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Esquimalt low-income residents fighting against eviction notice

Residents’ dispute set to go before the Residential Tenancy Branch on May 2
Ilene Koculyn, 68, is one of 30 residents fighting against an eviction notice at 519 Sturdee Street. (Mark Page/Vic News)

Tenants of a low-income apartment building in Esquimalt are looking for answers after they were all recently served with eviction notices so the new owner of the building can renovate.

“This is just ridiculous,” said resident Ilene Koculyn, who plans to fight the eviction through the Residential Tenancy Branch. Koculyn has lived in the building at 519 Sturdee Street for 13 years and pays $830 per month for rent, but doesn’t think she’ll be able to find anything close to that.

“We all have to try and find a place to live affordably,” Koculyn said. “And it isn’t out there.”

Ahead of a tenancy branch hearing scheduled for May 2, Koculyn and a group of residents are scrambling to fight the eviction order, while also trying to find somewhere else to live before September when they could be forced to leave.

These residents organized themselves with the help of a local poverty advocacy organization to speak to reporters at the complex on April 30.

According to several of the residents, they have been offered $5,000 per unit by property owner Andrew Rebeyka to sign a commitment to leave without challenging the evictions through the tenancy branch.

Ilene Koculyn speaks to reporters in the courtyard of 519 Sturdee Street. (Mark Page/News Staff)

Koculyn, 68, is one of 30 people to receive eviction notices and the offer. While some are taking the buyout, Koculyn is not.

“Once you sign you cannot discuss it, you cannot get any legal backup no matter what the situation,” she said. “So you’re stuck.”

Rebeyka could not be reached immediately on April 30, but a request for comment was sent through the email for him listed on the website for Rebeyka Acquisitions Inc.

Occupants say they feel pressured by the fact that if they don’t take the buyout and lose their dispute through the tenancy branch, they will only be entitled to the equivalent of one month’s rent in compensation.

Debbie Boudreault addresses reporters from the balcony of 519 Sturdee Street. (Mark Page/News Staff)

According to building resident Debbie Boudreault, 60, tenants were told they would get the payout once they left, but only if they do not join the conference call with the tenancy branch on May 2. Boudreault is also challenging the eviction attempt.

The Together Against Poverty Society (TAPS) is helping the residents fight the evictions, and is providing advice and guidance through the dispute process.

“It’s not fair to expect tenants to be in this position where they have to either choose between their rights and challenging the eviction, versus having enough money to actually relocate successfully,” said TAPS executive director Douglas King.

King added that if an entire building can be cleared out for what he called a “renoviction,” then new rules meant to prevent this sort of action have failed.

Because of recent changes in provincial law, a landlord who wishes to kick out tenants in order to renovate a building or a single unit must first apply to the tenancy branch for permission. This is a reversal of the way it used to work, when tenants were the ones who had to first initiate the process, and only then did landlords need to justify the evictions.

When asked about the eviction attempts on Tuesday morning (April 30), provincial Housing Minister Ravi Kahlon said he did not have specific details about this particular case, but said renovictions are “dramatically down since the changes we made.”

This building was used in the recent Netflix drama Maid in which it was represented as a supportive housing site.

A press release from TAPS called this ironic considering the characters in the show were often facing displacement, and now the real-life residents of the building are being asked to leave. The building was since purchased by a company owned by Rebeyka, according to the release.

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