Despite post-fire complaints, no View Towers investigation

July 15, 2015 | Bill Cleverley | Times Colonist

Link to original article

The Residential Tenancy Branch has once again turned down an advocacy group’s request that it investigate the landlords of View Towers, despite numerous complaints that tenants were forced out of their low-income rental suites after a major fire in 2014.

Together Against Poverty Society asked the branch to investigate Westsea Construction Ltd., which owns the highrise apartment building at 1147 Quadra St., following a fire in May 2014.

The fire displaced 70 tenants, many of whom are low-income, marginalized people, including First Nations, seniors, and people with mental and physical disabilities.

The branch turned down the request, saying that any tenants with concerns should follow the dispute-resolution process.

In September, TAPS filed an application asking the branch to investigate Westsea’s alleged “systemic contraventions” of the Residential Tenancy Act, including “providing misinformation about the state of suites and tenants’ personal property, coercing tenants into signing agreements to end their tenancies, and failing to provide tenants with access to their personal property.”

The branch turned down the request, saying that any tenants with concerns should follow the dispute-resolution process.

That prompted TAPS to apply to the B.C. Supreme Court for a review, saying the tenancy branch made errors in interpreting the legislation.

The investigation request, including additional evidence, was resubmitted to the branch for a new evaluation. However, the board has again declined to investigate, the society said Tuesday in a statement.

Stephen Portman, the interim executive director of TAPS, called the decision troubling given the number of vulnerable tenants affected, and said he was surprised at the decision not to investigate.

Portman said TAPS has 60 days to decide whether to seek a judicial review.

“It’s difficult to even get a clear idea on what would be the grounds on which they would investigate,” Portman said. “I think we made the case pretty clear on what legislative powers needed to be invoked and demonstrated how an investigation should be taken, but they don’t have very clear policy or guidelines on how they do investigate.”

Portman said TAPS has 60 days to decide whether to seek a judicial review.

The society has also written the Residential Tenancy Branch hoping to open a dialogue on investigative policies.

“This is definitely not the end of the line in terms of engaging with the Residential Tenancy Branch to ensure that they proactively enforce the terms of that act,” Portman said.

bcleverley@timescolonist.com

— With files from Katie DeRosa