When the fire alarms went off at an Esquimalt apartment building on Sunday, April 7, Carly, like many residents, rushed out with only the clothes on her back.
“The only thing I grabbed was my cat,” said Carly.
“Because when I left I thought it was only going to be a couple of hours and it was a false alarm.”
It’s been over a week since the 47 unit apartment building was completely evacuated.
Residents were supposed to return Tuesday, but for many, it may be a while yet.
“I’m on the wrong side of the firewall, so my stay is, like half the tenants in the building, we’ve been told six months to a year,” said Kevin Daniels.
And some residents are concerned Belmont Properties, which owns the building, is using the devastation from the fire to renovict the primarily low-income tenants.
“Belmont it seems to me, have been quietly coming into places like Victoria, big cities in Canada, and gobbling up, quietly, their privately held affordable housing,” said Carly.
“Elderly tenants that have been there for 20 years are being shuffled to other units with only verbal assurances they’ll pay the same rents they’re paying now for the next year.”
CHEK News reached out to Belmont Properties here in Victoria and at their headquarters in Vancouver to address the claims, but didn’t receive any comment back.
Poverty groups here in town, however, say emergencies like this fire, leave tenants extremely vulnerable.
“In this housing crisis, we need to tie rent to a unit so that regardless of whether or not a fire like this occurs, when a tenant does move back, it comes at the same price as it does before,” said Doug King, executive director with Together Against Poverty Society.
“For low-income tenants, this is exactly what’s putting people on the streets.”
But back in Esquimalt, many believe Belmont Properties is going above and beyond for their tenants.
“Belmont Offices really stepped up…they’ve really been generous,” said Pastor Barry Goodwin from Esquimalt Church of the Nazarene.
The company put up residents for a few days at Paul’s Motor Inn after emergency funding ended. And many residents say Belmont is actively working to place tenants in other buildings they own in town.
But the gap of tenants’ rights following an emergency, still has some worried.
“Tenants are going to lose their rights to their units if they’re not safeguarded,” said Carly.
For now, the building will remain fully evacuated until April 27, when a select few protected by the firewall could possibly start moving back in.