Tenant allowed to return after renovations in precedent-setting ruling

Surrey - Last week, the Residential Tenancy Branch (RTB) ruled that ACORN housing advocate Susan Collard would have the right to return to her suite in Kwantlen Park Manor once structural renovations were completed by her landlord, which are estimated to take two months.

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Using the law as a catalyst for positive social change, Pivot Legal Society works to improve the lives of marginalized communities.

This decision marks the first time the RTB interpreted the Residential Tenancy Act (RTA) to mean that a vacancy for repairs does not mean that the tenancy is over.  Although Collard and her family must now vacate her suite on short notice, she will be allowed to move back in once repairs are completed.

Collard faced her sixth eviction notice from her landlords, Waterford Development, a company owned by the notorious Sahota family.  The previous five eviction notices had all been set aside by the RTB.  The Sahotas own several problematic properties in the lower mainland, including the notorious Pandora Hotel.  In 2007, the roof of the Pandora Hotel collapsed, leaving 36 tenants without a place to live.

In 2005, Collard, then serving as building manager, began pressing her landlord for much-needed structural repairs to Kwantlen Manor.  Aware of numerous leaks, decay, and unsafe conditions of the building, the landlord did nothing.  Failing to comply with an RTB order to repair the building, the RTB levied the first-ever administrative penalty on the Sahotas, for $115,000 earlier this year.

In the sixth eviction hearing before the RTB, the landlord asked for termination of Collard’s tenancy in order to undertake repairs, although some tenants in the building were relocated to other suites.  Finding that it was not necessary that the tenancy be ended for repairs to be completed, the adjudicator ordered that Collard and her family must vacate the unit by September 30th, but could return when the repairs are done.

“This case is an important decision for tenants’ rights,” notes Pivot lawyer Scott Bernstein.  “No longer will unscrupulous landlords be allowed to use the RTA to ‘renovict’ tenants in order to end tenancies and raise rents or get rid of tenants they don’t like.  It is fair that the tenants get the right to come back once repairs are done.”  So-called ‘renovictions’ have been reported throughout the lower mainland, particularly in areas that are experiencing gentrification and upward pressure on rents.

“While I am delighted that the RTB has taken an unprecedented step in allowing me to return to my suite,” says Susan Collard, “the whole experience speaks to the need for reform to the Residential Tenancy Act, greater powers for the RTB and, most significantly, some system of ongoing checks on commercial landlords to ensure their buildings are never again deliberately allowed to deteriorate to the extent they present a health and safety risk to tenants.” 

ACORN and Pivot have been calling for these changes both municipally and provincially.