View Towers residents and poverty advocates gathered at the corner of Fort and Quadra streets Wednesday to take a stand against the way tenants have been treated after the fire that displaced 70 people.
With the 19-storey apartment building looming in the background, some shared stories of being told their furniture is contaminated and they’ll have to pay thousands to get it professionally cleaned before moving it out. Others have complained of being coerced into signing a mutual agreement to end tenancy on the premise that their home was uninhabitable after the May 15 fire, only to find out there’s little to no damage in the suite.
The common thread was vulnerable, low-income residents who have been forced out of their homes and face a huge monthly rent increase in other apartments.
Shane Calder, an advocate with Social Coast, one of the agencies that organized the rally, echoed the concerns of several others that longtime View Towers tenants paying low rent are being kicked out so that the property managers can renovate and then raise the rent, a practice often called “renovictions.”
Dozens of people gathered on the sidewalk, carrying signs that said: “Solidarity with evicted tenants” and “My downtown includes low-income people.”
Rebecca White, 51, has lived on the eighth floor of the building for five years. She said she has received confusing answers as to whether her furniture is contaminated with asbestos. She was given an estimate of $20,000 when she asked how much it would be to professionally clean her furniture.
White doesn’t have that money, but she’s not ready to say goodbye to all her possessions, which she was told must be out of the suite by June 15.
Together Against Poverty, which is advocating for displaced residents, said that under the Residential Tenancy Act, if a tenant has abandoned his or her personal property, a landlord has an obligation to store it for 60 days. That applies unless the market value of the items is less than $500 — in which case the landlord can sell the items and give the tenant the money — or if the belongings are unsafe or unsanitary, which the landlord must prove.
White has filed a complaint with the Residential Tenancy Branch in hopes of getting a damage assessment specific to her suite, which building management has refused to provide. She was paying $619 a month in rent and is now facing a $200-a-month increase at another apartment.
Warren Griffiths, who has lived in the building for about 12 years, said he has spent 21 days in the Salvation Army, sleeping on a mat until getting a dorm room about a week ago.
Griffiths, who lives on the 10th floor directly above the suite where the fire broke out, said he’s being pressured to move out his belongings but hasn’t found another place yet.
He said he believes he was coerced into signing the mutual agreement to end tenancy to get his damage deposit and half month’s rent back.
A lawyer with B.C. Public Interest Advocacy Centre said tenants are not legally required to sign the mutual agreement to get their money back.
Victoria Coun. Ben Isitt criticized View Towers management for not moving displaced tenants into the dozens of vacant suites not damaged by the fire. There are about 100 vacant suites in the 356-unit building, 23 of which were damaged by fire.
“They’re sitting on a massive inventory of low-cost housing right now,” Isitt said. “The construction of that building was subsidized by low-cost loans from federal authorities and they’ve made a choice to not move the displaced tenants into units that have been sitting vacant from even before the fire.”
View Towers management, landlord Vancouver-based Westsea Construction Ltd. and building owner Edmonton-based Capital Management Ltd. have refused to answer questions on issues involving the building following the fire.