A spokesman for the company that owns Esme Manor, accused of renovictions, says the landlord is not doing anything illegal, and has begun legitimate and extensive renovations that will result in a much-improved building.
Guy Bouchard is a local investor in the company, MR 22225 GP Inc, which bought the building for $3 million at the end of May, and has now begun what he says will be an $800,000 renovation.
He confirmed the company evicted all top-floor tenants of the building, in eight of the 22 units in the building, and plans to evict the remaining tenants as work progresses.
He also confirmed rents will be rising from $750 for a one-bedroom unit to $1,000 or more, depending on the quality of finish and market prices.
On Monday, the Alliance Against Displacement organized a press conference at the building at 22225 119th Ave., to draw attention to what it calls a loophole in the Residential Tenancy Act that allows landlords to evict tenants for renovations, and raise their rents well beyond the annual maximum increase.
Bouchard characterizes the situation as a small business investing in the city.
“Some units are condemnable,” he said. “The building has deteriorated. It’s in bad shape, and we’re coming in there to increase the value of the building.”
He said run-down buildings with rents below market price attract crime.
He said there are “problem tenants” at Esme Manor and some who were at the press conference are behind on their rents. Tenants in six units have been give notice to end tenancy for non-payment of rent.
“They are using this as an opportunity to make our lives difficult,” he said.
Since the publicity about the so-called renovictions, he has met with the mayor and council to reassure them he is doing nothing illegal, and that he will work with seniors in the building, extending their tenancy to ensure they do not end up homeless.
Boucher said he has had conversations with the seniors being evicted. One has given notice and found other accommodations, another has the support of family and one is trying to get into an assisted living facility. Others may be given longer periods of time to find a new place.
It is necessary they move during the work, he asserts, because the renovations are a “complete gut” of the interior.
“We’re doing as much as we can without tearing out walls.”
New windows and doors, new bathrooms and cabinets, a new roof and boiler and a renovated exterior are all planned, he said.
The renos would take longer and the cost would double if the tenants remained in place, and it would not be a healthy environment for them.
He said the problem of affordable housing is one for governments.
“Landlords can’t be expected to keep rents low as market values rise,” Boucher said. “We’re trying to have a positive impact.”
The Alliance is trying to ensure tenants know their rights, and keep them in the building. It has supported tenants in filing for dispute resolution hearings with the Residential Tenancy Branch, which would likely not be heard until October.
At that point, the evictions could be overturned, said Isabelle Krupp, a spokesperson for the Alliance, which also organized the Anita Place homeless camp in downtown Maple Ridge.
“We think the tenants have a really good chance of being successful in their dispute,” said Krupp.
Many tenants, she added, are seniors or are disabled, and not all have access to the Internet, so they need support.
MLA Lisa Beare said B.C. Housing is working with tenants, and the government will be looking at changes in the Residential Tenancy Act to protect them from renoviction.
“From what we’ve seen, the government has been working hard to make themselves look good in the media,” said Krupp, “but not working hard for the tenants.”
She said Beare was in Victoria, and not available to speak with the Alliance on Monday.
“She was unreachable when her constituents were being forced from their homes,” said Krupp.
“There’s a lot of words and no action. If government promises were a victory, the problem of homelessness would have been solved a long time ago. We need to hold them accountable.”
Gail Halliday, a resident who stayed in the building past her eviction deadline of July 31, said she has been given another month by the landlord to find accomodations. She and the Alliance will argue that she can stay in the building as renovations take place, possibly moving into a finished unit.
She and her husband Robert are in their 60s.