This Saturday, Burnaby tenants will take their fight for housing to the streets of Metrotown. The rally is taking place on unceded and occupied Musqueam, Squamish & Tsleil-Waututh Territories.
Tenants led by the Dow Avenue Tenant Group with the support of the Eviction Defence Network will march to expose Mayor Hurley’s Tenant Assistance Policy (TAP) for what it is: a softer version of the same demoviction policies that took place under Derrick Corrigan.
What: Tenants rally against the failure of Burnaby’s Tenant Assistant Policy
Where: Corner of Dow Avenue & Beresford Street, Burnaby
When: Saturday, May 15th at 2:00PM
Mayor Mike Hurley was elected in 2018 promising to end the demoviction crisis in Metrotown. Yet for low-income tenants, there has been little change as the City continues to demolish the largest stock of affordable rental housing in Burnaby, leaving large numbers of tenants with nowhere to go.
Hurley promised that his Tenant Assistance Policy would address this problem by requiring developers to relocate tenants during construction and then offer them a unit in the new building at the same rent. However, the situation on the ground shows this not to be the case.
Surveys conducted by the Dow Avenue Tenants Group in Metrotown, show that 20% of respondents are not covered under TAP, either because of when they moved in or because they are not listed as the primary tenant on the lease. Of tenants surveyed, ⅔ had not been informed by either the City or the landlord that they were eligible for compensation or relocation as part of the TAP.
As well, many tenants report being pressured to leave before the rezoning process is concluded, making it harder for them to ever return or access any of the guarantees of the TAP. What’s more, the TAP fails to address the forces driving displacement; the City approved destruction of low-end of market rental units, the ongoing gentrification of Metrotown by developers, and the power of landlords over tenants’ lives.
Metrotown tenants are demanding that the City extend the TAP to all building residents, freeze all rezonings and stop the destruction of low-end of market housing until it can be replaced with universal housing outside of the market.
For the past two and half months tenants at 6659 Dow Avenue have been calling on their developer-landlord, Peterson Group, to address the dangerous and stressful living conditions in their building. Instead Peterson has blatantly disregarded tenants’ health and well being and worked to create a climate of fear.
This week, Peterson escalated further by illegally locking tenants out of their homes, changing the locks on the building, and threatening them with eviction.
In response, twenty tenants with the Dow Avenue Tenants Group and the Eviction Defence Network paid a visit to Peterson CEO Ben Yeung’s multi-million dollar home in Kerrisdale to present their letter of demands calling for an end to Peterson’s attacks on tenants.
“Come out of your castle! Face your victims!”
Serena Lowe, a representative of the Dow Avenue Tenants Group, tried to present Yeung with a letter, signed by the majority of tenants in her building, calling on Peterson to end the harassment of tenants, to stop locking people out of their suites, and to ensure that repairs are done in a way that doesn’t put their health at risk. Rather than face the tenants his company continues to endanger, Yeung hid in his castle. After repeated calls for him to come out and address their concerns in person, the Dow Avenue Tenants Group put the letter under his door and took to the streets.
For the next half hour, working-class tenants from Metrotown marched through the streets of one of Vancouver’s wealthiest neighbourhoods chanting “Stop All Evictions! Stop the Harassment! Shame on Peterson!” and “Come out of your castle! Face your victims!” Along the way they leafletted every house on Yeung’s street, letting his neighbours know that he and his company make their millions through endangering, abusing, and displacing low-income tenants. The group then marched down 49th Avenue and blocked the intersection at Granville and 49th Avenue, demonstrating that they are willing to stop business as normal to defend tenants under attack.
According to Linda Noel, one of the leaders of the Dow Avenue Tenant Group and longtime resident of 6647 Dow Avenue: “With courage and conviction, we marched throughout Ben Yeung’s neighborhood calling him out for his thoughtless abandonment of his tenants. With voices raised, and cheers from onlookers at 49th and Granville, we lifted each other up, determined to slay the dragon. Our fight has just begun.”
A developer’s disrepair leads to resistance
In February 2021, large parts of the ceiling fell in at 6659 Dow Avenue, exposing tenants to mold and asbestos. For an entire month Peterson, with its website ironically reading “we believe in community, fairness and setting an example by taking action,” ignored tenants’ calls to fix the damage. Peterson only began repairs after tenants spoke out publicly in the media. Since then Peterson temporarily relocated a handful of tenants to hotels in downtown Vancouver and others to unlicensed suites in the neighbourhood, while other tenants have nothing but a few sheets of plastic between them and the potentially toxic damage.
Tenants’ struggle forced Peterson to begin making repairs, but even these repairs continue to put tenants’ health at risk. Peterson had a report on mold and asbestos done but has not shared the results of these reports with tenants. After removing tenants from the toxic renovation site, Peterson has not bothered to cover up personal belongings in areas where they are exposed to asbestos and mold. They have shown a consistent disregard for tenants’ personal space, damaged tenants’ personal property and left their suites’ windows and doors unlocked and unattended. Finally, they have not communicated to tenants when they will be able to return and under what conditions.
In addition to disregarding tenants’ physical health, Ben Yeung’s billion dollar development corporation, which built the luxury Shangri-La hotel in downtown Vancouver and the private-public-partnership Woodward’s condo building, has begun to harass and intimidate long-term tenants into moving out early, which would make it much harder for them to claim compensation or relocation assistance under Burnaby’s convoluted Tenant Assistance Policy. 6659 Dow Avenue is one of four buildings Peterson owns that are going through the City of Burnaby’s rezoning process.
On Wednesday the landlord escalated further by illegally changing the locks on tenants’ suites after they moved into temporary housing and refusing them to give them a new key, locking them out of suites where they are still paying rent. Peterson only changed the locks back after tenants called the Residential Tenancy Branch Compliance Enforcement Unit and contacted the media. Despite having the key, access to one tenant’s suite is still blocked by asbestos containment. Most of her personal belonging and important medication are inside.
According to Serena Lowe, the member of the Dow Avenue Tenants Group who carried the tenants’ demand letter to Ben Yeung’s door, “The second floor repairs are happening at a slow rate and the contractors/subcontractors retained have not taken proper care to protect our belongings from being contaminated with mold and asbestos. It smells moldy when you walk into the lobby at 6659. The hallway ceiling on the second floor is full of cracks. The boiler room makes loud, disruptive sounds, at all hours of the night, waking tenants up at 3:00 or 4:00 in the morning.”
Dow Avenue Tenants Group continues their struggle
After picketing the Peterson CEO’s neighbourhood, the Dow Avenue Tenants Group vowed to return, and also, to turn their attention to the City of Burnaby. City-organized demoviction is in the background of all of the Dow Avenue Tenants Group’s immediate concerns around maintenance, with Mayor Hurley’s Downtown Metrotown development plan threatening tenants with evictions along with a slew of other slumlord practices used by developers like Peterson.
According to Jessica Li, a tenant at 6645 Dow Avenue, “We were hoping that Ben Yeung would be there to receive our letter and demands. He did not answer when we knocked but someone removed our leaflet from the car in the driveway after we left. We want to hold Peterson accountable to their mission statement, and to the law. We have rights and we won’t back down until all of us receive our rights and fair treatment.”
Chris Marino, another tenant of 6659 Dow Avenue said, “Peterson: this is your first warning. This won’t be the last time that we’ll come here or approach other Peterson leadership. Maybe next time we will take the fight to City Hall!”
(Bill and his neighbours at a press conference they held in January (The Volcano)
Last year, investor-landlords Bill Mitsui and Tyler Zhang purchased a low-rise apartment building in Maple Ridge and began intimidating vulnerable tenants to leave so that they could raise the rents without going through the trouble of finding a reason to serve a legal eviction.
Bill George is one of the many Cityviews tenants who has endured intimidation and bullying at the hands of Mitsui, Zhang, and the building manager, Josephine Rankin, who tried to pressure Bill to move into an old people’s home when he complained about the elevator often breaking down.
After the elevator broke down last fall, Mitsui and Zhang let it remain broken for nearly three months, during which Bill, who needs a scooter to get around and lives on the second floor, was trapped in his home. Then, to add insult to injury, on the one day that Bill was able to arrange leaving his home to attend a doctor’s appointment, the landlord later claimed that he had used the elevator “improperly” and charged him $100 without any evidence of damage or rationale for the amount. Bill paid the fee, fearing that if he didn’t, he might be evicted.
When Bill first spoke to the Eviction Defence Network in December, he said, “they’re pushing to get a bunch of us out,” recognizing that he’s in the same boat as all of his low-income neighbours. With EDN’s help, Bill filed a dispute against Cityviews, arguing that his right to quiet enjoyment had been violated by the elevator being broken for so long as well as from the unconscionable treatment he suffered at the hands of Mitsui, Zhang, and Rankin.
“Quiet enjoyment” refers to the legal right all tenants in BC have to enjoy their homes without unnecessary interference by their landlords. It’s defined in section 28 of the Residential Tenancy Act as the right to reasonable privacy, freedom from unreasonable disturbance, exclusive possession of their rental unit, and use of the property’s common areas free from significant interference.
At the dispute hearing, Mitsui claimed that Bill had done over $3,000 worth of damage to the elevator, without providing any proof. He characterized the building manager, Rankin, as professional, which directly contradicted the testimony of an EDN organizer who had trouble delivering the hearing evidence to Rankin because she was so hostile and aggressive. Mitsui’s story changed throughout the hearing and he contradicted himself multiple times.
Luckily, Bill had a sympathetic arbitrator who found in his favour and ordered Mitsui to provide a written apology for his unconscionable treatment of Bill. The arbitrator also ordered Mitsui to pay $500 as compensation for Bill’s loss of quiet enjoyment, and another $450 for aggravated damages. The arbitrator wrote in the decision:
“I find that there is sufficient evidence before me that this was intentionally aggressive behaviour on the part of the Landlord’s agents, and I find that it amounts to a breach of the Tenant’s quiet enjoyment of his suite… As a result… I Order that the Landlord ensure that their agents stop further suggestions to the effect that the Tenant would be happier living elsewhere.”
The RTB decision is a significant win because Bill George isn’t the only tenant facing intimidation and harassment at Cityviews. His will to fight back shows his neighbours that bullies like Mitsui, Zhang, and Rankin aren’t as powerful as they try to make themselves out to be.
In the lead-up to the hearing, Bill’s landlord and building manager tried to threaten EDN organizers and stop them from visiting tenants in the building, going so far as to distribute a one-page notice falsely claiming that it was illegal for the EDN to help tenants. Bill’s victory better equips Cityviews tenants to call Mitsui’s bluff and fight his abuse on whatever fronts they can.
The Dow Avenue Tenants Group is calling for an end to the chronic disrepair and unhealthy living conditions caused by property developer Matchpoint Development, as well as the City of Burnaby’s housing policies that have made their landlord’s neglect possible.
The Dow Avenue Tenants Group, a multi-building resident organization, has released an open letter setting out their demands to Matchpoint Development. Since the letter was sent on March 17th, Matchpoint’s only response has been to say that the ownership of the building has been transferred. A title search reveals that the building is now owned by 1173807 BC LTD, which shares an address with mega-property developer, Peterson Group.
On February 10th the ceiling gave away in multiple units at 6650 Dow Avenue, revealing widespread black mould and rotten wood in the roof. For more than three weeks tenants have tried to get the ceiling repaired, with their then-investor/landlord Matchpoint Development only responding to their requests after several tenants spoke to CTV news on March 4th.
Since then, the landlord has begun superficial repairs, but tenants are still left with unlivable suites and unanswered questions. The landlord has paid for some tenants to stay in hotels in Vancouver while repairs are being done. However they have not paid for any other relocation expenses, such as food and transit, which tenants are forced to incur.
Serena Lowe, a tenant in the affected building and member of Dow Avenue Tenants Group, explained, “Neither Matchpoint Development, which owned the building, or Peterson Commercial, which now manages it, have communicated to tenants how long the job will take, under what conditions they can return, and why tenants cannot be temporarily relocated in the Burnaby neighbourhood rather than in downtown Vancouver. The timelines and priorities continue to shift and get extended, with no end date in sight.”
The Dow Avenue Tenants Group stated that Matchpoint and Peterson blatantly disregarded tenants’ health, leaving exposed mould in common spaces and refusing to communicate with tenants the results of an in-house mould toxicity report from March 5th.
Burnaby’s facilitation of landlord neglect
Matchpoint and Peterson’s gross negligence is facilitated by the City of Burnaby’s housing and real estate development policies. Matchpoint applied to tear down the existing units at 6645, 6659, 6675, and 6691 Dow Avenue to build highrises as part of the City’s massive Metrotown Downtown Plan, which arranges the mass rezoning and demolition of low-end of market rentals to build high-rise condos and luxury apartments with built height and density giveaways to condo developers. Since the Plan was passed, developers have bought up dozens of buildings in the neighbourhood to tear down and redevelop. As the anticipated source of developers’ profits isn’t rent but future redevelopment, tenants have become casualties of the Plan.
Since the buildings on Dow were bought by Matchpoint, the landlord stopped doing all repairs, which benefits them in two ways. First, it means they no longer have to pay for the upkeep of a building they hope to destroy. Second, it makes living conditions so miserable, some tenants decide to leave early, making it less likely they will seek compensation and their right to relocation assistance under the City of Burnaby’s Tenant Assistance Policy (TAP).
Critique of Burnaby’s “best in Canada” Tenant Assistance Policy
This fact points to the limitations of Burnaby’s TAP, which the City adopted as a concession to the years-long anti-demoviction movement in Metrotown that included mass rallies, City Hall occupations, and a 12-day long squat in a demovicted building. Burnaby’s TAP has been lauded as “best in Canada,” but time has shown that it is built to placate individual tenants and continue demovictions until every older, low-end of market apartment building in Metrotown is gone.
The TAP states that tenants who live in a building at the start of the rezoning process will be provided alternative accommodation at the same rent after they are forced to leave as well as the right to return to the new building once it has been built. While this blunts the worst effects of demoviction for individual tenants, it fails both on its own terms and at a more systemic level.
First of all, the TAP only applies to tenants who were living in the building before the date the developer submitted their rezoning application to the City. Those who move in after that date are not eligible for supports or compensation under the TAP. As well, tenants can only claim support and compensation after they have received their final eviction notice, which could be months or years after the date that the condo development company starts its rezoning application.
The TAP gives developers the incentive to force older tenants out ahead of the final eviction and either leave their units empty or rent them to new tenants, who won’t be eligible for support or compensation under the TAP. And because the Province’s Residential Tenancy Act allows for unlimited rent increases between tenancies, once the developer/landlord pressures existing tenants to move out, they can also rent to new, TAP-ineligible tenants at higher rents. Eligibility requirements in Burnaby’s TAP allows developer/landlords like Matchpoint and Peterson to displace tenants by disrepair in order to reduce the overall number of tenants to whom they will have to provide compensation, temporary housing or a unit in the new building.
Dow Avenue Tenants Group begins fightback
The Dow Avenue Tenants Group is calling their landlord’s neglect of the living conditions in their building a strategy of displacement by disrepair. According to Serena, “We believe this disrepair is a way to displace us from our homes before the building is demolished. If we leave on our own, we do not qualify for TAP, and that works in the developer’s favour.”
In the Dow Avenue Tenants Group’s meeting with the Mayor, he dismissed these concerns, assuring them that eligible tenants can still claim TAP even after they moved. However, this attitude shows a complete ignorance of the precarity and powerlessness of renters in relationship to landlords, as well as the disruptive effects of displacement. Before DATG began to meet with their neighbours, very few tenants even knew about the TAP, let alone that they are eligible for compensation and relocation to a new unit at the same rent. What is more, saying to people who have been evicted that they will be eligible for compensation and a new place to live in a few months or years is absurd. Evictions are a violent process that rip people from their homes and communities, and put them at the mercy of unrelenting and unaffordable housing markets. Finally, the power landlords have over tenants makes it easy for them to intimidate tenants into not even claiming the limited rights they have, whether under the RTA or policies like TAP. While TAP may guarantee eligible tenants compensation and relocation, in all likelihood those who are forced to leave their buildings early will not be in a position to claim it
On Thursday, March 25th, members of the Dow Avenue Tenants Group met with Mayor Hurley to present their concerns. They called on him to use his power to set conditions for rezonings to ensure buildings are maintained and to extend the benefits of the TAP to all tenants, even those who have moved in after a project has begun. They also called for all tenants to be provided with alternative accommodation if they are forced to leave while rezoning is still underway, as has happened with 6659 Dow Avenue.
Mayor Hurley said that the Dow Avenue rezonings will not receive City approval until the tenants in the buildings are taken care of and repairs are carried out safely. However, Dow Avenue tenant Chris Marino is not convinced.“We still worry because we could receive an eviction notice for major repairs, forcing us to move out and into a new neighbourhood with no benefits available to us under the TAP until the rest of the building is evicted for rezoning. This could be six months away or two years away. How does the policy help take care of those tenants?”
According to Allan Fernandez, who lives in another building managed by Peterson and previously owned by developer Matchpoint, the problem goes beyond one negligent landlord. He explained, “We called on the City of Burnaby to freeze rezonings until they fix the gaps in the Tenant Assistance Policy that continue to put tenants at risk. Finally, we are calling for a provincial moratorium on evictions and legislation that ties rents to units, so that tenants are no longer displaced for developer and landlord profits.”
Mayor Hurley did not agree to any of the group’s demands, and the landlord’s attempt continues to displace lower rent paying tenants through disrepair. But the Dow Avenue Tenants Group’s formation is a hopeful sign that a new anti-demoviction resistance in Metrotown has begun.
In February, tenants of a supportive building in the Lower Mainland run by Elizabeth Fry Society, started to meet to talk about their experiences in the building. Nicole, who spearheaded the meetings said they found that they all felt that the management’s “punitive methods of controlling residents [has] left us stripped of our dignity, and treated like children, locked up and controlled.” They started organizing together and after just over a month of struggle, this ad hoc group has managed to stop an illegal eviction and overturn some of the policies that violated residents’ tenant rights.
Nicole initiated the meetings after reading about a victory against a guest ban policy in a Maple Ridge supportive housing building. She photocopied the newspaper article and distributed it to the 44 units of her building, talking to her neighbours about getting a lawyer to fight the abusive rules put in place by Elizabeth Fry staff.
Like many supportive housing operators, Elizabeth Fry instituted a ban of guests since opening the building, limited residents to two bags of belongings, and threatened illegal “immediate” evictions and lockouts at the discretion of staff. Their building opened in September 2020, and in the six months since, Elizabeth Fry Society has already performed multiple evictions.
A week after the tenants’ first meeting, Nicole called the Eviction Defence Network (EDN) in panic. Her neighbour Alannah had received an eviction notice “effective immediately.” Staff were at her door, demanding she leave the building at once. The reason? She’d brought home a machete for her safety. But she said that she had good reason to take steps to protect herself. The last time staff locked her out of the building she suffered injuries after being attacked while she was stuck sleeping outside.
While Alannah locked herself in her unit, refusing the staff’s eviction order, two EDN flying squad members made their way to the building. Another called the management, telling them the eviction notice Alannah received was illegal. Like all tenants in British Columbia, including residents of supportive housing, Alannah’s tenancy is covered under the Province’s Residential Tenancy Act and she cannot be evicted without due process.
Thanks to the combination of her resistance and the pressure from outside the building, Elizabeth Fry Society backed off and Alannah got to stay in her unit.
Following their successful anti-eviction defence, residents met again outside the building with EDN members. They worked on a collective letter to management, which residents had already been circulating through the building. By the end of the meeting they had formed aTenant Committee and developed a set of demands: for Elizabeth Fry Society to recognize their tenant rights under the Tenancy Act, for the staff to stop blocking residents from bringing their belongings into the building, for the end of the guest ban and illegal evictions threats, and to stop policing people’s belongings by only allowing them two bags of items.
Once printed, a resident of the building delivered the letter to the management. Talking outside, the rest of the group looked over the letter, which ended on a hopeful note about the landlord’s response. “We look forward to tearing up our previous agreements and working on a living agreement that includes our tenancy rights, restoring our dignity,” it said.
A response came two days later. Instead of acknowledging theirTenant Committee, which worked on and signed the letter, Elizabeth Fry Society addressed its response to a single tenant. Additionally, the landlord had not respected the group’s main demand, that residents be recognized as tenants under the Tenancy Act. In one resident’s own word, “they didn’t listen. The Premier refers to us as the ‘most vulnerable,’ but they won’t do nothing about the emotional trauma they are causing us.”
Yet, the letter did give-in on two points, which are small victories for the Tenant Committee. Elizabeth Fry Society cancelled the arbitrary two-bag limit of possessions that residents can bring into their suites. Secondly, the landlord lifted the building-wide gust ban, allowing residents a “2 person bubble.” The Residential Tenancy Act does not allow landlords to restrict guests, within reason, and the pandemic-era Provincial Health Order does not increase landlords powers, so restricting residents to two guests is also unlawful. But against the arbitrary power of the Supportive Housing system, breaking a total guest ban should be considered a victory.
Two weeks after Elizabeth Fry Society’s reply, the majority of the building has not heard about the change in rules. The next steps for the tenant committee will be to share the new information and continue to organize to win their remaining demands: against evictions in the building, for an end to the landlord’s restrictions over residents’ guests, and to have their tenants’ rights be recognized and respected by their landlord.
As a member of the building’s Tenants Committee shared, “the government is just warehousing people by building supportive housing. They want us out of sight, out of mind.” This first response is a small win that brings supportive housing tenants’ rights and power into sight. This victory, and those to come, is gained through the organization of residents and their willingness to fight for justice!
“The Autonomous Tenants’ Union Network (ATUN) is a collaborative of tenants’ unions who have chosen to remain independents of nonprofits, big foundations, and government funding in order to build power that is responsive to and led by tenants. We are committed to base-building, taking leadership from the poorest, and resisting the power of real estate capital to destroy our homes and our communities.”
– Autonomous Tenants Union Network founding statement
The Eviction Defence Network has been a member of ATUN since January 2021.
Throughout 2020, as the pandemic took hold of our lives and the disastrous responses from governments worsened our precarity and bailed out landlords, banks, and corporations, members of EDN started joining monthly online townhalls organized by the Autonomous Tenants’ Union Network (ATUN). From there, we adapted and applied the lessons learned from other tenants’ groups across the USA to our own work and shared our own experiences in return.
Last year saw tenants’ unions pushing back against the power of landlords and bailiffs. All across the northern part of the continent, tenants blockaded courts, bailiffs’ offices, targeted slumlords and struggled against evictions in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic. The global pandemic deepened the global contradiction between life and profit, and these tenant struggles showed that our homes are no less a crux of that contradiction than the government measures that safeguarded profits at the expense of those most vulnerable to contracting and dying from Covid-19.
We joined ATUN because we believe that only working class and Indigenous power can force the hand of the state to adopt reforms that clear the way for our movements to build and institute universal housing – housing for people, not profit.
For us to build that power, it must be independent from the state as well as depoliticizing and reformist forces like NGOs, advocacy groups, and imperial civil society, all of which see the state as ultimately capable of smoothing and managing the fundamental contradictions of colonial capitalism.
ATUN is an important network because we need a multiplicity of forces – organizations and fighters in cities and towns throughout the US and Canada, representing different sectors of the working class, Indigenous peoples, and groups oppressed by imperialism fighting for freedom at the site of the home – in order to defend our communities and create a housing system where value is rooted in human and non-human life, rather than capitalist profits.
Evictions and the destruction of low-income housing are a worldwide phenomenon. In North America, they come at a higher cost for Indigenous communities, who have been dispossessed from their lands and are experiencing homelessness at a disproportionate rate. For Black families, facing the brunt of white supremacy, redlining and the targeting of historical Black neighbourhoods for demolition, evictions are another imperialist and colonial tool that displaces and destroys long term communities for the profit of gentrifiers.
We are excited about the promises of a movement of many movements that can clear the way for multiple struggles against our common enemies.
As members of ATUN proved last year, the fight for homes cannot be done outside of movements like those for George Floyd and the Indigenous sovereigntists fighting for Land Back. These are part and parcel of our work. Fighting for homes means fighting against settler colonialism on unsurrendered Indigenous lands. It means fighting against police power in our neighbourhoods.
We’re looking to the year ahead with strengthened spirit alongside ATUN to build the power necessary to defend our homes against the attacks of landlords, developers, police, the courts, and all other branches of the state.
Earlier this month, Joyce Lachance’s low-income, disabled son Curtis was evicted by landlords Bill Mitsui and Tyler Zhang, who run the private real estate investment company Columbia Wealth Investments (CWI).
Last September CWI purchased Cityviews Village, a low-rise apartment building with market rents well below the average in Maple Ridge. Most of the tenants in one-bedroom units are paying $500-$700, but CWI has been superficially renovating units they have been able to empty out and then re-renting one bedrooms out for $1200. Curtis was paying $600, which means that his eviction stands to increase Bill and Tyler’s profits by 200%.
While landlords Bill and Tyler reap greater profits for their investment, Curtis’s eviction has thrown him into the first stages of homelessness. After living in stable and relatively affordable housing at Cityviews for ten years, Curtis is now couchsurfing with family.
Joyce had tried to stop Curtis’s eviction by filing a review of the Residential Tenancy Branch (RTB) decision that awarded Bill and Tyler a two-day eviction notice, which she believes they obtained fraudulently. Curtis was evicted over failure to pay rent that he paid in full before the RTB direct order hearing gave CWI their two-day eviction order, suggesting that Bill and Tyler lied to the RTB about never having received Curtis’s rent. But because Joyce missed the deadline to file a review, the RTB flatly denied her application and Curtis was evicted in service of landlord profits.
On Saturday, Joyce and the Eviction Defence Network took their resistance to Bill’s home in the expensive Horseshoe Bay neighbourhood of West Vancouver, where the median cost of a home is $1.5 million dollars. Joyce knocked on the door. Bill opened it, announced he was calling 911, refused to speak to Joyce, and then shut the door, filming the protestors from within his castle of cowardice.
Joyce addressed Bill through a megaphone, “Hey Bill, we’re here because you are evicting people. We want to shame you! Come on out!” Joyce and the Eviction Defence Network chanted, “Stop all evictions! Rent control now!”, “No landlords, no cops! All evictions have to stop!”, and “Evict your landlord!”, catching the attention of some curious neighbors and dog walkers.
The group then leafletted every house on Bill’s street, as well as downtown Horseshoe Bay, handing out 150 flyers that said, “Investor-landlord Bill Mitsui abuses tenants!” Two older women who didn’t live in Horseshoe Bay but were on an outing commended the group for taking action against a greedy landlord. A couple who had come for a hike similarly applauded the protestors. Even Bill’s neighbours were largely sympathetic and supportive.
Eviction Defence Network organizer Listen Chen said that since CWI purchased Cityviews Village, three tenants have been intimi-victed: “We use the term ‘intimi-viction’ because it doesn’t matter if a landlord abuses RTA loopholes to ‘legally’ evict a tenant, as in Curtis’s case, or if they resort to harassment and threats in order to compel a tenant to leave. Either way, the end result is the same: one more tenant is displaced to more unaffordable housing or homelessness, and one more landlord makes a windfall from an eviction.”
Chen argued, “Instituting rent control between tenancies, by tying a rent price to rental units rather than just tenancies is a simple way the Provincial government can remove the legislated profit motive that drives evictions.”
Bill and Tyler have taken advantage of Curtis’s eviction to continue to spread fear amongst tenants of Cityviews. A notice Bill and Tyler distributed to Cityviews tenants on February 18 implies Curtis’s eviction was caused by Eviction Defence Network organizer Listen Chen, and further smears Listen’s tenant advocacy as an “unauthorized legal practice,” contravening the Residential Tenancy Act’s clear description of advocates and helpers as anyone whom a tenant enlists to help them navigate their tenant rights.
While Joyce’s action didn’t change the outcome of her son’s eviction, her spirit of resistance and anger is exactly what Bill and Tyler are trying to snuff out through their campaign of intimidation. They hope that every successful eviction will prove to tenants that there’s nothing they can do to resist landlord power.
Referring to the shame picket, Mitsui later claimed that it created “extra strain on police resources, and may also trigger violence,” an interesting interpretation given that he was the one who decided it was necessary to call 911. Even more bizarrely, in the same interview, he compared the protest to the actions of Red Guards in China during the Cultural Revolution in an attempt to portray himself as a victim. The Chinese peasant’s movement to eradicate feudalism and landlords might have made for a more apt reference, though unfortunately the tenants’ movement does not yet have the power to expropriate landlords’ property.
Bill concluded with the claim that “if landlords disappear, rental units disappear at the same time.” His argument is that landlords provide rental housing, with the implication being that without landlords, people would have nowhere to live. But the rental relationship between landlords and tenants is an expression of colonial and capitalist property relations: the landlord doesn’t build rental housing, workers do. The landlord doesn’t provide rental housing, he owns it, and in owning it he commodifies parcels of occupied Indigenous land for private profit. The rental relationship is parasitic, capitalist, and colonial.
In that sense, the Eviction Defence Network agrees with Bill: to abolish landlords would mean abolishing rent, and the social relations expressed in it, and nothing less is needed to end the housing crisis.
Speaking after the protest, Joyce said she felt encouraged by taking the fight to Bill’s door, saying, “I think we embarrassed him, which is good because he shouldn’t be evicting people.” The tenant’s movement does not yet have the power to evict landlords, but forcing one to squirm in his own home is a start.
A month ago, Barrie came to his first meeting of the Whalley Street Council, a group of unhoused and underhoused community leaders that meet weekly to manage the Whalley People’s Resource Centre and organize community survival struggles. He brought his story with him.
Barrie has been struggling to stay in his home near King George Boulevard since he received an eviction notice in November. As of February, he still has nowhere to go.
Through the Whalley Street Council, Barrie connected with the Eviction Defence Network (EDN). Since we formed in May 2020, we’ve been helping tenants across Metro Vancouver fight against landlord abuse, neglect, and displacement.
Barrie is not a lone renter with the bad luck of having his landlord take over his unit; we see the tentacles of city-organized gentrification running throughout his story. Over the last six months, EDN has stepped in to support tenants in seven different buildings within ten blocks of Barrie’s apartment to resist displacement. Barrie’s home is the latest on Surrey’s chopping block.
Building sold, eviction ahead
Barrie’s building has deteriorated through the years as a result of neglect by the previous landlord. “She was a slumlord,” Barrie explained. “But it was still great back then, until she sold the building and all shit broke loose. The new owners bought the building off of her in September. That’s when they gave us the eviction notices.”
When the residents first received their notice to end tenancy for landlord’s use of property, everyone moved out except Barrie. “My neighbour lived in this building for 13 years. He left, like the two Korean churches that were downstairs.” Barrie has been looking for a place but says that it has been difficult. “It’s really hard to find something. I’ll go wherever, but I have my two cats.”
Barrie sees the issue he faces clearly: “They’re building all these apartments for the upper class, nothing for us. I’m a thorn in their side.” While Barrie’s eviction is not directly caused by a major condo development, the new landlord’s eviction of the building is because of the overall climate of real estate investment and development in Surrey’s development of a “city centre.” And, for Barrie, the result is the same. When tenants lose their homes under the shadow of gentrification, they struggle to afford another suite in their neighbourhood because the climate of investment and redevelopment that drove them out has closed down low-income affordable buildings everywhere.
“All this silver talk”
The City Centre Plan was introduced in Surrey in 2017, targeting Whalley as part of a new “cosmopolitan downtown.” The Plan rezoned the neighbourhood for higher-density development in an effort to attract developers, bring young professionals into the area, and drive out the working class and Indigenous community, including low-income renters and unhoused people, who call Whalley home. Barrie pays $690 for a one-bedroom apartment. If he was to move out, he would have to pay double this price.
Barrie looked to various “community resources” for help. The responses from these non-profit services organizations were all the same. “They told me I had no chance,” he recalled. “Aren’t they supposed to help?”
The legal advocate assigned to his case at Sources Community Resource Centre kept him in the dark regarding his own case before asking him to sign a document. “I thought he was on my side until he got me to sign that paper, the mutual agreement to end tenancy. That’s when I realized he wasn’t on my side,” Barrie explained. “He’s got all this silver talk, acts like he’s better than you. I hate that.”
Overlooked by the very advocate he turned to for help, Barrie faced intensifying pressure from his landlord without the support he needed. “They threaten me with bailiffs and sheriffs, tell me I better get the fuck out,” he described. Since his first eviction notice, the landlord has allowed the building to deteriorate further.
On January 5th, part of the ceiling in his bedroom collapsed when the roof caved in. “There was vermiculite all over my stuff. I had to clean it up before my cats ate it.” But better to stay inside than face the cold. “I used to live on the streets, no fucking way, never again. I don’t want to live in my van. I need a home for me and my cats. Period,” Barrie explained as his cat Mitsy kneaded the couch beside him.
Reimagine a radical tenant movement
Barrie’s situation was desperate by the time the Eviction Defence Network met him. It was months past his eviction notice, with the constant threat of bailiffs and police displacement hanging over him. All the non-profit organizations he had reached out to said it would be impossible to win, that the fight was over before it even began.
We don’t want to lie. Barrie is on the brink of losing his home. Legal recourses, already limited, are long gone. Evictions for landlord’s use of property are difficult to fight without good proof that the owner is lying about the reason for the eviction.
But what if we imagine a world where no one is evicted to the streets? We don’t have the power to stop every eviction right now. But we can build that power. Fighting every eviction, particularly those fights that are not legally “winnable,” can build the consciousness and organization of working class people because those fights depend not on state-mediated tenancy contracts but demand militant self activity that breaks past the limits imposed by Canada’s regime of property rights. Such self-activity translates into collective power.
From this perspective, the struggle doesn’t end with any single eviction. The crucial work is organizing low-income housed and unhoused people as a united force: a defensive force against displacement, and an aggressive political force against landlords, police, and government. Landlords are our particular enemies, but our task is to attack their power as a group, not just fight them one by one. Police are the physical force, or threat of force, that throws us to the streets. We should see the fight to abolish the police as part of our struggle. City Halls are another major site of this struggle, because they set zoning laws and organize gentrification.
Taken altogether Barrie’s experience points to the interconnected character of tenant struggle, all under the banner of colonial land theft and capitalist profit-seeking that converts all things into commodities for the rich. His story shows that we need strong, militant, organized tenant movements based in the very same communities facing displacement. When Barrie attended the Whalley Street Council meeting, he took the first step to join his neighbours and friends from the streets, shelters, supportive housing, and run-down market housing, living under the daily threat of eviction, all organizing together for collective survival.
On February 2nd, Maureen and Gary found bylaw, police officers, and city officials in front of their door. “They cut off the lock and told us we had [already been told] to get out by January 31st. But they didn’t have an order of possession or a bailiff. They were very rude and violent. We stood our ground against the police, the bylaw and officials from the Township of Langley and they left.”
The Township purchased the property where Maureen, Gary, and three others live in the fall, ostensibly to bulldoze it in order to expand the adjacent Langley Events Centre’s parking lot. When Maureen was served an eviction notice in October, she reached out to the City and explained that they have nowhere to go. “They said they’d look into extending the tenancy or find us a place to move into, then said they didn’t find anything,” Maureen explained.
Maureen’s case highlights the role municipalities take in stewarding and spearheading the destruction of low-income housing. While Metro Vancouver, of which Langley is a part, recommends a “one-for-one” replacement policy, where any demolished rental housing should be replaced with new rental units, neither the City nor Township of Langley require that developers replace rentals lost to redevelopment. Langley’s management of development is a textbook example of how cities organize gentrification.
The problem of Langley’s refusal to protect scarce rental units is even more stark in the case of the home of Maureen and her household. The property was bought by the city for over $10 million and is being demolished by the government itself for a non-residential development.
“They’re just commercializing our residential neighbourhoods,” Maureen said. “Having a roof over your head is the key to living. The price of housing is unaffordable to us; it’s a huge issue. It’s worse than the pandemic.” If successful, this will be the fourth house in a row that Maureen has been demovicted from.
“They don’t need to build a parking lot at this moment, it’s like an insult,” Maureen said. She does not understand the Township’s hurry to demolish her home for a parking lot for a convention centre that doesn’t host any events, and suspects that the city is seizing on the opportunity to demolish a property that houses low-income people who are part of a broader community of homeless and underhoused people.
“We are in touch with many people from the homeless community and let them stay here sometimes, when they have nowhere to go. They’re our friends,” Maureen said. Gary said that he knows over twenty people homeless in the community. Maureen agrees: “There’s lots. My friends don’t call me asking to find them a house, but where to pitch a tent”.
If they were to be evicted tomorrow, Maureen said, “I don’t know where we would go. I hired moving trucks but have nowhere to go. It’s a catch-22. The Township needs to go back and find me something that works.”
When asked by members of the Eviction Defense Network if they could provide affordable housing to the tenants they are evicting, the Township’s response was “no.”
“The RCMP proposed that I stay in a motel,” Maureen said. “The City and bailiff need to get their shit together. People on low income or disability don’t know how to fight evictions like this, that’s not fair.”
The Eviction Defense Network is supporting the tenants’ refusal to leave their home as well as their demand that the Township find them appropriate, equally affordable replacement housing as a precondition for demoviction. In addition, the EDN calls on Langley Township to replace the 5 affordable rental units in the house with low-income affordable non-market housing and to adopt a policy of requiring the Township to provide all tenants they seek to evict with affordable and permanent replacement housing.
Two Surrey tenants were made homeless after their unscrupulous landlord lied to the Residential Tenancy Branch (RTB) in order to send bailiffs to their door.
Roommates Brandon and Natasha received an eviction notice on November 7th for failure to pay rent. They responded by paying their rent within the five-day deadline dictated by BC’s Residential Tenancy Act. They figured that ended the matter and paid their December rent as usual.
Then, on December 8th, building management gave them an order from the RTB stating they had to vacate the premises within two days. Brandon didn’t know they were being evicted: “They never even told us there was a hearing. The landlord is shady.”
Brandon and Natasha filed a dispute with the Residential Tenancy Branch, explaining that the landlord received their order to vacate under false pretenses. In response, they received a hearing date. Again, they figured that ended their January eviction date, because evictions are put on hold until an adjudicator can make a ruling.
But on the morning of January 11th at 10am, the bailiffs showed up at their door, carrying a writ of possession.
With bailiffs and movers in their suite, Brandon and Natasha, supported by organizers with the Eviction Defence Network (EDN), barricaded themselves in a bedroom to delay and resist their eviction. They hoped to hold off the bailiff until word could trickle down from higher-ups that the writ of possession, held by bailiffs as licence to make the two tenants homeless, was based on fraudulent claims.
The system’s eviction machinery, however, did not hesitate. The bailiffs, meeting resistance, called the RCMP. The RCMP threatened the eviction resistors with obstruction, and, intimidated, the tenants opened Natasha’s bedroom door and walked out – to homelessness.
Eviction Defence Network organizer Listen Chen said, “The property manager, Top Vision Realty Inc, lied in order to get an order of possession. Brandon and Natasha paid their rent late in November, but within five days of receiving a notice to end tenancy. This is an illegal eviction.”
Reviews of Top Vision Realty Inc online bear this out. One review after another from former tenants accuse Top Vision of lying, stealing, and unprofessional conduct. The landlord, meanwhile, is difficult to find. The apartment is in a condo building, and while Brandon and Natasha have the name of the owner of their unit, they have no contact information.
But the lesson from this eviction is not only that unscrupulous building managers and absentee landlords abuse tenants. It is that British Columbia’s Residential Tenancy system is built to enable and abet that abuse, created with countless loopholes that make it easy for landlords to perform evictions, while placing a bureaucratic burden on tenants trying to fight evictions and assert their rights under the RTA.
Eviction Defence Network organizer Cecile Revaux called the RTB during the standoff in Brandon and Natasha’s apartment. She says, “The person I spoke to at the RTB told me it’s the tenants’ fault because they didn’t file on time.” The RTB worker told Revaux, “If tenants want justice they must follow the rules,” and speculated that “maybe they didn’t care so much about their home because they didn’t pay it on time.”
Moralizing scorn from an RTB phone worker aside, the technical reason Brandon and Natasha were evicted was because they made a series of minor mistakes in dealing with the Residential Tenancy system. First, the tenants did appeal the eviction notice in November but did not complete their application properly. The RTB called them asking for more information but they did not receive the calls, because their phones are, as for many low-income people, through a free cell provider. Secondly, when the tenants received the RTB order to vacate at the beginning of December, they had two days to request a review of the RTB decision. They did not know and did not file to cancel the notice until after they made contact with volunteer advocates with the Eviction Defence Network at the end of December. By then it was too late.
So even though the tenants paid their late rent, and paid their full rent on time the following month, they were evicted for not following the letter of bureaucratic policy in how they filled out and filed their forms. Cecile Revaux called the Tenancy Branch bureaucracy, “infuriating.”
The lesson for organizers, Revaux says, is that if tenants make one of a million potential mistakes that make their unscrupulous eviction technically legal, then there’s not a moment to lose. “Past these deadlines, the deadly eviction machine is started and the only way to put a wrench in it is to build a strong political defence, to organize with neighbours if possible, to publicly pressure the landlord and the City to halt the displacement.” To be stuck scrambling after the bailiffs have already showed up at the door is often too late.