Housing
Explainer
Provides context or background, definition and detail on a specific topic.

This Victoria family is facing eviction. Here are their options.

From Residential Tenancy Branch disputes to co-operative housing hurdles

By Martin Bauman
May 17, 2022
Housing
Explainer
Provides context or background, definition and detail on a specific topic.

This Victoria family is facing eviction. Here are their options.

From Residential Tenancy Branch disputes to co-operative housing hurdles

By Martin Bauman
May 17, 2022
From left: Chris, Sonnet, and Kyeren Regehr are facing eviction from their Fairfield home. Photo: Martin Bauman / Capital Daily
From left: Chris, Sonnet, and Kyeren Regehr are facing eviction from their Fairfield home. Photo: Martin Bauman / Capital Daily
Housing
Explainer
Provides context or background, definition and detail on a specific topic.

This Victoria family is facing eviction. Here are their options.

From Residential Tenancy Branch disputes to co-operative housing hurdles

By Martin Bauman
May 17, 2022
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This Victoria family is facing eviction. Here are their options.
From left: Chris, Sonnet, and Kyeren Regehr are facing eviction from their Fairfield home. Photo: Martin Bauman / Capital Daily

Chris Regehr has a story for every nook and cranny of the home he’s shared with his wife, Kyeren, for 18 years. The marks on the kitchen door frame showing their children’s heights as they’ve grown. The spot in the front yard where they buried their old rescue poodle, Joey, and their golden hamster, Billy. The way the smell wafts from the downstairs unit’s kitchen into their own kitchen.

“Every creak this house makes, I know,” says Chris, a frontline worker with the Victoria Cool Aid Society. “Our daughter was born in the living room. This is our home.”

It might not be, though, for much longer.

After their long-term landlord listed the Fairfield fourplex they’ve been living in for sale last summer, they figured change might come under new ownership—so, they negotiated an additional one-year lease to protect themselves before the sale went through.

“[The new owners] said they wouldn’t evict anybody. And then within the first month, they evicted two people—one with a disability,” says Kyeren, an author and Victoria Butler Book Prize finalist.

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The Regehrs say they’ve been threatened with eviction three times in the past year.

“[All] for nothing,” adds Chris.

In the first two evictions, the Regehrs say, the new landlords said it was necessary so their daughters would have somewhere to live. The Regehrs argue that three months onward, nobody has moved into the vacant suites; instead, contractors have been in and out of the vacated units, performing months-long renovations.

The Regehrs figured they were safe, at least, until the end of their new lease on Aug. 31; however, their new landlord served them an eviction notice for June 1. They’re appealing through the Residential Tenancy Branch, and they’re waiting on an arbitration date.

Their new landlord has argued the Regehrs have broken their lease by denying them entry, as well as by harassing workers that have come to renovate the property’s other suites. The Regehrs deny both allegations and say they have proof to the contrary.

But on a mostly single income—Kyeren left her work at the University of Victoria to homeschool their daughter Sonnet, who has autism—they worry about what they’ll be able to afford in a vastly different rental market than the one they entered in the early 2000s, if they have to leave their current home. And with limited savings and a housing market ranked the third-most expensive in Canada, homeownership seems out of reach.

So what’s left?

Option 1: Fight the eviction

The Regehrs believe they’re getting evicted because of the low rent they’ve been paying: $1,200/month for two bedrooms and 800 square feet—which, in Victoria, is about as rare as not having to wait in line for brunch, or finding parking on Lower Johnson.

The previous landlord, Chris says, raised the rent only “once in 18 years.”

It’s an eviction story that Hannah Mang-Wooley has seen before. As a tenant legal advocate with the Together Against Poverty Society, a support service for Victorians facing tenancy, employment, and income issues, she wants to see the province take steps to address vulnerabilities in legislation that can lead to situations like this.

Instead of tying rent control to the tenancy, she says, “Tie it to the unit instead—meaning that even if one tenant moves or is evicted, the landlord can't increase the rent in between those tenancies.”

That, she and other tenant advocates believe, would take away the financial incentive that landlords currently have to evict tenants.

Photo: Martin Bauman / Capital Daily

The Regehrs didn’t have long to dispute their eviction. Per the province’s Residential Tenancy Act, which sets the standards of all agreements between tenants and landlords in BC, a tenant facing a one-month eviction has only 10 days to dispute it. That response window shrinks to five days if they’ve been given a 10-day eviction notice.

From there, until an arbitration date is set, Mang-Wooley says it comes down to compiling evidence which could include photos, videos, text messages, audio recordings, or verbal testimony.

She recommends that tenants get everything they can in writing.

“Even if you are used to having conversations with your landlord over the phone… It doesn't even have to be through a letter, but it can be over text message, or it can be over email, but just to have a paper trail, because, you know, that could prove to be really important later on.”

That evidence-gathering doesn’t have to happen before the dispute is filed, Mang-Wooley adds.

The Regehrs believe they have all the evidence they’ll need to win their arbitration. They have written correspondences, neighbours’ testimonies, and a list of key dates for each encounter they’ve had with their landlords.

They’ve also been in touch with the Vancouver Island Human Rights coalition, in order to protect their daughter’s right to an uninterrupted education. They argue any move earlier than July, when Sonnet’s homeschooling year will finish, would be too disruptive to her learning environment.

“Having a child with a disability doesn’t fall under the Residential Tenancy Act. There’s no extra protection,” says Kyeren.

The only thing the Regehrs can’t plan for is the arbitration date itself. The Residential Tenancy Branch is booking into August for dispute resolutions—which puts a hold on their eviction, for now—but a cancellation could mean as little as three weeks’ notice for preparation.

From there, the Regehrs have until two weeks before their arbitration date to submit any evidence in their favour. Their landlords will get an additional seven days.

“I cannot conceive of what evidence [they would have],” says Chris.

Option 2: A new rental

The Regehrs know that a return to the rental market is virtually assured to crater their monthly budget.

They’re prepared to pay more, and would have been willing to negotiate a higher rent with their new landlord, had the relationship not soured. They had already voluntarily taken on the cost of the hydro bill, which had been included in the rent, Chris says.

On Chris’s single income (he earns $28/hour at Victoria Cool Aid), and with a teenage daughter at home, the Regehrs figure they can afford $1,800 a month for a unit. But even that, Kyeren says, “would push us to an uncomfortable situation.”

It would also mean a significant downsizing. According to Victoria realtor Curtis Lindsay, most units within that price range would offer only a single bedroom and bathroom. The Regehrs are prepared to sleep on a couch to give Sonnet her own bedroom, but that would fall short of the Canadian National Occupancy Standard—which, while not strictly mandatory within BC, further limits the pool of landlords and property management companies willing to give them a chance.

Plus, they have a toy poodle—small enough for most apartments, but a nonstarter for many rental listings. A UsedVictoria search for two-bedroom units that allowed pets for $1,800/month turned up only three results.

According to Rentals.ca's April 2022, report, Victoria ranks as the third-most expensive city to rent a two-bedroom apartment in Canada. Graph: Martin Bauman / Capital Daily

Lindsay says most two-bedroom units with their requirements are going to be more like $2,000, or more—and if they want a whole main floor of a house, rent could easily surpass $2,200. A Rentals.ca report for April painted an even bleaker picture, ranking Victoria as the third-most expensive Canadian city for two-bedroom apartment rentals, at an average of $2,541/month.

On Devon Properties’ website, there are two-bedroom pet friendly units for as low as $1,626/month—but in Nanaimo. The cheapest two-bedroom pet friendly option listed in Victoria is $2,250/month. And on Brown Bros., the cheapest available comparable runs for $3,995/month.

All of those figures come in above the oft-repeated tenet that renters should spend no more than 30% of their monthly income on housing. In Victoria, even with a median household income of $70,197, according to a 2016 CMHC report, an affordable rent would top out at $1,755/month.

But even the soaring prices haven’t yet outflown demand. According to the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation, only one in a hundred private apartments was vacant in 2021, a third of the national average vacancy rate.

A client of Lindsay’s listed their one-bedroom condo for rent at $1,800 and got 45 applications in half a day.

“I don’t think anyone fully grasps the rental crisis here in #VictoriaBC,” he tweeted on May 5. “They were completely overwhelmed with personal stories/situations.”

***

Even without the competition, the Regehrs face other limiting factors. In the financial strain of the first months after Kyeren left her job at UVic to care for Sonnet, the family’s credit score took a hit. Though their situation has improved, and their record qualifies for revision, they’re still waiting on the credit bureau to follow through.

Chris says he’s been three times to the credit bureau, asking for their promised revision.

“Each time they say they’ll amend our record. They still haven’t done it. It’s like I have to psych myself up just to go back each time and ask again,” he says.

According to Lindsay, that could pose difficulties with larger property management companies that tend to run credit checks on prospective tenants.

“Property management won't look at us; we're considered unrentable to them,” Kyeren says.

The opportunity, she feels, will be in finding a landlord “who respects 18 years of perfect tenancy over a credit check.”

Lindsay recommends would-be renters to consider including a personal letter with their applications, suggesting it could be “a huge swing factor” when, unlike how the real estate market tends to operate, a rental unit isn’t won by the highest bidder.

Still, Kyeren feels her family is often on the outside looking in when it comes to competing for rental listings.

“I'll be looking at places… and the [listings will] say, ‘Will suit a working couple or a single person,’ or ‘We’re interested in UVic students.’ They’re very specific about what they want, [and] that's not people with a child with autism and a poodle.”

Option 3: A housing co-op

What the Regehrs would ultimately love is to get into a housing co-op. There are 35 in Greater Victoria, but not all of them allow pets—and while some keep waitlists of prospective members, others don’t.

They are also in high demand.

“We’ve applied to every [one] in the city, but that was three or four years ago, and in that time, we’ve gotten one phone call,” says Kyeren.

At the time, she says, the co-op board was eager to have them join—only they realized the suite was designated as a low-income suite, so they didn’t qualify.

“Our income is too high for low-income suites in a co-op, but too low to rent on the market.”

Chris and Kyeren Regehr have a binder full of past applications to housing co-ops in Greater Victoria. "We've applied to every one in the city," Kyeren says. Photo: Martin Bauman / Capital Daily

According to Melissa del Sol, owner of Cascadia Community Solutions, which manages a suite of co-ops within Greater Victoria, including Seawalk, Krisinleos, and Four Mile Heights, the difficulty in getting into a housing co-op has less to do with lengthy waitlists and more to do with the low rate of turnover within units.

Once somebody gets into a housing co-op, she says, “they very rarely leave,” which limits the number of new spots available.

Still, she admits, “We rarely get to the point of advertising a vacancy… by the time a vacancy comes up, most co-ops will already have anywhere from 20 to 100 applications ready to go.”

Each housing co-op, del Sol figures, tends to have about one vacancy a year.

“Sometimes you'll go for two or three years with nothing. And sometimes… there was a period a few years ago where we had tons of vacancies, where people couldn't afford to live in Victoria… [But] throughout COVID, things have clamped down pretty tight; people are pretty much staying where they are.”

Even with the low inventory, there are two crucial advantages to housing co-ops for the Regehrs. Most co-ops, according to del Sol, won’t run credit checks on prospective members; instead, they’ll ask for an applicant’s previous three months of pay stubs. And if a co-op has a waitlist, vacancies aren’t decided by which application came in first, but rather by perceived fit.

“If there's one applicant that seems more volunteer-minded, or more able to contribute to their community, they're probably going to go up higher on the list in terms of desirability as a co-op member,” she says.

Still, she adds, there are other barriers. Most co-ops require prospective members to re-submit their applications every six months.

“You could have a giant stack of applications, but if most of them are over six months old, they just get shredded.”

The last resort: Split up

In the side yard of the Regehrs’ home, an eight-foot tall storage container stands out of place. It’s a new addition to the decorative stones and raspberry bushes that surround it.

Kyeren calls it “covering bases for an emergency scenario”: the looming possibility that, if an arbitrator were to decide against their case, they would have just 48 hours to leave their home.

A corrugated steel box casting shadows over the garden, it is as stark a reminder of their reality as they come.

The Regehrs' storage container lays in wait, in case the family has to leave their home within 48 hours of arbitration. Photo: Martin Bauman / Capital Daily

The Regehrs have discussed their options if the worst-case scenario unfolds. Kyeren has a friend on Cortes Island who she could take Sonnet and live with, while Chris would keep working in town and stay with a friend.

But Sonnet’s been taking music and art lessons, and the move would pull her away from those tutors, as well as her godparents. It would also leave the Regehrs hours apart from one another.

“[It’s] a crazy option to split up our family,” Kyeren sighs.

Through his work at the Victoria Cool Aid Society, Chris has seen the harsh reality for families who lose their housing.

“There's no supportive [housing]; there's no emergency housing for families. So what they actually say is that the child should go to a youth shelter, and then the ministry would become involved [and] the child goes into foster care while the parents go to shelters,” he says.

They have hope they’ll win their arbitration and buy themselves enough time to find other accommodations. Still, Chris says, there’s a seed of doubt.

“Even though we have, I believe, a solid case, in the back of your mind, you're just thinking, ‘But there is a human being [deciding],’ and you hope they're gonna make the right decision.”

He lets out a breath.

“But if they don't…”

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Martin Bauman
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