Earlier this month, Joyce Lachance’s low-income, disabled son Curtis was evicted by landlords Bill Mitsui and Tyler Zhang, who run the private real estate investment company Columbia Wealth Investments (CWI).
Last September CWI purchased Cityviews Village, a low-rise apartment building with market rents well below the average in Maple Ridge. Most of the tenants in one-bedroom units are paying $500-$700, but CWI has been superficially renovating units they have been able to empty out and then re-renting one bedrooms out for $1200. Curtis was paying $600, which means that his eviction stands to increase Bill and Tyler’s profits by 200%.
While landlords Bill and Tyler reap greater profits for their investment, Curtis’s eviction has thrown him into the first stages of homelessness. After living in stable and relatively affordable housing at Cityviews for ten years, Curtis is now couchsurfing with family.
Joyce had tried to stop Curtis’s eviction by filing a review of the Residential Tenancy Branch (RTB) decision that awarded Bill and Tyler a two-day eviction notice, which she believes they obtained fraudulently. Curtis was evicted over failure to pay rent that he paid in full before the RTB direct order hearing gave CWI their two-day eviction order, suggesting that Bill and Tyler lied to the RTB about never having received Curtis’s rent. But because Joyce missed the deadline to file a review, the RTB flatly denied her application and Curtis was evicted in service of landlord profits.
On Saturday, Joyce and the Eviction Defense Network took their resistance to Bill’s home in the expensive Horseshoe Bay neighbourhood of West Vancouver, where the median cost of a home is $1.5 million dollars. Joyce knocked on the door. Bill opened it, announced he was calling 911, refused to speak to Joyce, and then shut the door, filming the protestors from within his castle of cowardice.
Joyce addressed Bill through a megaphone, “Hey Bill, we’re here because you are evicting people. We want to shame you! Come on out!” Joyce and the Eviction Defense Network chanted, “Stop all evictions! Rent control now!”, “No landlords, no cops! All evictions have to stop!”, and “Evict your landlord!”, catching the attention of some curious neighbors and dog walkers.
The group then leafletted every house on Bill’s street, as well as downtown Horseshoe Bay, handing out 150 flyers that said, “Investor-landlord Bill Mitsui abuses tenants!” Two older women who didn’t live in Horseshoe Bay but were on an outing commended the group for taking action against a greedy landlord. A couple who had come for a hike similarly applauded the protestors. Even Bill’s neighbours were largely sympathetic and supportive.
Eviction Defense Network organizer Listen Chen said that since CWI purchased Cityviews Village, three tenants have been intimi-victed: “We use the term ‘intimi-viction’ because it doesn’t matter if a landlord abuses RTA loopholes to ‘legally’ evict a tenant, as in Curtis’s case, or if they resort to harassment and threats in order to compel a tenant to leave. Either way, the end result is the same: one more tenant is displaced to more unaffordable housing or homelessness, and one more landlord makes a windfall from an eviction.”
Chen argued, “Instituting rent control between tenancies, by tying a rent price to rental units rather than just tenancies is a simple way the Provincial government can remove the legislated profit motive that drives evictions.”
Bill and Tyler have taken advantage of Curtis’s eviction to continue to spread fear amongst tenants of Cityviews. A notice Bill and Tyler distributed to Cityviews tenants on February 18 implies Curtis’s eviction was caused by Eviction Defense Network organizer Listen Chen, and further smears Listen’s tenant advocacy as an “unauthorized legal practice,” contravening the Residential Tenancy Act’s clear description of advocates and helpers as anyone whom a tenant enlists to help them navigate their tenant rights.
While Joyce’s action didn’t change the outcome of her son’s eviction, her spirit of resistance and anger is exactly what Bill and Tyler are trying to snuff out through their campaign of intimidation. They hope that every successful eviction will prove to tenants that there’s nothing they can do to resist landlord power.
Referring to the shame picket, Mitsui later claimed that it created “extra strain on police resources, and may also trigger violence,” an interesting interpretation given that he was the one who decided it was necessary to call 911. Even more bizarrely, in the same interview, he compared the protest to the actions of Red Guards in China during the Cultural Revolution in an attempt to portray himself as a victim. The Chinese peasant’s movement to eradicate feudalism and landlords might have made for a more apt reference, though unfortunately the tenants’ movement does not yet have the power to expropriate landlords’ property.
Bill concluded with the claim that “if landlords disappear, rental units disappear at the same time.” His argument is that landlords provide rental housing, with the implication being that without landlords, people would have nowhere to live. But the rental relationship between landlords and tenants is an expression of colonial and capitalist property relations: the landlord doesn’t build rental housing, workers do. The landlord doesn’t provide rental housing, he owns it, and in owning it he commodifies parcels of occupied Indigenous land for private profit. The rental relationship is parasitic, capitalist, and colonial.
In that sense, the Eviction Defense Network agrees with Bill: to abolish landlords would mean abolishing rent, and the social relations expressed in it, and nothing less is needed to end the housing crisis.
Speaking after the protest, Joyce said she felt encouraged by taking the fight to Bill’s door, saying, “I think we embarrassed him, which is good because he shouldn’t be evicting people.” The tenant’s movement does not yet have the power to evict landlords, but forcing one to squirm in his own home is a start.