A Whalley couple says their family of six has been evicted from their rented townhouse at Sutton Place because a neighbour has lodged multiple complaints about their child with special needs making too much noise.
Members of BC Acorn, a tenants rights advocacy group, staged a small rally at the complex on Wednesday, demanding that Metro Vancouver Housing “immediately stop the eviction of a vulnerable tenant family.”
The VanVlacks have four children ages 15, eight, six and 20 months, two of them with special needs. Naomi VanVlack, the mother, says they’ve been living there for eight years. When their daughter’s community care closed because of the pandemic, she said, the girl “had a hard time dealing with it and became upset on a few occasions” but since December has been back in care, resumed her routine and there have been no subsequent “incidents.”
“It doesn’t make sense that Metro Vancouver Housing knew this and still filed for our eviction from the Residential Tenancy Branch,” she said. “We literally have nowhere to go, and cannot afford anything out there to house our family. Where are we supposed to go? I am very scared for my children.”
Don Bradley, division manager of media relations and issues management, said Metro Vancouver Housing owns and operates 49 housing sites throughout the region, housing almost 10,000 people, and this current situation is an “unfortunate anomaly.”
“As a landlord we have an obligation to all of our tenants living in our housing facilities to oblige by the rules and after more than a year of working with this particular family, specifically around repeated noise complaints levelled against the adults, we had to make the difficult but necessary decision to terminate their lease,” he told the Now-Leader. “Please note it is never our preferred option to evict a tenant and we are sensitive to the impact that has on families, particularly now during COVID, efforts for a peaceful resolution were absolutely exhausted.”
Bertha Edward, a spokeswoman for Surrey ACORN, said the family’s problem began “after COVID hit” and the children with special needs were sent home but the care centre has since reopened.
“Still, Metro Vancouver decided to evict them anyway,” she said, “and that’s why we’re here. It’s upsetting.”
Brian VanVlack, the father, echoed that. He told the Now-Leader on Wednesday that his family has reached out to Surrey-Whalley NDP MLA Bruce Ralston for help.
“Obviously it’s a serious challenge when you have children, that many, in this particular rental market,” Ralston said. “We’re talking to other agencies but housing, I think everyone recognizes, is really tough right now.
“There’s long lists waiting everywhere, but we’ll talk to some of the provincial, and then there’s the community agencies as well.”
VanVlack said his daughter has a complex neural development disorder and a neighbour who moved in last March wrote 22 complaint letters to the landlord after the girl began making noise because her supports were cancelled.
“It’s because my daughter, she cries.”
He said the walls of the townhouses are “really thin.”
“You can hear everything, you can hear them flush the toilet.”
“We’ve been evicted because of the noise from my child,” he said, but “since December, her supports are all back. She’s in the programs again eh, and we’ve had no complaints since December until now eh. They’re saying we have to leave because basically this other neighbour is complaining.”
Meantime, the upset father says the landlord already has an order of possession and his family has two days to find a new place to live.
“We have no place to go.”
Naomi VanVlack said it’s “really hard” for her family to find a place it can afford.
“Right now we have nowhere to go so once they do have the order I think we’re going to be homeless right now, for a little bit. According to the thing we should have already been gone but we’re waiting to hear back if ACORN can help us.”
Bradley said while the tenants may be required to vacate within 48 hours, “as always, Metro Vancouver Housing Corp., sensitive to the family need, and in support of the tenants, eased the transition, has extended that considerably, well into April.”
As for the neighbour complaining about the children with special needs making noise, Bradley said confidentiality and privacy concerns limit his ability to get into the particulars of this case.
However, he said, the majority of noise complaints Metro Vancouver Housing typically deals with is “with respect to yelling and profanity and related by the adults, not the children.”