Residents of a Victoria rooming house are scrambling to stay off the street after what advocates say are illegal evictions assisted by police presence.
Nine residents of a 15-unit building at 959 Balmoral Rd. filed complaints with the legal advocacy group Together Against Poverty after receiving one-month eviction notices on Aug. 30. The notices were delivered by a landlord, who was accompanied by four Victoria police officers. Three tenants were evicted on the spot.
The landlords, Victoria businessmen Tim Quocksister and Scott Davies, said they have had problems with the tenants.
Victoria police have been called to the property 15 times in the past six months for reasons that range from assault to mental-health issues.
“There are a number of vulnerable people in that building who might not know their rights,” said Tasha Page, a legal advocate with TAPS.
The Residential Tenancy Act requires that a landlord have just cause for a one-month eviction. Every tenant Page spoke to had the same seven allowable causes for eviction checked off on their notice forms, including illegal activity, damaging property, disturbing and jeopardizing the safety of others.
Page called them blanket eviction notices that amount to social profiling. She added that these types of notices can be a red flag for a landlord who might be looking for an easy way to get tenants out in one month instead of two.
Tenants are entitled to two months’ notice when they are being evicted so the landlord can use the property for things like renovations or to put the building up for sale.
Davies, who signed the eviction notices, said he and his partner are in the process of selling the house.
“It’s something we wished we never purchased. Rooming houses are a difficult animal,” Davies said.
They can be profitable – with a high demand for low-income housing, occupancy is nearly guaranteed and rents are often deposited directly by the government to the landlord.
The rooms at 959 Balmoral are about 100 square feet, with shared bathrooms and a kitchen. They rent for about $450 each. The 2013 assessed value of the property is $833,000.
Former tenant Ken Prowse, 53, has slept in parks and on the street since he was evicted Aug. 30.
“They said I had to get out,” Prowse said, sitting on a piece of cardboard on the corner of Pandora Avenue and Blanshard Street. “The cops said, ‘Get your stuff and get going.’ ”
Prowse was confused about whether he was being evicted or given a notice of eviction. He’s dyslexic and was given previous verbal warnings by the building’s manager that he’d be kicked out.
He agreed to leave his apartment, with $100 cash, and return for his belongings a few days later.
When he came back, his things were in a dumpster.
The hobby artist picked out a few of his paint brushes but lost important documents and several items were damaged by kitchen garbage. While living on the street, he has been robbed and beaten. His $450 September rent cheque was cashed and his damage deposit has not been not returned.
When Jean Picard, 46, moved into the Balmoral house 21Ú2 years ago, it was quiet, with elderly tenants and a maid service, he said. Prospective tenants were required to give references.
“Then some rough characters moved in and things did get out of hand a bit. But I never had any problems with police or anything,” he said.
That’s why he has an October hearing to dispute his eviction. He said none of the landlords’ causes apply to him.
The same goes for James Morgan Francis, 53, who has lived in the building for 16 months. He keeps to himself and was disturbed by the police presence the day the eviction notices were posted.
“Some people are rambunctious but this is not a dangerous place. It’s like they all think we’re cut from the same cloth,” he said.
Picard and Francis live on social assistance and said they can’t afford to rent anywhere else.
If they don’t find housing and lose their eviction dispute, they will be homeless, Francis said. The landlords are refusing rent for October, despite their right to stay in the home until an arbitrator decides otherwise.
A recent report by the Greater Victoria Coalition to End Homelessness found average rent for a bachelor apartment in Victoria is $699 and the vacancy rate is one per cent.
Pacifica Housing said six of the home’s tenants have asked them for help to find housing.
They’ve placed two.
Russ Godfrey, of the Tenant Resource Advisory Centre, said the province’s tenancy act sets out how landlords can end a tenancy agreement. The rules do not allow verbal agreements or cash compensation, and cutting corners could cost landlords more in disputes, he said.
“Every tenant has a right to dispute and then the burden of proof is on the landlord,” he said.
Godfrey is especially concerned by the role of police in the Balmoral evictions.
“They have to ask, ‘Did their presence contribute to the homelessness problem?’ ” Godfrey said.
Tenancy act guidelines state that police not assist as witnesses or in removing tenants, seizing property, monetary exchanges or deciding landlord or tenant rights. Police can accompany a landlord for safety reasons.
TAPS said it has reached out to Victoria police to offer education on the tenancy act process and dealing with vulnerable groups.