Tenants resist profiteering investor-landlord’s “intimi-victions”
Life at Cityviews Village, a low-rise apartment in Maple Ridge, has been hell ever since private investment firm Columbia Wealth Investments purchased the building in September 2020. Since then, the landlord and building manager have instituted a new “intimi-evictions” management style, using intimidation, harassment, and abuse to push low-income tenants out of their homes.
Timea, a resident of Cityviews, explained the conflict at a tenant-organized press conference on January 19th. “Me and my mom have lived here for three years. We have made it a home,” she said. “Ever since this new company took over, all we hear are rules and rules and rules. I’ve got violation notices under my door at least four times in the last two months.”
The rules Timea described, like one pertaining to “exactly what size your flower pots can be,” are unenforceable under the Residential Tenancy Act, but intimidating nonetheless. As Timea said, “They know it is not legal, but they think, ‘Okay, let’s just bully them into leaving because they’re going to be scared. They don’t know what to do.’ That’s their power.”
“Life is already hard. People are afraid of being on the streets,” said Timea. “These are scare tactics, very emotional and very abusive.” Her neighbour, Heather, agreed. “I’m afraid of getting kicked out myself. I’ve gotten violations for ridiculous things, such as painting my unit, when it was done prior to them taking over the building.”
Heather explained that CWI is doing whatever it can to drive out longtime low-income tenants, so that they can raise rents above the maximum allowable annual increase, which the BC government has paused entirely for 2021. “Most of the people in here are seniors. They have been here ten years, plus. A lot of them have been grandfathered in, so they’re not paying much. They can’t afford much,” said Heather. “Myself, I can’t afford much either, being on disability. Trying to find other rentals, there is no way I can spend $1,600 or $1,800 for a two-bedroom.”
Heather’s claims are backed up by comments from Columbia Wealth Investors executive, Bill Mitsui. In response to an email inquiring about how the company can offer investors such high returns, Mitsui wrote, “tenant groups have been replaced with a substantially higher class, resulting in a great increase in revenue,” leaving out that it is only through evictions and harassment that low-income tenants are leaving.
Curtis, who has lived at Cityviews for a decade, has been a special target of abuse, said his mother Joyce. She believes her son is being singled out because he has a disability. Curtis’ rent is paid directly through welfare. When there was a mix-up with the payment of his rent in November, CWI immediately moved to evict him. Even now that his rent has been paid in full, they are continuing with his eviction. “They just want him out, so they can fix up the suite and rent it out for higher rent,” said Joyce.
Ron, another longtime tenant with a disability, has had similar experiences. “I have been living here for ten years. The first years, it was really good,” he said. “Then I started getting harassed.” In Ron’s experience, Cityviews’ building manager, Josie, is a willing footsoldier for CWI. “She constantly harasses me about smells,” he explained. “Putting up with abuse from her and giving me notices all the time about everything, it’s like I was in the corner… I feel like I live in a cage.”
The Eviction Defense Network has been organizing with Cityviews tenants since December, when they received a call from someone asking for help. “She was overwhelmed with anxiety and stress, convinced her eviction was inevitable. She had not received a formal eviction notice, but her sense of precarity was not baseless,” said organizer Listen Chen.
“The reason the landlord wants to get people out by any means necessary is because any time a tenant leaves, that’s a windfall for a landlord, whether or not it happens through a legal eviction or through intimidation,” Listen explained. “Intimi-victions are the easiest way landlords can raise rents above the rent increase set by the BC government every year.”
While landlords like CWI are the ones who throw lower income tenants out into the streets to grab higher rents, it is Provincial tenancy law that enables them. Tenants in Cityviews are fighting against their landlord’s exploitation of a loophole in tenancy law, but it will take a bigger fight to close that loophole, applying rent control to rental units rather than to individual tenancies, to end the government incentive for landlords to arrange evictions.
Joyce’s message to CWI is also a message that the BC government needs to hear. “Back off and let these people live here at the price they are paying,” she said.
The tenants who spoke at a January 19th rally against CWI’s harassment and evictions are the face of those most likely to be attacked and thrown in the streets by rent seeking landlords. Out of the four tenants who spoke, two were Indigenous, two were people with disabilities, two were seniors, and one was a racialized immigrant. Three-quarters of them were women. They were low-wage workers and people on disability welfare. It was the unity between these tenants, and the others standing behind them, that gave them the confidence to fight back against their abusive landlord.
Joyce’s message to CWI is also a message that the BC government needs to hear. “Back off and let these people live here at the price they are paying,” she said. To her neighbours, Heather said, “I want everyone to know we are in this together and that we can fight this. We are going to fight Cityviews back. You can’t get us out without a fight.”