Tenants ‘stunned’ by eviction days after apartment’s sprinkler system flooded some units

Elizabeth Muise, left, was served with an eviction notice, unaware that she had a right to a hearing under the apartment rental scheme.  She is pictured with her daughter Deanne.  (Submitted by Robert McNeil - photo credit)

Elizabeth Muise, left, was served with an eviction notice, unaware that she had a right to a hearing under the apartment rental scheme. She is pictured with her daughter Deanne. (Submitted by Robert McNeil – photo credit)

On a freezing night on the first weekend of February, residents of a building in Lower Sackville, NS, were woken up at 3:30 a.m. to a blaring alarm. In some apartments, water ran down the walls from the ceiling.

The building’s sprinkler systems had failed at temperatures below minus 20 degrees.

Five homes were damaged, some worse than others. The affected tenants, many of them seniors, packed what they could and tried to find a place to stay. Some went with family, others slept on neighbors’ couches.

They all expected to return to their homes on Walker Ave. 129 to be able to return when the water was cleared and the units repaired.

But a few days after the flood, residents of the damaged homes received eviction notices from employees of Montgomery Properties Ltd.

They were told their homes had been condemned by the landlord’s insurance adjuster, meaning their tenancy was canceled and they had less than a week to tidy up and not return.

“I didn’t know what to do,” said Elizabeth Muise, one of the tenants. “I was just stunned, I couldn’t believe it. We had five days to pack the whole apartment.”

Submitted by Robert McNeil

Submitted by Robert McNeil

Muise, 83, has lived in the building for almost seven years. She had renters insurance, but the company didn’t call her until she had to move.

Muise now lives with her daughter. With Halifax’s record rise in average rent and low vacancy rate, she doesn’t think she’ll ever be able to rent again.

“You can’t get anything,” she said. “I’ve tried one place, but we’re fixed income people, you know? It’s terrible.”

Along with the eviction notice, Muise and the other affected tenants received their February rent and damage deposit back. All but one took it and left.

Tenants were told they could sign a new lease with a higher rent once the repairs were complete.

What they didn’t know was that they had a right to a hearing to determine if their tenancy was in fact terminated or if they had a right to return to the same tenancy after the repairs were made.

CBC News spoke to tenants in five of the flooded units. Most did not know their rights and were afraid to fight the eviction. Only one tenant refused the eviction notice and booked a hearing with Nova Scotia’s condominium rental program.

“The lease is still intact”

When an apartment is deemed uninhabitable, or when a landlord uses this as a reason for eviction, the first step is to serve the tenant with an eviction notice called a Form F.

But Michelle Waye, the director in charge of the residential rental program, said that doesn’t mean the tenant’s lease is void.

“A tenant can consent to moving out at this point, or if they don’t consent to moving out, the landlord must take the next step by filing an application with the condominium rental program,” Waye said in an interview.

“Until that phase is complete and a decision is made, the lease is still intact.”

Brian MacKay/CBC

Brian MacKay/CBC

Waye said the tenant conducting the hearing will consider all of the evidence on both sides and determine next steps.

“If the municipality or the fire protection agency issues an order and deems a building uninhabitable, the order must be obeyed,” she said. “Because this is an insurance company, I think the adjuster’s decision needs to be reviewed at the hearing.”

In any case, it’s “wrong” to give tenants the impression that they need to vacate their apartment immediately, Waye said.

The superintendents resign in protest

Wanda and Allan Burns, the construction managers at 129 Walker Ave., were originally asked by Montgomery Properties owner Ziad Haddad to deliver eviction notices to tenants.

They had to make a difficult decision.

“When we said no, we wouldn’t do it, he called us and said, ‘I’m going to hire someone else to do it,'” Wanda Burns said. “And I told him, ‘That’s not the point. What you’re doing is morally wrong.'”

Burns said she and her husband resigned in protest and lost both their home and their job.

David Lachlin/CBC

David Lachlin/CBC

Burns has been in the rental business for 20 years. She said she has worked for Montgomery Properties for the past nine years and has never been asked to do anything. It shocked her.

“These are our seniors and they are being evicted from their homes,” she said. “Allan and I couldn’t sleep at night and put our heads on a pillow because we knew they didn’t have a home. I couldn’t be part of it.”

She believes the tenants didn’t have to be evicted to make the repairs.

“I understand that two apartments were really damaged and they couldn’t stay there while the work was done,” she said. “I understand that perfectly. But the rest of them were fine to be left there and bypassed.”

Burns said the affected tenants have always paid their rent on time and kept their homes in immaculate condition. She now said that some had nowhere to go through no fault of their own.

No comment from the landlord

CBC called and emailed Haddad and his company, but they did not respond to an interview request.

Submitted by Beverly Morrison

Submitted by Beverly Morrison

Melvin Gale and Beverly Morrison are one of the couples Burns was referring to.

They have lived in the building for five years and are currently staying on a neighbor’s couch. Gale said her insurance will cover living expenses for a few months, but after that they have no plan.

“I don’t know what we’re going to do,” he said. “We’re on pensions, so if we end up paying $1,800, $2,000 a month, that’s just not going to happen.”

“We need to find a probably derelict shack or something to live in for now.”

hearing is coming

Derek Kehoe is the only tenant who refused to leave and is now awaiting a residential tenancy hearing on March 15.

“If you walked into my apartment now, you could never say in a million years that anything ever happened there. Never,” Kehoe said.

He said he was standing up for himself, but also for the other tenants in the building who didn’t know their rights or couldn’t defend themselves against the eviction.

“Our lease has 11 months left. We should be able to come back once it’s fixed,” he said. “But when they tell us, ‘You have five to seven days to get out and never come back,’ I think that’s totally inappropriate and we’re not going to take that.”



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