Tenants picket landlord’s mansion after he locks them out of their homes
For the past two and half months tenants at 6659 Dow Avenue have been calling on their developer-landlord, Peterson Group, to address the dangerous and stressful living conditions in their building. Instead Peterson has blatantly disregarded tenants’ health and well being and worked to create a climate of fear.
This week, Peterson escalated further by illegally locking tenants out of their homes, changing the locks on the building, and threatening them with eviction.
In response, twenty tenants with the Dow Avenue Tenants Group and the Eviction Defence Network paid a visit to Peterson CEO Ben Yeung’s multi-million dollar home in Kerrisdale to present their letter of demands calling for an end to Peterson’s attacks on tenants.
“Come out of your castle! Face your victims!”
Serena Lowe, a representative of the Dow Avenue Tenants Group, tried to present Yeung with a letter, signed by the majority of tenants in her building, calling on Peterson to end the harassment of tenants, to stop locking people out of their suites, and to ensure that repairs are done in a way that doesn’t put their health at risk. Rather than face the tenants his company continues to endanger, Yeung hid in his castle. After repeated calls for him to come out and address their concerns in person, the Dow Avenue Tenants Group put the letter under his door and took to the streets.
For the next half hour, working-class tenants from Metrotown marched through the streets of one of Vancouver’s wealthiest neighbourhoods chanting “Stop All Evictions! Stop the Harassment! Shame on Peterson!” and “Come out of your castle! Face your victims!” Along the way they leafletted every house on Yeung’s street, letting his neighbours know that he and his company make their millions through endangering, abusing, and displacing low-income tenants. The group then marched down 49th Avenue and blocked the intersection at Granville and 49th Avenue, demonstrating that they are willing to stop business as normal to defend tenants under attack.
According to Linda Noel, one of the leaders of the Dow Avenue Tenant Group and longtime resident of 6647 Dow Avenue: “With courage and conviction, we marched throughout Ben Yeung’s neighborhood calling him out for his thoughtless abandonment of his tenants. With voices raised, and cheers from onlookers at 49th and Granville, we lifted each other up, determined to slay the dragon. Our fight has just begun.”
A developer’s disrepair leads to resistance
In February 2021, large parts of the ceiling fell in at 6659 Dow Avenue, exposing tenants to mold and asbestos. For an entire month Peterson, with its website ironically reading “we believe in community, fairness and setting an example by taking action,” ignored tenants’ calls to fix the damage. Peterson only began repairs after tenants spoke out publicly in the media. Since then Peterson temporarily relocated a handful of tenants to hotels in downtown Vancouver and others to unlicensed suites in the neighbourhood, while other tenants have nothing but a few sheets of plastic between them and the potentially toxic damage.
Tenants’ struggle forced Peterson to begin making repairs, but even these repairs continue to put tenants’ health at risk. Peterson had a report on mold and asbestos done but has not shared the results of these reports with tenants. After removing tenants from the toxic renovation site, Peterson has not bothered to cover up personal belongings in areas where they are exposed to asbestos and mold. They have shown a consistent disregard for tenants’ personal space, damaged tenants’ personal property and left their suites’ windows and doors unlocked and unattended. Finally, they have not communicated to tenants when they will be able to return and under what conditions.
In addition to disregarding tenants’ physical health, Ben Yeung’s billion dollar development corporation, which built the luxury Shangri-La hotel in downtown Vancouver and the private-public-partnership Woodward’s condo building, has begun to harass and intimidate long-term tenants into moving out early, which would make it much harder for them to claim compensation or relocation assistance under Burnaby’s convoluted Tenant Assistance Policy. 6659 Dow Avenue is one of four buildings Peterson owns that are going through the City of Burnaby’s rezoning process.
On Wednesday the landlord escalated further by illegally changing the locks on tenants’ suites after they moved into temporary housing and refusing them to give them a new key, locking them out of suites where they are still paying rent. Peterson only changed the locks back after tenants called the Residential Tenancy Branch Compliance Enforcement Unit and contacted the media. Despite having the key, access to one tenant’s suite is still blocked by asbestos containment. Most of her personal belonging and important medication are inside.
According to Serena Lowe, the member of the Dow Avenue Tenants Group who carried the tenants’ demand letter to Ben Yeung’s door, “The second floor repairs are happening at a slow rate and the contractors/subcontractors retained have not taken proper care to protect our belongings from being contaminated with mold and asbestos. It smells moldy when you walk into the lobby at 6659. The hallway ceiling on the second floor is full of cracks. The boiler room makes loud, disruptive sounds, at all hours of the night, waking tenants up at 3:00 or 4:00 in the morning.”
Dow Avenue Tenants Group continues their struggle
After picketing the Peterson CEO’s neighbourhood, the Dow Avenue Tenants Group vowed to return, and also, to turn their attention to the City of Burnaby. City-organized demoviction is in the background of all of the Dow Avenue Tenants Group’s immediate concerns around maintenance, with Mayor Hurley’s Downtown Metrotown development plan threatening tenants with evictions along with a slew of other slumlord practices used by developers like Peterson.
According to Jessica Li, a tenant at 6645 Dow Avenue, “We were hoping that Ben Yeung would be there to receive our letter and demands. He did not answer when we knocked but someone removed our leaflet from the car in the driveway after we left. We want to hold Peterson accountable to their mission statement, and to the law. We have rights and we won’t back down until all of us receive our rights and fair treatment.”
Chris Marino, another tenant of 6659 Dow Avenue said, “Peterson: this is your first warning. This won’t be the last time that we’ll come here or approach other Peterson leadership. Maybe next time we will take the fight to City Hall!”