By Darah Hansen, Vancouver Sun May 8, 2010
An 82-year-old widow and ovarian cancer patient who is facing eviction from a West End apartment vowed Friday she will “fight until the end” to stay in her home of 41 years.
“Right now I have to believe that we are going to win this. That keeps me going,” Lynne Stevens told reporters Friday morning outside the Emerald Terrace tower at 2045 Nelson Street.
Stevens has lived in the apartment building on the edge of Stanley Park since 1969. Last week, she was issued a 60-day notice to leave her home on the eighth floor on the grounds the unit is to be converted to a manager’s suite by property owners Hollyburn Property Ltd.
“You have the option of filing for a hearing at the Residential Tenancy Branch, however, we are well within our rights as landlords to choose any rental suite to convert to a staff housing unit when using the appropriate form of notification,” Hollyburn property manager Sasha Gray noted in a letter to Stevens, dated April 30.
Andrew Simmons, another long-term tenant in the same building, received a similar eviction notice last week, again to make way for staff accommodations.
Hollyburn’s general manager Allan Wasel said in an e-mail late Friday the move to evict both Stevens and Simmons “was purely a business decision: it made the most sense to put our new resident manager and resident managers in training in the suites that rent for the lowest price.”
Stevens declined to say how much she pays for her one-bedroom sui te, but acknowledged it is the lowest monthly fee in the building because of her long-term status.
Wasel, meanwhile, said the lowest rent paid for a one-bedroom unit in the building is $861 a month, while the highest rent for a one-bedroom is $1,711 a month.
Stevens’ complaint is scheduled to be heard by a Residential Tenancy Branch arbitrator, with a hearing scheduled in June.
Critics of Hollyburn’s property management tactics question the legitimacy of the evictions, citing Hollyburn’s history in the West End of attempting to remove low-rent tenants from its buildings in order to hike rates beyond provincially regulated caps.
(In one case, involving tenants of Bay Towers on Haro Street, the fight went to B.C. Supreme Court where tenants ultimately won the right to stay in their homes.)
“Here we go again,” said Vancouver-West End MLA Spencer Herbert, who joined Stevens at Friday’s media event, along with Stevens’ son and a group of vocal supporters, many of them local seniors worried the same thing could happen to them.
Herbert said there are now seven to eight vacant one-and two-bedroom suites in the Emerald Terrace available for rent, and therefore no good reason to force out long-term tenants such as Stevens and Simmons.
The company’s website is now advertising both one-and two-bedroom suites for rent at $1,200 a month and $2,200 a month, respectively.
“We are calling on them [Hollyburn] to back down and let Lynne and Andrew stay in their suites,” Herbert said.
Stevens’s son, Brian Schramm, called Hollyburn’s tactics “reprehensible … Not only to my mother, but to everyone who is a loyal, honest rent-paying tenant in the community.”
Schramm said his mother, who is being treated for ovarian cancer, has lived in fear of eviction since Hollyburn took over the building nearly two years ago. Soon after, the company issued eviction notices to 10 tenants with pets. The tenants fought back, taking their case to the Residential Tenancy Branch, where all 10 evictions were set aside. “She knew it was only a matter of time for her, and she was right,” he said.
Schramm added the stress of the situation has forced his mother to begin taking antianxiety pills.
In his e-mail, issued late Friday, Wasel called the current Emerald Terrace eviction situation “highly unusual.”
“We’re currently upgrading several of our suites and undertaking a large-scale renovation in the building and we had to make a decision that was best for all residents. Because so many suites are under construction, we had no space for our new resident manager or our resident manager couple in training. The resident manager positions were added to the building after several residents requested on-site management support,” the e-mail states.
Wasel said neither tenant’s personal situation was a factor in the decision and the company was not aware of Stevens’ ill health. “Had there been other suites available, we would have relocated the tenants and found a straightforward solution,” the e-mail states.
He said the company will work with the displaced tenants to find new accommodation in a neighbouring rental building within their respective budgets.
Under the Residential Tenancy Act, landlords are limited to raising the rent of an occupied suite by two per cent annually, plus the cost of living index — about a four-per-cent rental-hike cap. Anything more than that cap requires the tenant to either agree to the increase, or a ruling by a Residential Tenancy Branch arbitrator.
Hollyburn Properties Ltd. is a family-own company, with rental properties in Vancouver, Calgary and Toronto. Its president is listed as Stephen Sander, with Paul Sander listed as company secretary.
No one from the Sander family was available for an interview Friday, with questions referred to Allan Wasel.
Minister of Housing Rich Coleman was also unavailable for comment Friday.
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