A Surrey family has been awarded $33,600 after being wrongfully evicted from their home, which was sold to a suspected investor.
Natalie Egger says while they are relieved to have had the Residential Tenancy Branch (RTB) rule in their favour, the compensation will soon evaporate from having to pay more in rent and utilities at their new rental home. Furthermore, a new legal journey begins to obtain the money they’re now owed.
The Eggers’ case is one of dozens played out across the province when landlords evict tenants under false or erroneous pretences. The Eggers want to see a more streamlined process to obtain their compensation.
“We’re happy with the ruling but now the quest begins to get the money we’re owed,” said Egger.
With the RTB order, the Eggers may now serve their former landlords’ home purchaser, who would then have 15 days to respond and pay. Should the purchasers not, the Eggers will find themselves in provincial small claims court where a judge may issue orders for repayment.
Purchasers spiked rent 70% after evicting family
The family had been renting a detached home in South Surrey when their landlord notified them in March 2021 that the house was to be listed for sale. In September 2021, the property sold for $2.3 million and the family was given a two-month notice from the purchasers to vacate by that December, as the purchasers stated they would be occupying the home.
The Eggers moved out in October to a nearby home to accommodate their children. Their rent spiked from $2,800 to $3,200 monthly, plus more expensive utilities, said Egger, a 41-year-old consultant for agricultural businesses.
When December rolled around, the Eggers noticed the home was vacant and listed for rent at $4,750 monthly — a markup of $1,950 from what her family had been paying.
According to the Residential Tenancy Branch policy guideline, a landlord is to pay compensation to a tenant when the landlord "fails to use the rental unit for the purpose for which the notice was given" for at least six months after possession date.
"If the landlord does not fulfil these requirements, they must pay the tenant compensation equal to 12 months' rent payable under the former tenancy agreement, unless the landlord's failure was due to extenuating circumstances," states the policy.
Extenuating circumstances include the death of a family member who intended to occupy the home or a rental unit destroyed in a wildfire. Changing one's mind is not extenuating, the policy states. An RTB arbitrator has the discretion to decide what a valid extenuating circumstance is.
At their Oct. 18 hearing, the purchasers claimed they were not fully informed of the laws, which differed from the ones out of province, where they previously lived. They also claimed one of the purchasers had a heart attack, which changed their circumstances.
The arbitrator ruled that ignorance of the law is not an excuse and the landlords did not provide enough evidence of the medical emergency causing them to re-rent the home. And so, the Eggers were awarded 12 times their monthly rent of $2,800.
Evicted tenants may need to navigate two legal proceedings for compensation
Egger says realtors may need to brush up on their laws, if that were the case.
"Realtors need to be held more accountable by providing clear rules to purchasers in tenanted properties," she said.
Zuzana Modrovic, a lawyer with the Tenant Resource and Advisory Centre, previously told Glacier Media her group sees many instances of unfaithful declarations leading to compensation claims. The process typically has tenants navigating through an RTB hearing and possibly court.
There have been dozens of such decisions in 2022. Several notable ones involve tenants being evicted and then their place is listed as a short-term rental. While most rulings Glacier Media examined fall in favour of the tenants, some don't. Typical extenuating circumstances include medical conditions preventing family members from moving in and pandemic-related nuisances.
Egger previously described the experience of tracking down the purchasers as daunting.
Now, since the RTB has no enforcement mechanism, the Eggers may find themselves in a court battle, as a creditor. Egger believes the RTB decisions should lead to a more seamless way of recovering funds.
"A lot of people have been in similar situations and didn’t do anything about it because of the amount of work involved," said Egger.
"It’s unfortunate that it can be so complicated and long, plus getting a straightforward answer is near impossible. If the process was simplified, we could reduce the amount of landlords wrongfully evicting tenants."
In June, a spokesperson from the Attorney General and Ministry responsible for Housing told Glacier Media that the RTB is a neutral public body that cannot assist applicants. However, it says the government has made some changes to assist tenants.
The most significant change related to compensation claims is shifting the burden of proof to the landlord.
"Before, if the landlord failed to follow through on that plan, and a tenant sought compensation from their landlord, the burden was on the tenant to prove it. The amendment shifts the onus to the landlord to prove they have used the property for the stated purpose of ending the tenancy," stated the spokesperson by email.