Update: Tenants at Mooresville have been told they are now allowed to stay, even as the property sells. Details of the new rental agreements have not been presented to renters, but they got the news they could stay on the week of Aug. 6.
Seven Hope residents are scrambling to find a place to live as an affordable rental property at 22200 Trans Canada Highway sells.
Russell Moore, owner of the property dubbed “Mooresville,” has needed to sell the property for quite some time due to health reasons.
The new buyer has plans that do not include continuing to rent the property, which is her right as a property owner. However, several of the tenants are now left scrambling to find somewhere to live in a bleak local rental market.
Mavis Webb has lived at Mooresville for almost seven years, she explains as she sits on her patio surrounded by wind chimes, trinkets and bird feeders. The hummingbirds know her patio and zoom in and out looking for nectar. Her cat Toby eyes them with interest.
Webb and six other tenants live on the 3.4 hectare (8.5 acre) property, each in homes originally built by the Moore family after they purchased the bare land in the 1960s.
Moore said rents haven’t been raised and now range from $510 to $1,100 for the small- to regular-sized stand-alone homes distributed across the property. Included in the rent are cable, garbage pickup, sewage and lawn upkeep, Moore added.
He said it was more about having reliable tenants than about making a lot of money. As a result, there were mostly seniors and middle-aged renters at the property over the years.
“I had the best tenants because I never raised the rent and the rents were cheap. That’s why they’re having a tough time finding a place to go because there’s nothing as cheap as what I rented them out for,” he said.
On May 27, tenants were given a notice to end tenancy and were told they would have to vacate their suites by Aug. 27, which is when the new owner, Susan Wang, said she plans to take control of it.
What is a legal dealing between landowners has left the tenants of Mooresville shocked and sent them scrambling for a place to live.
Searching for a home in Hope
“I was kind of stunned there for a bit because I didn’t know what to think,” Webb said when she received her notice.
“I’m going to be 74 in October and I’m thinking, where am I going to go? Because I know what the situation in Hope is like for rentals, and I have a cat. And I’m not about to give my cat up.”
Barry McKinley, a tenant in house number one on the property for the past three years and a resident of Hope for 13 years, said moving out of the community is looking more and more inevitable.
This is the last thing McKinley wants; staying in Hope means he is able to stay close to his doctors and specialists he needs to see.
“I’m going to be 69 in August. So yeah, there are seniors out here that are really going to be put in a tight spot,” he says. “I just don’t know, I don’t know what I would do. They’re saying there’s not many vacancies in Chilliwack either. I don’t want to leave Hope.”
Deanna Chernoff and her daughter Michah moved to Mooresville a year and a half ago. Deanna has been in Hope for 20 years – Michah was born at the Fraser Canyon Hospital – and has been struggling in the rental market for some time. The previous home the family lived in sold, and it took six months to find a new place.
Working a minimum-wage position and looking for a home has been stressful for both Deanna and her daughter. She wants to see realtors step up and help those being evicted find a place to live.
“We’re already short-handed with the workforce here in Hope, and at 50 I’m still working. And there’s no place for the working people that only make minimum wage to live … gas stations, restaurants, road workers, everything the town needs,” she said.
The idea of leaving their homes has been stressful for many of the other tenants.
“In the last week, I haven’t eaten, I haven’t slept,” said tenant Arlene Morris the week after receiving the notice.
“My post-traumatic stress is through the roof. I’m like I’m going to be in a frigging tent with my cat on Telte-Yet campsite, because there’s no place else to go.”
Ron Wright, a tenant at Mooresville for six years and on a disability pension, said the notice stating he had to move out has been a huge stressor, so much so that he was prescribed high blood pressure medication shortly after finding out he would be evicted.
For Wright, this home is a peaceful escape from a life spent in cities working in the entertainment industry – “the perfect scenario for a retired person on a fixed income.”
“Everything I have done since the notice has been (to) find as close to what I have here as I can,” he said, adding this is likely an impossible task.
“Russell never, in any way, suggested that it could be sold and we’d all be moved out, in all our conversations. And we had many.”
Wright was so convinced he would be staying at Mooresville that he began to stockpile wood for the winter, a pile he has nearly finished chopping and stacking.
New owners change their minds
At the heart of the issue for some of the residents of Mooresville is the belief they would be allowed to remain as tenants even if a real estate deal went through.
Webb, Wright and the Chernoffs said they were told by Moore not to worry about finding alternate accommodations as they would be able to stay on as renters even when the property sold. That all changed May 27.
“I’ve always had a good relationship with my landlord – I haven’t done anything wrong. I’ve always paid my rent on time. A few little things that I’ve asked for he has done…I’ve never had any problems. So I feel like I got slapped in the face,” Webb said.
Morris said she feels the landlord “suckered” the tenants, that he “knew all along that those people were buying the place and that they were going to kick everybody out.”
None of these conversations about keeping the tenants on were recorded in writing, and the rental agreements the tenants have are month\ to month.
Moore said when the new owners put the offer in, the idea was to keep it as a rental property. Then, in the spring, the plans changed and they told him they wanted vacant possession.
In the conversations Moore had with the new owners, he was told the family would be moving in after they take possession of the property in August.
The new owner, pending an official sale, is Susan Wang of Surrey. When asked whether she knew about the conversations between Moore and the tenants, Wang said she did not know and was under the impression that the property would be vacant and ready for her Aug. 28.
Wang has plans to create a retreat space for family and friends at the property, as well as move there in the foreseeable future. But first, renovations need to be made to the buildings.
“The houses are so broken – the washroom, the kitchen, everything is falling apart. There’s no way for people to live there. Also, it’s not the right way to live,” she said.
What the law says
Landlords are legally allowed to end tenancies under section 49 of the Residential Tenancy Act, including to perform major renovations or to convert a property to non-residential use.
A few conditions need to be met: the landlord has to have all the permits in place to conduct renovations, has to give tenants the proper eviction notices and has to “in good faith” do what they have stated with the property.
The property at 22200 Trans Canada Highway hasn’t been issued any permits by the District of Hope, director of community development Jas Gill stated July 2. However, permits are not always required for renovations in Hope, unless the landlord plans to move around walls or significantly alter plumbing, for example.
The tenants at Mooresville were given a two-month notice to end tenancy. They are also to be compensated one month of rent or be given one month to live rent-free.
However, the notice they were given applies if a sale of a property goes through and the purchaser or close family member intends to occupy the rental unit.
In the case of 22200 Trans Canada Highway, the new owners plan to renovate the unit “in a manner that requires the rental unit to be vacant.”
Under changes to the Residential Tenancy Act and Regulation which came into effect May 17, 2018, “landlords must give four months’ notice to end tenancy for demolition, renovation or repair,” a BC government website states.
If tenants are given a two-month notice after May 17, the notice is not valid and a new four-month notice to end tenancy must be issued.
The notice period was increased ‘to give tenants more time to move, and to dispute a notice in low vacancy rental markets where evictions for demolition, renovation or conversion are happening frequently,” the website states.
Andrew Sakamoto, executive director of the Tenant Resource and Advisory Centre, said with the new laws there have already been cases of landlords giving the wrong notices.
“There’s an adjustment period for tenants and landlords; in particular, landlords, because of the many official forms they have to use in serving tenants. With this law changing, I can imagine a lot of landlords trying to issue two-month notices for renovations and demolition,” he said.
Was the deal done in good faith?
All of the dealings between landlords and tenants must be done “in good faith,” explained Michael Duncan, public affairs officer with the provincial Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing.
“A landlord (or purchaser, if notice is given at their request) must act in good faith if they plan to end a tenancy for landlord’s use or to do major construction or major renovations or repairs,” he stated in an email.
“Good faith means the landlord has honest intentions and no ulterior motive. The landlord must honestly intend to use the rental site for the purpose stated on the notice to end tenancy.”
If a landlord does not follow through on what is stated on an eviction notice – using the rental unit for the purpose stated on the notice for at least six months – tenants have the right to dispute this with the Residential Tenancy Branch.
“(The tenants) certainly have the right to call into question whether their notice has been given in good faith and dispute the notice that’s been given them. With any type of eviction notice, if you don’t think it’s been given to you with any sort of merit, you can always challenge it through the residential tenancy branch,” Sakamoto said.
Once tenants are issued a four-month notice, they have 30 days to dispute the notice. If they miss this window, they can also try to gather evidence the unit wasn’t used for its intended purpose and bring this to the Residential Tenancy Branch with the possibility of being compensated 12 months’ rent.
July 16 was the first time Wang had heard about the difficulties the renters are having finding new places to live. Once renovations are done and Wang has settled what she will do with the property, she said she may be able to rent out some of the homes.
“I feel bad, too, if they don’t have a place to live. If, after I do the renovations and I finish my retreat, if they don’t have a place, they give me a call (to) see if I can work out something for them,” she said.
Moore said he also feels for the tenants. However, with declining health, he has no choice but to let the property go.
“I’d keep them all on if I still had the property, but if I was getting younger. I’m not getting any younger – that’s the problem,” he said.
The search continues
Two of the tenants, Deanna and Michah Chernoff, moved out at the end of July after a search that they started as soon as they received notice in May.
McKinley said he has been looking around, mostly at motels, including one as far as Bridal Falls, but most are quite expensive. Plus he said Care Transit does not pick up in Bridal Falls, which would make seeing his specialists more difficult.
Morris said one hotel she inquired at told her it would be $1,200 a month for a single room with a bed, hot plate and a bathroom.
Some of the renters have pets, which rules out many of the rentals available in Hope. The homes which take pets often ask for a pet deposit as well.
“When people are mean and the world is tough, how can you live without a kitty cat?” said Deanna Chernoff of the comfort she receives from her pet.
Webb agrees, saying she would never give up Toby to make it easier to find a place to live.
This leaves five of the renters at Mooresville without a place to move to and the Aug. 27 deadline fast approaching.
Note: The Hope Standard could not reach the seventh tenant on the property for comment.