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Landlord pressured couple to move days after woman gave birth, human rights tribunal finds
A B.C. Human Rights Tribunal hearing room is shown in this file image from March 29, 2010. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck)
VANCOUVER -- A B.C. landlord has been ordered to pay nearly $11,000 to a former tenant after the province's human rights tribunal determined she pressured the woman and her family to move out days after learning of their newborn baby.
In a decision dated Feb. 19, the tribunal found Meltem Bahcheli discriminated against Germaine Valdez because of her sex and family status. At the time of the discrimination, the tenant had just given birth to her second child.
Germaine and Jesus Valdez, who are both from the Philippines, moved into an apartment owned by Bahcheli's company on Dec. 1, 2017. Prior to that, Germaine and her son had been living with her parents while waiting for Jesus to join her in Canada.
With the family together, they wanted to find their own apartment and start their own household, the tribunal documents say.
"This would be (Germaine's) first time renting an apartment and living outside her parents' home," tribunal member Devyn Cousineau wrote in the decision.
The couple met Bahcheli to inquire about a two-bedroom apartment. The tribunal documents say Bahcheli told them the two-bedroom apartment was not available right away, but she offered them a one-bedroom apartment to rent instead.
"The Valdezes agreed to rent the one-bedroom apartment and were happy because it was more affordable," Cousineau's decision says, adding that there were no issues with the tenancy at the start.
But a few months later, Germaine gave birth to the couple's second child by C-section. Three days later, on March 25, she texted Bahcheli to let her know she had had a baby because she was concerned there would be changes to their tenancy agreement.
"From her perspective, though, (Bahcheli) would have known she was having a baby based on the fact that she was visibly pregnant when she first rented the apartment and during the times she had run into (her) at the property," Cousineau's decision says.
But the response Germaine got back was not positive.
"I think if you are now a family of four a one bedroom is too small," Bahcheli told her in a text, according to the decision. The landlord went on to ask if the family had found another place to move to.
"I'm not OK with a family of four living in a one bedroom. That's not what I signed up for. You will need to start looking for a home that will accommodate a family of your size."
The conversation continued and they mutually agreed the family would leave at the end of June.
'You are a liar': Bahcheli
The day Germaine got home from the hospital, she got a visit from Bahcheli. According to tribunal documents, the landlord began yelling at Germaine, and apparently accused the family of being liars. Both Germaine and Jesus said they found the conversation "very upsetting."
Later in the day, Germaine texted Bahcheli, asking for a clear timeline on when they would be expected to leave. Bahcheli suggested they enter a mutual agreement for the tenancy to end that May, instead of June.
According to Cousineau's decision, Bahcheli told Germaine that if they didn't reach a mutual agreement, she would evict the family.
"I can't understand how you thought it's a good idea to move into a home that's too small for your needs then trick someone onto doing business with you by lying to them," reads another text message from Bahcheli included in the tribunal documents.
"It doesn't matter to me that you are sorry. You are a liar and I'm sorry for you that your lies cost your family a home."
The family decided they would leave the apartment as soon as possible because, as Cosineau's decision says, "from their perspective, nothing was worth the stress that Bahcheli was imposing on them during a vulnerable time."
After further discussion with Bahcheli, it seemed the soonest the Valdez family could end the tenancy was on April 30.
Disputes continue during viewings
According to the tribunal documents, tensions didn't ease after a move out date was picked. Germaine asked if she could stay home while Bahcheli showed the apartment to prospective tenants, citing her recent C-section and need to recover. But Bahcheli said no, and instead texted Germaine about times that she would need access to the apartment for viewings.
"At this point, it was early April and cold. (Germaine) did not have access to a car. To leave the building, she would have to carry the baby and the stroller down a number of steps and then walk around the two-hour window that Bahcheli had reserved," Cousineau's decision says.
"She was having to physically exert herself more than she should have been, immediately following a C-section. As a result, she experienced some unusual bleeding that required medical attention."
On April 3, when her baby was 12 days old, Germaine moved out of the apartment to live with her parents again.
"The family made this choice because it was no longer healthy for (Germaine) and the baby to be in the apartment, subjected to Bahcheli's behaviour and having to leave the apartment multiple times a day to facilitate viewings," Cousineau's decision says.
Bahcheli messaged Germaine a couple of weeks later, saying she wanted to conduct a final inspection on April 19 and threatened to change the locks if they didn't arrange a time. But Germaine said they had until the end of the month to move out and that they still had belongings in the unit.
"No offence but this tenancy has been terrible for me and I'm eager to end it and its stresses ASAP," a text from Bahcheli included in the tribunal documents says. "It's been my experience that you've been difficult about everything and anything."
Cousineau's decision says there was no evidence presented to her to suggest the Valdez family was "difficult or disrespectful or did anything to warrant these types of accusations."
Finally, on April 29, the Valdez family left the apartment and did not get their damage deposit back.
Injury to dignity: Cousineau
According to Cousineau's decision, there weren't issues with the tenancy until Germaine told Bahcheli she had had a baby and said that the birth "triggered (Bahcheli) to begin what would become a torrent of accusations" against the Valdez family.
"The harassment was directly connected to the birth of (Germaine's) child," Cousineau's decision says.
Cousineau goes on to say the landlord's "conduct made it impossible" for Germaine to recover after her C-section "by harassing her and causing mental distress, as well as by requiring that (Germaine) engage in inappropriate levels of physical activity."
Cousineau ordered Bahcheli – who did not attend the hearing or have anyone represent her – a little over $1,900 for expenses incurred. She was also ordered to pay $9,000 for causing "injury to dignity, feelings and self-respect."
The tribunal documents say that for Jesus, "the situation was so bad that he questioned his decision to move to Canada."
"It should have been a happy time, when they were nurturing their family and building their lives together," Cousineau's decision says, adding that Germaine "had been hoping to start a new, independent life with her husband."
"That was taken away from her."