Hidden fees could leave Olympic Village's poorest tenants homeless

Vancouver, Over twenty low-income tenants of the Olympic Village are taking action against unexpected and unaffordable bills from a third-party utility company called Enerpro. Today, Thursday December 8th at 10am, tenants will be hosting a press conference at 80 Walter Hardwick Avenue. They will be joined by Pivot Legal Society lawyer Scott Bernstein and a housing advocate from St. Paul’s Advocacy, who have been working with tenants to prepare affidavits that document their stories.

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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.

In their sworn statements, the low-income Olympic Village tenants report that they were never told about Enerpro or that there would be a utility company other than BC Hydro billing them for anything.  Staff at COHO Property Management, which manages the building,  told prospective tenants that the building was “net zero”, was sustainable, and would be generating as much energy as it would use.  Based on these assurances, tenants signed tenancy agreements.

In May 2011, tenants began receiving bills from Enerpro that included account setup fees and billing for heat and hot and cold water.  These bills were on top of the usual BC Hydro bills tenants expected to pay. Many of the tenants report receiving bills even though they had not actually signed an agreement with Enerpro.  The Enerpro bills ranged between $50 and $148 and included heating charges for times when the heat was not functioning properly in the building and when some tenants had to rely on space heaters to keep warm.

“We are talking about seniors and people with disabilities who are living on very limited incomes,” says Pivot staff lawyer, Scott Bernstein.  “In order to pay these bills, some tenants will have to give up the basic necessities of life, such as food and clothing.”

For Connor and Ritta Mikkonen, the $148 Enerpro bill they received represents over 10% of their monthly income.  The Mikkonens have been tenants at the Olympic Village since March 2011, after fourteen months of being homeless.  In his affidavit, Mr. Mikkonen stated that he was billed $75 for heat during the period when the heat was not working in the building.  He states that if they are required to pay this amount, he and his wife will not be able to afford to continue to live at the Olympic Village.

“Most tenants were told repeatedly that their utility bills would be ‘next to nothing’, often after repeatedly asking about utilities and expressing concern about affordability at the Village,” says Bernstein.  “It’s clear now that this just isn’t true.  The City should take responsibility for the technical deficiencies of the Olympic Village and not shunt that burden onto the most marginalized of tenants.”

Pivot Legal Society will be using the affidavits to develop a legal opinion that outlines the legal rights of the low-income tenants.

Scott Bernstein, Lawyer, Pivot Legal Society: 778-228-2992