Hollyburn Says Elderly Tenant Can Stay – For 20 to 40% More Rent

By Darah Hansen

Vancouver Sun

Two weeks after 82-year-old cancer patient Lynn Stevens was served with notice of eviction from her West End apartment, the building’s owners appeared to ease up on their initial hard-line position, offering a possible solution to the situation — at a price.

Hollyburn Properties Ltd. agreed this week to move Stevens into a vacant suite in Nelson Street’s Emerald Terrace towers, her home for the past 41 years.

But, according to Stevens’ss son, Brian Schramm, the move will come with a rent increase of between 20 and 40 per cent over Stevens’s current monthly fee (which, at less than $900 a month, is the cheapest in the building because of her longtime tenancy).

Schramm said his widowed mother is eager to stay in the apartment building, where she has lived since 1969, but the proposed rent hike makes that financially unfeasible.

“We are back where we started,” he said in an interview Thursday.

Stevens’s plight came to light last Friday in a media conference called on behalf of two tenants facing eviction from the Emerald Terrace.

Both Stevens, who is being treated for ovarian cancer, and her neighbour, Andrew Simmons, were issued 60-days notice earlier this month to vacate their respective suites.

Hollyburn general manager Allan Wasel said the units are needed to house building management staff. He said Stevens was selected for eviction because of her low monthly rent.

Wasel said the company was not aware of Stevens’s ill health when it ordered the eviction, adding, “personally, I’m sympathetic toward her.”

But he maintained Hollyburn has done nothing wrong.

“All we were doing is following the letter of the law,” he said in reference to B.C.’s Residential Tenancy Act, which allows landlords to convert rental suites to staff housing.

But Hollyburn Properties critics — an ad hoc group made up mainly of past and present Hollyburn renters — disagree. They accuse the company of taking advantage of loopholes in the Residential Tenancy Act to hike rental rates beyond provincially regulated caps.

The company — one of the biggest rental property owners in Vancouver — has found itself in court and before Residential Tenancy Branch arbitrators several times over the years in connection with controversial evictions.

In one case, involving tenants of Bay Towers on Haro Street, the fight over so-called “renovictions” (evictions for renovation) went to B.C. Supreme Court, where tenants won the right to stay in their homes.

More recently, 10 pet owners of the Emerald Terrace — including Andrew Simmons — successfully fought their eviction notices before the RTB.

Indeed, Hollyburn’s history dates back decades in Vancouver with a 1990 story in The Vancouver Sun noting the company was the frequent target of complaints from tenants.

“The name Hollyburn is quite well known around this office,” Noreen Shanahan, then a community legal worker with the Tenants Rights Coalition, said at the time.

The company made headlines in 1992 after it was fined nearly $20,000 by the B.C. Human Rights Council for firing two of its apartment managers. In one case, the manager was fired after he was diagnosed with lung cancer and required major surgery. He died five month later.

Meanwhile, in 1989, the usually media-shy Hollyburn president Stephen Sander, 76, gained international publicity when he announced he was transferring the majority of his estimated $170-million property empire to his newly created charity, Consciousness International Foundation.

The former teacher and self-made millionaire — who was born in poverty in what is now Pakistan and came to Canada in the 1960s — promised the charity would receive $1 million the first year alone in support of humanitarian projects in the Third World.

In 1991, he revised that plan and pledged to support 100 “barefoot teachers” in India to teach basic job skills in rural areas.

The charity quietly folded in 2002, with little evidence Sander’s plans had been achieved.

Telephone requests to Hollyburn Properties to speak to Sander, or his son, Hollyburn vice-president Paul Sander, were referred to Allan Wasel.

A visit by a Vancouver Sun reporter and photographer to Paul Sander’s gated West Vancouver home was greeted only by a private security guard, who noted the reporter’s name and the vehicle’s licence-plate number.

Meanwhile, a woman who answered the door at Hollyburn’s unassuming office headquarters in West Vancouver, said Sander could be seen by only appointment. A request for an appointment was again referred to Wasel.

Lawyer Donald Hasam, who worked for Stephen Sander in the 1990s, called Sander “a man who is not used to publicity, doesn’t invite it, and is embarrassed when he receives it.”

In an interview Thursday, Wasel said he is optimistic an amicable solution can be found to accommodate Stevens, whose welfare he called a priority for the company.

“We are hoping to get it resolved as soon as possible … I want to put this behind us so that Mrs. Stevens can move on and enjoy the rest of her summer, if possible,” he said.

Schramm was not as hopeful.

“We are talking, but I would say that we have a ways to go,” he said.

As of Friday afternoon, Schramm and Wasel were still negotiating via e-mail.

Stephens and Simmons are now scheduled to have their case heard before a Residential Tenancy Branch arbitrator June 23.

Vancouver Councillor Tim Stevenson said the city has looked at pulling Hollyburn’s business licence to curb its aggressive behaviour. “But I’ve been told that would be near impossible. To pull a licence, you have to do something illegal, not immoral,” he said.

Housing Minister Rich Coleman has twice in the past week refused an interview on the issue.

dahansen@vancouversun.com

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