James Bay tenants to take legal action after fatal fire
A group of low-income tenants are trying to take legal action to return home after being forced to vacate their James Bay apartment building due to a deadly fire.
The group of seven is still on the move – living in a car, with family, in a hotel or in other conditions – as the livability of their old home is in question.
“I just want to go home,” said Paul Anderson, tenant of Village Green Apartments, on Wednesday.
He has lived at 118, rue Menzies for 17 years.
âThe past month has created a lot of anxiety,â said fellow tenant Jason Rempel.
The Victoria Fire Department did not say publicly on Wednesday how many of the building’s 36 units were damaged in the October 25 fire.
A Victoria charity that offers free legal defense to people facing rental issues is helping the displaced group. A lawyer from Ensemble Against Poverty takes the case to the Residential Tenancies Division as the group seeks to resolve disputes.
“Although the fire caused severe damage to parts of the building, a city report conducted by a city building inspector and a fire captain showed that several of the apartments – including all of those in the tenants with me right now – are completely intact, âsaid group lawyer Leila Geggie Hurst.
CTV News is making efforts to access a copy of this report. Victoria Fire’s acting fire chief says it’s not up to firefighters to determine if people can return.
SAFETY ALWAYS A CONCERN SAYS THE OWNER
The tenant’s owner, Pacific Cove Properties, says he is acting on the advice of his restoration contractor who also reportedly spoke with firefighters, engineers and a licensed architect and determined the building is not habitable.
“There are a number of factors preventing the building from being safely occupied,” Lee Rennison of Pacific Cove Properties said in a statement Wednesday.
The list includes structural damage to the roof, a fire wall being destroyed, no fire alarm system currently functioning in the building and visible mold in common areas.
âDue to the extensive damage and structural issues, we expect the restoration work to take more than 10 months,â said Rennison.
CALLS FOR THIRD PARTY REVIEW
Together Against Poverty says decisions about livability should be made by a neutral third party.
âWe can’t let the owners decide the livability of the building,â said Geggie Hurst. “There are huge financial incentives for a landlord to move tenants and move in new tenants.”
She is advocating for the creation of an independent body – through the province’s Residential Tenancy Branch – to help prevent such situations.
“People need to know in a disaster that someone can walk into their building and make a neutral decision about building security so they can confidently move forward to find the best housing situation for them.” , she said.
All of the renters who spoke to CTV News on Wednesday detailed their struggle to find new affordable housing.
Among other allegations, the tenants’ lawyer claims that some of them signed mutual agreements to end their tenancies under fraudulent misrepresentation and duress and that their signatures should be considered invalid.
Pacific Cove said it has offered each resident their bond refund, prorated rent and information about other potential options in the area.
âIn addition, we intend to offer affected residents a right of first refusal and an extension of their rental at current rents on repaired apartments when the building can be safely occupied,â the company said.