introduce the renters’ right of first refusal as Ontario has done.
Several of the 32 affected Emerald Terrace tenants – mostly seniors – say they’re going to fight Hollyburn’s move to evict them.
“You really feel like you want to get up and get out of there fast,” says Mary Milligan, who’s been an Emerald Terrace resident for almost four years. Last year, Hollyburn attempted to turf her and several other tenants in the building for owning pets. The tenants sought arbitration and won.
“We have to stick together and fight it, otherwise these guys are going to win and I don’t want to see them win,” Milligan says.
“It reminds me of exactly what we lived through,” says Janine Fuller, who still lives in the Bay Towers three years after she and partner Julie Stines took on Hollyburn.
Fuller notes the Bay Towers was “totally re-plumbed” while tenants remained in their suites.
“It’s not fair that a lot of seniors in this building that have paid their rent on time, now all of a sudden are faced with this horrible stress,” says Ron Menini, an 18-year resident at Emerald Terrace, also received an eviction notice.
“Watching this community change, the demographics change, is heartbreaking,” says Sharon Isaak of Renters at Risk, who came out in support of the Emerald Terrace residents.
“The West End is so diverse with the seniors, with the gay community, with young people – and that’s what makes it great,” she says.
Evicting entire buildings for profit is not a sustainable business practice, Isaak adds.
Like Chandra Herbert, Isaak wants RTA legislation strengthened to protect tenants from “this kind of behaviour.”
“When you buy and sell buildings, you buy and sell people,” she says.
“You can’t just be throwing people out on the streets repeatedly over and over, especially when the courts have said, ‘No, this practice is not okay, and you need to review this.'”