Where will they go now?

Immigrant families say ‘renovictions’ are forcing them out of their apartments

A handful of families in a Burnaby low-rise apartment say their landlord is evicting tenants on the “false pretense” that units must undergo renovations in order to increase the rent.

Oleh Chentsov, his wife Irina Levinova and their three-year-old daughter have lived at Claremont Terrace, 6960 Ellwell St., for more than two years. After signing a year-long lease for $1,000 a month, they were put on a month-to-month contract.

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But last week, Chentsov was served with a two months’ notice to end tenancy.

“As you know, we have been updating the building for the past several years,” reads the letter. “It is now time to update your apartment. There are many things that need repairing. ... It will take a minimum one month to deal with.”

The letter notes the kitchen and bathroom are in need of new cabinets, countertops, sinks and faucets. The work also includes replacing electrical lights, fans, carpeting, blinds, closet doors, appliances and updating the electrical panel.

The unit, however, is in very good condition, according to Chentsov. It’s only the cupboards and flooring that need replacing, he said, adding he’s already invested $5,000 of his own money to upgrading the home.

Oleh Chentsov says his kitchen is in good condition and only needs the flooring and cabinets replaced. - Tereza Verenca

“This is actually what we asked her a year-and-a-half (ago) to do, ... but she came, inspects it, (says), ‘No, no, no. It’s totally fine. Your apartment is excellent,’” he told the NOW. “Why didn’t you do those things when we moved in? If you look, every apartment is individual, but she’s sending the same letter to every apartment, which is wrong, because our apartment doesn’t need 90 per cent of those things.”

Chentsov believes he’s being evicted because he’s one of the few tenants in the building paying an affordable rent, and the landlord is eager to hike it by a few hundred dollars.

“Even a $100 raise, that’s a huge impact to our budget; that’s huge money. We can’t afford that,” he said.

Under the Residential Tenancy Act, landlords can increase the rent once a year, but only by a small percentage. The rate for 2017 is 3.7 per cent, meaning Chentsov’s rent can only go up by $40.

Neighbour Dmitry Foos, along with his wife and his four-month-old son, are in the same predicament.

“The main purpose is to kick us out. All she wants is to increase the rent. She cannot do it by law, and she’s doing it like this,” said Foos of what’s known as “renovictions.”

The same goes for Rafi Charif and his wife Natalia, who are paying $884 a month for their one-bedroom unit and must vacate by May 31.

Charif said he was verbally warned about the eviction notice in February after a chat with the landlord.

“She said, ‘You know, you’re paying the lowest rent in the building. I will increase your rent, or I will give you two months’ notice.’ I said, ‘You have no right to do that, it’s illegal.’

“In this area, the price of the building is going up, and the new highrises are coming around. (They’re) taking advantage of that to increase the price,” Charif said.

Not our fault

When reached by the NOW, the building’s property manager blamed rising property taxes and city fees for the renovictions.

“Currently we’re paying $110 per unit (in property taxes). (A) building on downtown Granville Street is $75 per unit in property taxes. That is absolutely crazy,” said Simone Greaves with Ambassador Industries Ltd., adding Claremont Terrace is in the red.

According to B.C. Assessment, the total value of the building and land is $10.35 million, up from $8.73 million the year before.

The cost of renewing the apartment’s business licence went up, too, according to Greaves, who said she had to fork over an additional $500 this year (it cost her $1,800 in total). Garbage collection isn’t cheap either, she said.

“We used to be able to get rid of garbage for $70 a load. We’re at $200 a load now, which is literally every week.”

She added if rents are not increased, the company will lose the building.

“The building next door sold because the woman went bankrupt because her rents were so low she couldn’t afford the mortgage. …We’re going into the same predicament,” she said.

Greaves defended the renovations and said the building is very old (it was built in 1972).

“We still have stoves that are hard wired. When you plug in the microwave, it blows the power in the building.”

She pointed to other past must-do renos, including redoing the roof and replacing the pipes.

“We keep the property immaculate. That costs money. We’ve also installed cameras because we had break-ins. Who pays for that? That doesn’t come at a zero cost,” said Greaves.

She noted after the renovations, the rent for a one-bedroom will be $1,200 and $1,300 for a two-bedroom.

Nowhere to go

The Claremont Terrace residents who have come forward, all immigrants, say they don’t have anywhere to go if they have to leave.

“We are not rich,” said Charif. “We’re angry. We look at Craigslist. It’s not easy to find an affordable place.”

Meanwhile, Chentsov and Foos both work full-time jobs while their wives stay at home and take care of the children. Having to deal with looking for a new place to live in a market with a near-zero vacancy rate has caused many sleepless nights, they say.

“Imagine, we have a steady, normal life. Then suddenly, somebody comes and says, ‘OK guys, in two months’ time you have to move out.’ How are you supposed to feel? You’re stressed. You just keep thinking 24 hours about that. All your plans, all your life is just postponed and now you just deal with this,” said Chentsov.

“I have a small daughter,” his wife, Irina Levinova, said through tears. “It’s not fair.”

The three families have applied to the Residential Tenancy Branch for dispute resolution and are scheduled to have their hearings via conference call in May.  

The group plans to argue the landlord did not receive all the necessary permits to renovate the unit, even though the eviction notice states otherwise.

The NOW checked with the City of Burnaby and confirmed no permits have been issued for any electrical work at Claremont Terrace.

They will also make the case their units are in good condition and the renovations are minor, not major.

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