With a lack of clear directives from provincial or municipal governments, there is growing uncertainty surrounding renters’ rights in the province of British Columbia.
While some banks have announced that they will allow property owners to defer mortgage payments for up to six months, no such provision has been introduced by the government for renters.
Premier Horgan has stated that no British Columbian should fear eviction during these uncertain times, and that announcements to protect tenants will be made in the coming days.
But amidst the chaos, tenants in the capital city have reported numerous stories of landlords refusing to defer rent payments, raising rents, and even issuing eviction notices despite the growing COVID-19 outbreak leading to illnesses and loss of livelihood for many.
One woman, a medical stenographer at the Royal Jubilee Hospital, tells Victoria Buzz that the owner of her building located at 1535 Jubilee Ave has decided to implement the maximum allowable rent increase for tenants despite the ongoing pandemic.
“When I emailed her to ask if that was really the choice she wanted to make amid the COVID-19 crisis, I received no reply,” says April, whose last name has been withheld upon request. “I pray for the other tenants that our government puts a freeze on rent increases at this time.”
April has been living in a one-bedroom apartment in the building for the past five years.
Come July 2020, all tenants will be required to pay an increased price to continue occupying the building, regardless of whether they became ill or lost their jobs due to measures taken to curb the spread of COVID-19.
April also expressed concern about the lack of increased hygiene and sanitization measures in her building, but says she received no real response from the landlord.
“When I asked if they were cleaning the door knobs, shared laundry rooms, hand rails, intercom and elevators, they would not tell me how often this is being done, or even what was being done. I even offered to help get this done, but no reply,” she says.
“I pleaded to the owner to protect the tenants who are health care workers, seniors and people with other medical conditions that put them at greater risk, but I still got no clear answers other than being thanked for being a health care worker.”
Upon speaking to a few other tenants about the sanitization issue, April found that they refused to ask the landlord to enforce greater steps to ensure cleanliness, and acted incensed that the subject was even brought up.
“I work 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. everyday. My duties have changed and it’s very very stressful and difficult to stay grounded day to day,” says April.
Eviction notice during quarantine
Meanwhile in Saanich, a 55-year-old woman has been forced to battle both oncoming COVID-19 symptoms and her landlord who has been trying to evict her for the past few months.
Leah, who has asked for her last name to be withheld, has a weakened immune system, is partially paralyzed, and uses a wheelchair and walking arm brace.
After finding she had symptoms of COVID-19, she contacted a nurse through the 8-1-1 phone line and spoke to a nurse who told her she most probably has the virus.
This cannot be confirmed due to the fact that B.C. is not currently testing people for COVID-19 if they display symptoms unless they are a health care worker, care centre resident, or part of an active cluster outbreak investigation.
The nurse on the line told Leah that her house has now been officially placed under quarantine until March 30th and any non-occupant who enters the residence will also be required to quarantine for 10 days.
She was told that the main concern would be breathing issues associated with the virus, and must call an ambulance if her symptoms get worse. Her symptoms will be reevaluated on March 30th.
In the meantime, her ongoing year-long battle with her landlord continues, even during the pandemic.
Leah tells Victoria Buzz that the man who owns the property on Homer Road that she occupies originally gave her a three-month notice to evict, claiming that the owners would be moving into the house.
This means she would have to move out by the end of March, which is something she had originally planned on doing.
However according to Leah, the landlord has told her he will be forcing her to evict the property, despite learning that she has been placed under quarantine.
She says he continued calling her inappropriate names and threatening to send a bailiff to force her out, in spite of knowing that she may have contracted coronavirus and has been told to quarantine.
The house is shared by another occupant who has received similar threats from the landlord. This occupant is a 71-year-old man who is self isolating in the basement suite of the house after also developing symptoms of COVID-19.
“We have no where to go, no family on the island and no services are open to assist us with a move,” says Leah.
“But landlords are going to force us out of our self-quarantine and out into the public.”