James Bay Tenant Troubles Not Over

By Colin Grainger

Frustrations flared at the New Horizons Community centre in James Bay, Tuesday, December 6, 2016. Tenants who were once under threat of ‘renoviction’ complained of noise, dust, and lack of communication while empty suites in their buildings are being renovated, creating what they say are unacceptable living conditions. The community meeting was hosted by MLA for Victoria-Beacon Hill, Carole James.

Tenants of six buildings in James Bay went through a renoviction scare in January 2016 after new owner, Starlight Investments Ltd., purchased the properties and began issuing eviction notices for the purpose of renovations in December last year.

Public pressure eventually led Starlight to back off of evictions, but construction began on empty suites, and complaints related to the construction flooded into the office of James, who says tenants felt Starlight was trying to evict them “in a different way.”

One tenant of 415 Michigan St. complained of noise, dirt, and transient workers who “sit in the lobby and use our wi-fi.”

“The front door is open constantly,” she said. “I have seen people coming in and using the laundry room and taking the laundry back out.”

“Literally, any hour of the day… someone can walk into my building unchallenged,” another Tenant added. “Without a key, without any difficulty, they could just walk right in, 24/7 for the last 9 months.”

A young couple talked about their once healthy puppy who now gets regular ear infections due to the dust, and vet bills are “over $300 every single time.” They said they weren’t aware of asbestos remediation that was happening on their side of the building and think the dust was coming through their window.

Dana, from 435 Michigan St. said she was worried when she heard people in the upstairs apartment one night since she knows no tenant lives there.

Before the floor opened up to comments, Bill Appledorf, who won an arbitration hearing against Starlight after appealing to the Residential Tenancy Board, gave some tips on how to go through the process.

“I took Starlight to the RTB, and I won,” he said.

Starlight first offered him a settlement, he said, of $2,500 and the condition that he sign a non-disclosure agreement. “Which I just laughed at,” Appledorf said. “Don’t take a non-disclose,” he warned the crowd.

He did, however, say he was encouraged by the fact that Starlight was willing to settle. “That, to me, represents an acknowledgement on their part that they have injured us, and that we are entitled to compensation.” 


Where have all the tenants gone?

By V. Adams

More than a year ago, alarm bells went off. Hundreds of long-term tenants (many of whom are seniors on fixed incomes) who reside in four newly acquired apartment towers owned by Starlight Properties, received not only ‘renoviction’ notices but also the prospect of exorbitant rent hikes of more than $600 a month should they sign new leases.

On January 28, 2017, more than 70 tenants who remained in these properties during the extensive refurbishment were told to vacate their two 1960s era concrete buildings due to a health hazard. After tenants complained of dust in their suites and respiratory difficulties, property managers arranged for the lab testing of building materials in certain areas.  The results revealed elevated levels of asbestos fibres. After consultation with Vancouver Island Health Authority and advice from environmental consultants, the property managers agreed to relocate tenants to the Double-Tree Hotel, and cover their per diem grocery and living costs.

This tenant horror story has garnered headlines over the past year as many long-time senior renters attended multiple meetings at James Bay New Horizons, to address their concerns in the absence of full communication from the owners, and property managers.

The fact that renovation work stopped due to potential health hazards to contract workers, and Canada Post refused to permit mail delivery due to possible asbestos contamination, obliging tenants to pick up their mail downtown, were all red flags.

The James Bay Neighbourhood Association claims it has consistently represented the interests of tenants throughout this ordeal, yet no representatives of the JBNA were present at tenant meetings throughout the year. No air quality monitoring reports were presented by JBNA (that could identify potential elevated levels of air-borne contaminants as in the case of the cruise-ship emissions). And, no JBNA executives or members were present on the weekend to assist with the relocation of tenants to their temporary hotel location.

The City’s primary concern in this matter has been to ensure that their employees, especially building inspectors and maintenance staff are not exposed to any health hazards.

Who has the duty of care to protect the health and well-being of tenants? Are they less deserving tax-payers than privileged home-owners living in the neighbourhood who turn out to the James Bay Neighbourhood Association meetings?