'The greed here is interesting': Duped B.C. renter owed $24,000 from landlord

After a B.C. renter wins a monetary order at the Residential Tenancy Branch, it's up to them to be a "collections agent," says a tenancy lawyer. "I think that deters a lot of people."

Kahlil Ashanti has found a law aimed at protecting renters from unscrupulous evictions is difficult to enforce and poorly tracked by the B.C. government. | Graeme Wood

Illegally evicted Burnaby resident Kahlil Ashanti says the Residential Tenancy Branch (RTB) has “no teeth” to enforce a key rental protection policy that’s led to him being owed over $24,000 from his former landlord.

Furthermore, renters’ rights advocates say the government-sanctioned RTB has no means of measuring the policy’s effectiveness.

Ashanti is among an unclear but seemingly growing number of British Columbians who have received an RTB monetary order for compensation from their landlord for having their lease illegally terminated.

Under law, a landlord may give a tenant a two-month notice to vacate in order for the landlord to use the property for their own use, which may typically involve a family member moving in.

Such circumstances also typically occur when a rental home is sold to a buyer intending to occupy it as a primary residence. However, should the landlord/buyer not be able to prove such stated uses, an RTB adjudicator may find the tenant is entitled to the equivalent of 12 months’ worth of rent payments.

These orders, such as the one recently issued for Surrey resident Natalie Egger, often range between $12,000 and $36,0000.

The penalty is to dissuade illegal evictions and compensate tenants who likely face higher rents by having to re-enter the rental market.

Eviction forces family to pay extra $1,000 per month

On Nov. 28, 2020, Ashanti and his spouse were provided a notice from the landlord, who was receiving $2,025 per month from the couple with three school-age boys.

“It was horrifying. My wife was crying, our boys were crying,” said Ashanti of the prospect of having to move out of the neighbourhood and having to change schools.

Ashanti said he was lucky to find another nearby home, albeit for $3,000 per month.

After the family moved out in February 2021, their former neighbours told them no one was living in the home and it was subsequently re-rented.

This made Ashanti realize his family had likely been evicted so the landlord could increase the rent well beyond allowable rates for established tenancy.

“There was no visible problem except he couldn’t raise the rent as much; that’s my opinion,” said Ashanti, a computer programmer who says he has rented homes all around the world due to his U.S. military background.

“As an adult I’ve lived in Dubai, England, Scotland, Australia and never had to worry about where I could live. Here, we’re getting kicked out for no reason. The greed here is interesting.

“Vancouver’s the first place I’ve lived where people try to make you feel less than because you don’t own [a home],” said Ashanti.

Dad turned collector 

Nevertheless, aware of the laws, Ashanti filed a complaint at the RTB and following a nearly year-long delay, an RTB adjudicator sided with the evidence that the landlord had not used the home as intended and awarded Ashanti the lump sum payment on March 8.

However, Ashanti says he is now stuck in legal limbo trying to obtain the money. First, he had to serve the landlord the order; after payment was still not received, he had to go to B.C. Supreme Court to enforce the order. However, the landlord had recently appealed the decision in court, although Ashanti says he never showed up to his own hearing and thus the process has been further delayed.

Ashanti says a court may be able to force payments, garnish wages or place a lien on property. Or, a bailiff may be ordered to repossess assets. All in all, it’s not a simple process, Ashanti tells Glacier Media.

Providing some assistance to Ashanti has been Tenant Resource and Advisory Centre (TRAC) lawyer Robert Patterson, who sees the RTB’s quasi-judicial system, for all its good intentions, as stacked against tenants.

“Even if a tenant is successful, the system is set up that, great, for one, here's your monetary order, and you are in charge of enforcing it.

“To force them not only to go to the RTB, but then on top of that, to then learn how to enforce a judgment, learn how to be a collections agent, effectively, I think that deters a lot of people,” said Patterson.

“It's very challenging to get that 12-month rent penalty.

“If the landlord decides to dig their heels in and refuse to pay or bring an appeal in Supreme Court, the tenant is the one sort of left holding the bag trying to navigate the legal system, either to defend against appeal, if that happens, but always to try to enforce it themselves,” added Patterson.

Tenant protection policy outcomes murky

Another problem is that even if tenants can navigate the judicial system, it’s unclear how many have done so successfully.

The RTB provides little transparency on its decisions, said Patterson. Decisions are posted online but adjudicators’ names are redacted, nor is there any reporting on how many payment orders are eventually complied with.

TRAC surmises the two-month eviction notices for a landlord’s personal use is being used more frequently for unscrupulous purposes.

This is so because in July 2021 when the Residential Tenancy Act was amended to have landlords provide greater proof of renovations (for evictions), TRAC subsequently observed a roughly 25 per cent uptick in tenants calling it about being given these two-month notices.

“Our hypothesis is that, you know, those bad-faith landlords that were renovating, people have now switched over to try and evict him with these two-month notices instead,” said Patterson, who nevertheless credits the RTB for placing the burden of proof on landlords during claims.

The government ministry in charge of housing (Ministry of the Attorney General) acknowledges RTB has no enforcement mechanism for its orders and tenants are left to collect via the court system. This, it states, is standard procedure among tribunals such as the RTB.

“I empathize with this family and appreciate how frustrating this experience has been for them. The Residential Tenancy Branch is actively looking for ways to improve wait times,” said Minister Murray Rankin in a written response to Glacier Media.

“The RTB has also introduced several initiatives to reduce wait times for hearings, improve access to services for citizens, and make its processes fairer and more efficient for landlords and tenants. There is more to do, and we’re committed to finding more ways to improve processes so that more people can get timely and fair services,” said Rankin.

The RTB, he said, has added 30 full-time staff following a budget increase of $2.9 million.

“It would be useful to know how much taxpayers’ dollars are being spent on an arbitration system that has no teeth and is being taken advantage of because of the power dynamics between landlords and tenants,” said Ashanti.

“This isn’t an impossible problem to solve; it’s just that the people in power own houses,” he said.

gwood@glaciermedia.ca