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B.C. tenants evicted for landlord's use after refusing large rent increase to take over neighbouring suite

This stock image shows a door with an eviction notice on it. (Credit: Shutterstock) This stock image shows a door with an eviction notice on it. (Credit: Shutterstock)
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Ashley Dickey and her mother rented part of the same Coquitlam duplex in three different decades under three different landlords.

She says they lived there for 14 years and never wanted to leave.

"We've moved, I don't know, like 20 times in my life," Dickey said. "This is the first place we've actually stayed for that long of a time … Out of anywhere we've lived, we considered it our home."

Earlier this year, however, they were forced to move, becoming some of the most recent victims of what tenant advocates have called "an epidemic" of evictions for landlord's use of property in B.C. 

A month after finding a new place to live, and two months after losing at a hearing with an arbitrator from the province's Residential Tenancy Branch, Dickey still questions the circumstances surrounding her eviction.

'Rent is doubled to keep up'

Dickey said she had "a pretty good relationship" with her landlord before the eviction process began. She said she communicated primarily with the landlord's daughters, Mandy Min Yi He and Judy Yin Yi He, because the landlord – their mother, Ping Ping Situ – did not speak much English.

"We always paid our rent on time," Dickey said. "When we needed something fixed, we would message them and they would be there within a few days. Everything was good."

From Dickey's perspective, the events that led to her eviction began with the death of her downstairs neighbour last July.

"She was like my grandma," Dickey said. "She was there when we moved in and we just all got really close."

According to Dickey, the downstairs unit where her neighbour was residing does not have its own thermostat, and the door separating the upstairs and downstairs units does not have a lock.

After their neighbour's death, Dickey and her mother offered to take over the downstairs unit as well, reasoning that it would be difficult for the landlords to find a new tenant without making some renovations.

Screenshots of text messages, which Dickey shared with CTV News, show some of the negotiation that took place.

Dickey and her mother offered to assume their downstairs neighbour's rent of $740 per month, plus one-third of the utility bill. They were already paying $1,281.33 in rent and the other two-thirds of the utilities.

The messages show the landlord requested $2,661 per month, and provided a breakdown calculating the total as $1,281 for upstairs and $1,380 for downstairs.

"Rent is doubled to keep up with the time," reads a message sent in response to Dickey's request for an explanation. The 2023 maximum legal rent increase for continuing tenancies in B.C. was 3.5 per cent.

Dickey said she and her mother could have afforded to pay the existing rent on both suites, but could not afford the large increase the landlord was seeking.

Property sold to landlord's daughters

Shortly after the tenants rejected the landlord's terms for taking over the downstairs unit, the landlord listed the property for sale.

The asking price, according to a listing Dickey shared with CTV News, was $2.58 million.

The property didn't sell, and the tenants were informed in September that it would be taken off the market and relisted in the spring, Dickey said.

A short time later, Dickey said, the tenants were served an eviction notice. The document indicated that the building had been sold, and that the new owners planned to move in – a legally acceptable reason for eviction under B.C. rental rules. Dickey found it suspicious.

For one thing, she found the timing strange, given that the home was supposedly no longer for sale. For another, Dickey noticed that the address listed for the buyer was the same as the address listed for the seller, her landlord.

Documents that would later be disclosed to Dickey through the RTB process show that Mandy and Judy He – Situ's daughters – were the buyers. A contract of purchase and sale dated Oct. 5, 2023, shows they agreed to pay $1,888,000 for the duplex, and made a deposit of just $1.

The title to the property was transferred to the daughters – whose occupations are listed as "financial service associate" and "student" – on Jan. 18.

Dickey says initial communication from the landlord about the sale did not mention the familial connection.

"At that point, they didn't tell us that it was the daughters that bought the property," she said. "They were implying that it was just new ownership and the new people want us moved out because they're going to be living here."

CTV News made calls to phone numbers for both Ping Ping Situ and her daughters seeking comment for this story, but has not received a response. Efforts to contact them through a lawyer and two notaries public – all three of whom were involved at one stage of the sale and eviction process or another – were similarly unsuccessful.

RTB deems eviction legitimate

The two-month notice to end tenancy for landlord's use called for Dickey and her mother to vacate the property by Dec. 31, 2023.

The tenants challenged the notice at the RTB and remained in the duplex while their challenge was pending.

In B.C., the provincial government sets an annual cap on how much landlords can increase rent, and landlords can only increase the rent for existing tenants once every 12 months. There is no limit on how much the landlord can increase the asking price for a vacant unit, however.

Coupled with Metro Vancouver's notoriously tight rental market, sky-high real estate prices and rapidly increasing mortgage rates, this creates a situation in which long-term tenants typically pay well below the market rent, and landlords who want to significantly increase the revenue a property generates may feel incentivized to find a way to evict an old tenant and get a new one.

In recent years, since the province cracked down on so-called "renovictions," the number of evictions for landlord's use of property has skyrocketed

Landlords in B.C. are allowed to evict tenants if they or "a close family member" plan to reside in the unit, according to the provincial Residential Tenancy Act.

The act also specifies that the intention to occupy the unit must be "in good faith."

A tenant who believes a landlord is acting in bad faith can challenge the eviction for landlord's use at the RTB, where the onus is on the landlord to prove their intentions are legitimate.

In Dickey's case, RTB arbitrator S. Judge concluded that Situ and her daughters had demonstrated good faith "on the balance of probabilities."

"I find it unlikely that the landlord and their children went through the effort of selling the residential property and arranging for the change of land title if they did not have plans to accomplish the stated reason to end the tenancy," the arbitrator's decision reads.

Tenant wants 'closure'

Despite the ruling, Dickey remains skeptical.

She said there was no discussion at the RTB hearing about where the daughters got the money to purchase the property, a question she and her lawyer thought would be relevant, since the transaction was happening between family members.

Dickey also said she has visited the property several times since moving out in March to check for mail in her name. She didn’t see an indication that the daughters have moved in yet.

Landlords who evict a tenant so that they or a close family member can move in are required by law to occupy the space for at least six months before it can be rented out again. A landlord caught breaking this rule can be forced to pay the evicted tenant 12 months' rent, but there's no requirement for them to give the tenant their former home back.

Amendments to the Residential Tenancy Act announced earlier this month would increase the amount of time the landlord or family member must occupy the space to 12 months, and would ban landlord's use evictions entirely in purpose-built rental buildings with at least five units. 

Such a ban would not have prevented Dickey's eviction, just as her RTB dispute didn't. She said she remains optimistic about the RTB process, however.

"There's lots of landlords doing this," she said. "Know your rights. Push back. If you see an eviction notice and it doesn't seem right, make sure you do your investigating and call RTB."

As for her own situation, Dickey said she and her mother have joined with other family members to rent an apartment in a house "up the road" from where they were before. It's more expensive, but by splitting the cost among more people, they're "making it work," she said.

She said she's keeping an eye out for listings advertising her former apartment for rent, and plans to file another RTB complaint if she suspects her former landlords have not followed through on their stated intentions.

"I just want to know what the truth is, you know?" she said. "I just need some sort of closure. Like, it was my home. I considered it my home, and it's really just a crappy thing." 

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