‘Bite me’: Esquimalt renters fight ‘renoviction,’ something province says they stopped


Tenants of an Esquimalt apartment building are scrambling to relocate, after the new owner served eviction notices for renovations.

At 519 Sturdee St., many of the tenants are seniors on fixed incomes or disability who now staring down the barrel of an impossibly expensive displacement.

“There is no availability for what we can afford, based on our incomes,” said Ilene Koculyn who worked 40 years as a civil servant and is living on a full pension.

It’s a sentiment echoed by Esquimalt’s mayor Barb Desjardins, who calls the decision by the owner of the building “heartbreaking.”

“Where do people go? We don’t have enough accommodations for low-income,” said Desjardins.

The residents of 519 Sturdee St. have a hearing with the Residential Tenancy Branch set for May 2. Prior to that meeting, tenants and advocates say the new owners have been handing out hush money.

“The landlord has offered a payout, basically a larger sum of money than what the Residential Tenancy Branch will give them, in exchange for them giving up their rights to challenge the eviction,” said Together Against Poverty Society (TAPS) executive director Douglas King.

In a letter sent to tenants, the owner is shopping around a $5,000 offer to move out, with strings not to complain or talk. The residential tenancy branch offers just one month’s rent.

“Bite me. Like just bite me big time,” said Koculyn.

Koculyn is one of 10 fighting the renoviction. She is hoping to move into a vacant suite while their apartment is being renovated, something the law doesn’t require landlords to do.

“The building does need to be cleaned out, it does have some issues. No, we do not want to be kicked out in order to get this done,” said Koculyn. “It’s just greed!”

B.C.’s housing minister was asked how this is still happening considering the changes their government has made today at the legislature. He argues renoviction rates are down.

“There is a process in place,” said Ravi Kahlon. “There’s a four-month notice requirement. It appears that may not be the case in this situation. They have a date, and we’ll be watching it closely.”

Esquimalt has a Tenancy Assistance Policy, but in this case it doesn’t apply, leaving the fate of Koculyn and her neighbours in the hands of the Residential Tenancy Branch.

“If the landlord is able to win at the tenancy branch, it’s effectively allowing a renoviction, which this government said it was going to put an end to,” said King.

King says if a building filled with low-income seniors like this can be cleared, it’s a policy failure and just the tip of the iceberg.

“This building is not an isolated incident. We’re starting to see renovictions come back, especially in Esquimalt,” said King.

TAPS says the province should be helping more non-profits buy these low-rise apartment buildings, which could keep them affordable or even move them over to subsidized housing.

“The provincial government set up a fund for non-profit societies to purchase buildings like this, to do those renovations in a way that doesn’t lead to displacement,” it said.

“We’re not seeing buildings like this bought by non-profit societies. So, the province needs to do more than set up a fund and say it’s a possibility. The province needs to make it happen. There’s no reason why this building needed to be turned over to a developer like this. This could be easily turned into subsidized or supportive housing.”

They also suggest more protections for renters to actually ban renovictions. In the meantime, they think at least four months’ compensation should be offered to those facing renovictions.

“Living is something people shouldn’t have to worry about,” said Koculyn.

The building’s owner, Andrew Rebeyka with Sturdee Investments, did not respond to CHEK News’ request for comment.

Kori Sidaway

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