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Suite undamaged in fire, but View Towers tenant still must go

A View Towers resident who did not move back into his apartment after being told it was damaged in a fire has discovered there’s no damage at all.

A View Towers resident who did not move back into his apartment after being told it was damaged in a fire has discovered there’s no damage at all.

Herb Volker signed a mutual agreement to end tenancy after being told part of the ceiling in his seventh-floor unit had collapsed following a May 15 fire that displaced 70 residents.

Since then, the 63-year-old has been told there was no damage, but that he still needs to remove his belongings by June 15, said his son-in-law Chris Rogerson.

“All of sudden it’s been some mistake. It was another unit on level seven that was supposed to be locked down. There’s nothing wrong with his suite,” Rogerson said.

View Towers management, the landlord Vancouver-based Westsea Construction Ltd. and building owner Edmonton-based Capital Management Ltd. have not offered comment on issues involving the building following the fire.

On Saturday, family members helped Volker move out of the View Towers bachelor suite. It was cluttered with bags and bins of cans, which Volker recycles to supplement his disability pension. Rogerson looked around for damage and said he found only a patch of mould in the back of the closet.

Volker has lived in the suite since 1989 and was paying a $535 monthly rental fee. His new suite, outside View Towers, is much smaller and the rent is $100 more a month.

Displaced residents were told they have to move out because their tenancy was “frustrated” by damage from the fire. Some signed mutual agreements — something lawyers say is not legally required — to end tenancy in order to secure their damage deposit and half a month’s rent.

Rogerson, poverty advocates and politicians have raised concerns about “renovictions” — kicking out low-income tenants to do renovations and then raising the rent.

“They’ve used this fire as an excuse to force people out of their homes,” Rogerson alleged.

“They’re going to do their remediation and now they can jack the rent up by more than the two or three per cent that is prescribed under the tenancy act.”

Many have also raised questions about why displaced tenants were told to move out instead of being offered one of the dozens of vacant units in the building.

Another couple who had lived on the seventh floor, Carla Hecklinger and William Penny, said Saturday they are being pressured to move their belongings out of their former suite, which had water damage in the bathroom and bedroom.

Their locks have been changed and a manager has to let them in every time they move furniture, which they are doing piece by piece, walking it to another apartment building a few blocks away.

Penny said when he asked why they couldn’t move to a vacant suite, building staff told him: “We don’t need to answer that.”

There are about 100 vacant suites in the 356-unit building, 23 of which were damaged by fire.

The Victoria Emergency Management Agency was told that 86 units had been damaged by smoke, water or asbestos, but Together Against Poverty is asking for individual damage assessments for each suite. Building managers have said that tenants would have to apply to the Residential Tenancy Branch to get that information.

“I am concerned [about] the complete lack of communication to anyone about what’s really going on,” said Victoria-Beacon Hill MLA Carole James, adding there’s “a genuine worry that this is just an opportunity for the landlord to vacate suites, do renovations and increase the rent.”

James said the Ministry of Social Development or B.C. Housing needs to step in and start advocating for tenants to ensure they’re not being taken advantage of.

A spokeswoman for the Residential Tenancy Branch, which provides information and dispute resolution to landlords and tenants, said while she can’t talk about specific cases, “if a tenant believes that the damage to the rental unit is not so extensive as to frustrate the agreement, the tenant may apply for dispute resolution.”

The tenant may ask for an order of possession of the rental unit and may also claim compensation and request repairs to the unit, the spokeswoman said.

Russ Godfrey, who worked for the Residential Tenancy Branch for 16 years before joining the Tenant Resource and Advisory Centre, said landlords are very rarely held to account for unfair practices.

“Quite frankly, residential tenancy law in this province is absolutely toothless,” he said.

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