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Tenants Scramble to Find Answers Ahead of Evictions

Tenants facing eviction from an apartment building in North Cowichan are looking for answers after learning in late July the building needs to be emptied for structural repairs to proceed.

WestUrban Developments, the owner of the Magdalena Apartments on Crosland Place, has applied to the Residential Tenancy Branch for permission to end all tenancies.

Pete Robison says they want to get to the bottom of it all, to know where they stand, what their rights are, and what compensation they may be entitled to for the stress caused by their current situation.

He calls it a “constant nightmare,” and says a lot of tenants are scared because they don’t know “if the building is going to come down or not.”

He says their future is very uncertain: “our options are pretty dismal, at the very best, with a one percent housing rate,” and many of the tenants can’t afford to pay higher rents elsewhere.

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Robison says tenants have formed their own advocacy group and are “digging deeper and deeper and deeper” trying to better understand the problems with the building and are also seeking a lawyer.

“Nobody knows what’s going to happen in the housing market with one percent, we don’t what’s going to happen so we went to (Cowichan Valley MLA) Sonia Furstenau, we’re going through all the legal things that we can to try and rectify the situation, find out how it even got to this point.”

He says tenants want to know why, given the extent of the structural problems, they were not made aware of the problems much earlier.

Robison says he was given 72-hour notice on June 1 that he had to move his car out of the underground parkade, then tenants received an information package on July 26 informing them of the need to vacate the building.

He says that according to the information package, the company received permits on March 3, 2022.

Robison says “they obviously knew about this problem, we figure it’s been in between nine to twelve months,” but tenants were not told anything.

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“We don’t know who the contractors and subcontractors were that made these mistakes, the walls are not thick enough, they have to reinforce the whole bottom.”

WestUrban released a statement last week explaining that structural deficiencies in the Magdalena building need to be remediated in order to ensure the long-term safety of the building.

The company says a third-party construction contractor with significant experience in structural remediation informed them that because of the invasive nature of the work it is not possible to do it while the building is occupied.

A hearing is scheduled for November, and if WestUrban’s application is approved, residents will be required to leave the building four months later.

WestUrban says it understands “how disruptive this will be for tenants and will be providing them with four months’ advance notice so that they can begin looking for other housing options as well as one month’s free rent and a full refund of their damage deposits.”

Tenants can also terminate their lease at any time and receive their damage deposits.

Robison says they want to know whether it’s safe to remain in the building while awaiting the TRB hearing, and then the four-month notice period that will follow.

North Cowichan mayor Al Siebring says the Municipality is consulting West Urban regarding the building’s safety.

“We’re working with the developer to make sure the building remains safe for occupancy, it’s not ideal and there’s water leaks and there’s other issues, but we just want to make sure that folks can live in there until the eviction notice takes effect.”

The mayor says the municipality does its own inspections for new houses, but on such a large project the municipality relies on the engineers and architects hired by the developer.

He says this is the first time North Cowichan has encountered a situation where deficiencies in a building have forced all residents to move out for repairs to be made.

Siebring is asking BC Housing Minister David Eby if emergency funding can be made available to assist the residents of the Magdalena.

He says it’s not a conventional emergency, such as a fire or a natural disaster, but believes it should be considered as one, “because of the near-zero vacancy rate and the fact that we’ve got units where the residents are going to be out in the street at some point.”

Shelly Cook of Cowichan Housing Association says due to the extremely low vacancy rate the impact will be significant and could affect local businesses if employees who currently live in the building decide to relocate to other communities.

Cook says there are few options available for those being evicted.

Robison says WestUrban will allow tenants to move back in after the repairs are complete, but many feel that they will not want to return.

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