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‘War of attrition’: Burnaby tenants face black mould, neglect from property owner

Complaints of black mould, leaking roofs and structural instability have gone largely unheard as tenants who remain in the buildings fear for their health and safety

Vague promises, pushed deadlines, black mould, and uncertainty. Tenants of apartment buildings along Dow Avenue have been dealing with these issues for months and the way things are going that isn’t about to stop anytime soon. 

Problems started in November 2020 when tenants began complaining about leaks in the ceiling of their suites. This came to a head on February 10, 2021, when a portion of the ceiling in 6659 Dow Avenue gave away in multiple units revealing widespread black mould and rotten wood. The tenants’ then-investor/landlord Matchpoint Development responded with superficial repairs only after several tenants spoke to CTV News in early March. Even still tenants were still left with unlivable suites and a number of unanswered questions.

“Neither Matchpoint Development, which owned the building or Peterson Commercial, which now manages it, have communicated to tenants how long the job will take, under what conditions they can return," said Serena Lowe, a tenant in the affected building and member of Dow Avenue Tenants Group. "The timelines and priorities continue to shift and get extended, with no end date in sight ”

Under pressure

The group stated that the company hired by Peterson Commercial to make the repairs to the ceilings left exposed mould in common spaces. Requests to Peterson for the restoration company’s mould toxicity report taken on March 5 have gone unanswered.  

While the building on 6659 Dow Avenue is worth about as much as a 2021 Toyota Corolla Hybrid at $28,200, the land it sits on is worth $13,598,200. It is this land the building’s previous owner Matchpoint Development applied to redevelop into high rises by tearing down the existing units at 6645, 6659, 6675 and 6691 Dow Avenue.

As Serena Lowe tells it, there were four suites that were most affected by the ceiling collapse all on the second floor. Those four suites held a total of five families, all of which have taken accommodation in downtown Vancouver offered by Peterson Commercial, all except for Serena and her husband.

"I stayed because I didn't trust them,” Lowe said, adding she believes offering accommodations is a tactic employed to pressure tenants out of the building permanently. “The longer you're in a hotel, out of your home, out of your neighbourhood it's uncomfortable.”

Lowe added she won’t take the offered accommodation until Peterson either promises assistance with the move and tenants will benefit from the City of Burnaby’s Tenant Assistance Policy (TAP), or that Peterson can guarantee the repairs will be completed.

Meeting with the mayor

According to a release from the Dow Avenue Tenants Group, on Thursday, March 25, members met with Burnaby Mayor Mike Hurley to present their concerns. They called on Hurley to ensure buildings are maintained and to extend the benefits of the TAP to all tenants, even those who have moved in after a project has begun. Members also asked that those tenants be provided with alternative accommodation if they are forced to leave while rezoning is still underway, such as what happened with 6659 Dow Avenue.

In a letter to the mayor, the group called the situation a "war of attrition."
Hurley promised the group this project will not receive city approval until the tenants in the buildings are taken care of and repairs are carried out safely. That promise did not quell the fears of all tenants though.

 “We still worry because we could receive an eviction notice for major repairs, forcing us to move out and into a new neighbourhood with no benefits available to us under the TAP until the rest of the building is evicted for rezoning,” said Chris Marino, who also lives at 6659 Dow Avenue. 

‘It looks like a hazmat zone’

In the end, residents are still waiting. The first deadline for completing repairs was March 25, the second deadline was April 2, and now residents say they feel it is now indefinite.

"We don't know when the repairs are going to be completed, we also don't know if they're going to be completed," Serena Lowe said.

"A lot of people are scared. They look at our floor and what it looks like and it looks pretty bad, it looks like a hazmat zone,” Lowe added. 

Timeline not definitive

Jill Killeen provided comments on behalf of Peterson Commercial. Killeen clarified that the landlord and the owner of the property is an organization called the Dow Beresford Development Limited Partnership while Peterson Commercial took over management in March. A title search shows that the director for the partnership is Raymond Choy, the president of Peterson Commercial.

As for when tenants could move back into their suites, Killeen says the timeline is "not definitive."
"The new management team is working to move through repairs in coordination with the Residential Tenancy Branch and WorkSafe BC as quickly as possible and get tenants back in their homes," Killeen wrote in an email to the NOW.

Tenants will continue waiting on the results of the in-house mould toxicity testing completed by Peterson as well.

"We have advised tenants that a third-party hygienist from Total Safety Services was hired to do all testing and to provide the condition assessment. That report is still pending, but we do expect it within the coming days. A building envelope consultant was also hired for the building envelope and roof review: no structural issues were identified," Killeen writes.
"We recognize that this is a stressful time and we have tried to communicate respectfully and in a timely manner with tenants, responding to both verbal and written outreach. On March 20th our team provided a written up-date to tenants on repairs, the desire to work individually with tenants to address their specific needs, creation of a communication hotline and dedicated email, and access to information on the rights of tenants during this process and going forward."