North Cowichan is asking the province to step in and help the residents of the Magdalena apartment building on Crosland Place who have been advised that they will likely be evicted in the new year.
At the council meeting on Aug. 18, Mayor Al Siebring said he has written to Housing Minister David Eby to discuss the issue.
The residents of the 64-unit building have been advised they are probably going to be evicted to allow for necessary remediation work due to substandard construction. Siebring said if the situation was a more conventional emergency like a fire, there would be considerable provincial help available for them.
“With our rental vacancy rate at near zero, I believe this is no less than an emergency for these tenants and we’re asking the province to consider this file in that light,” Siebring said.
“We’ve asked the minister for a meeting within the next few months. We’ve also reached out to the Cowichan Housing Association for help in relocating the balance of the tenants next year should that become necessary.”
The five-storey Magdalena building has multiple structural deficiencies and other work that needs remediation in order for it to be safe long-term, and residents must move out while the work is being done, according to information sent to tenants last month by the building’s owners, WestUrban Properties.
An information packet sent out to the residents said, “Due to the sheer extent of the remediation work and the length of time that it is estimated to take to complete (at least six months), it will not be possible to maintain a safe living environment in the building while the work is being carried out.”
A pre-hearing conference has been set for Nov. 21 which will include the tenants, WestUrban and the Residential Tenancy Branch, and Siebring said that will be followed by a more formal hearing of the RTB in December or January in which the final decision will be made as to whether the request to evict all the tenants is legitimate.
He said if the RTB agrees the tenants should be evicted, the earliest that could happen would likely be in April.
“As to North Cowichan’s role in this, [CAO] Ted Swabey and I, along with some senior staff and the executive director of the Cowichan Housing Association, are holding weekly webex meetings with senior officials from WestUrban to keep ourselves apprised of the ongoing situation,” Siebring said.
“One of the things we’ve found is that some of the tenants in the building are already starting to leave. There are 64 units in that building and the latest information we have is that there are only about 40 or fewer that are still occupied. The rest of the tenants are finding other accommodations and are leaving voluntarily.”
Siebring said that when tenants leave under these circumstances, they are entitled to a month’s free rent paid back to them, along with the full reimbursement of their damage deposits.
“Staff will also be working with the company directly to expedite whatever permits are needed for the building fix when that time comes, likely next year,” he said.