Pet Owners at Emerald Terrace Fight Eviction Threat

By Jackie Wong
The West Ender

If his apartment building’s management had its way, Andrew Simmons would have surrendered his three cats to an animal shelter by now. A seven-year tenant at the Hollyburn Properties-owned Emerald Terrace apartments at 2045 Nelson Street, Simmons received a “No Pets Policy” notice from the company, dated November 24, which gave him 14 days to find alternate, permanent shelter for his cats or face an eviction notice.

To date, Simmons is one of four Emerald Terrace tenants — another of whom is an elderly woman with Parkinson’s disease — who have received pet-eviction notices in what seems to have been an arbitrary process, given that dozens of other tenants in the building own cats. All pet owners in the building had verbal permission from the previous building manager to keep pets in their suites, but Hollyburn subsequently told tenants they need to have written permission — which one tenant, Pat Maher, has had for 17 years. Despite this, she too was among the first to receive the no-pets notice. “I had a total panic attack, and then anger, and now it’s kind of both,” says Maher. “Especially since I seem to be the only person in this situation who actually had written permission [for a pet] from the first manager when I moved in. It’s 17 years old… but that’s immaterial, according to all the advice we’ve gotten.”

Simmons and seven other tenants took immediate action, filing for a joint arbitration (which is scheduled for January 16) to dispute the no-pets policy at the Residential Tenancy Office (RTO). They are now safe to keep their pets in their suites until at least that date.

But the stress of dealing with the potential loss of animal companions has wreaked havoc on tenants’ lives, many of whom are now living in fear that they will receive an eviction notice or, if they speak out against it, face other forms of retribution from the building management.

“Prior to this, I’d spent seven years in the [Hollyburn-owned] building across the street, and I was looking [to move] because it was owned by Hollyburn and I wanted to get away,” says Simmons, who was aware of Hollyburn’s notorious treatment of tenants, some of which has resulted in Supreme Court cases, mass evictions, and the birth of West End tenants’ rights group Renters at Risk, of which Simmons is a member. “I had my cats there the entire time, and I had verbal permission from no less than five sets of Hollyburn managers in the building.”

When Simmons moved across the street to Emerald Terrace in 2001, the building was owned by Colliers International; it had been advertised as a pet-friendly building at a local pet food store, where Simmons first saw a vacancy ad. The building manager at the time had verbal agreements with tenants to allow pets. Hollyburn took ownership of the building on September 21, 2007.

When asked about the legitimacy of written agreements for pet owners in the building, Hollyburn property manager Allan Wasel told WE that he would honour them, contrary to what tenants claimed. “I am absolutely going to honour those,” he said of two written agreements to keep pets the building. As for people like Simmons who had verbal agreements for pets, Wasel declined further comment. “There is a pending arbitration on those. I don’t want to make too much of a comment on that.”

When word spread that Emerald Terrace tenants were speaking with WE about the new no-pets policy, 20 tenants came forward to speak about the poor quality of their living conditions. Many spoke on condition of anonymity because they say they’ve felt bullied or threatened by management. Each of those tenants claimed unhygienic conditions in the building’s common areas, such as the garbage room, laundry room, and hallways. Two tenants mentioned vomit and urine stains in the elevator that didn’t get cleaned for days.

“As you know, and I think I mentioned this to you before, [Hollyburn is] the premier provider of rental accommodations in British Columbia,” Wasel said when asked to describe the cleanliness of Emerald Terrace. “We have a… system in place. All our complaints or whatnot would be forwarded to the manager and are dealt with immediately.”

Wasel also credits Hollyburn for maintaining rental stock in an increasingly sparse rental market. “There is a good-news story, always, to Hollyburn taking over a building,” he said. “We like to keep the rental stock alive and well in Vancouver.”

As Simmons and his neighbours prepare for their arbitration date at the RTO, other tenants anxiously await eviction notices many of them believe are inevitable. “I was quite happy and content here until [Hollyburn] took over,” said an 86-year-old tenant who has lived at the Emerald Terrace for 17 years. “I thought I’d live the rest of my years out here as long as I was able. I don’t look too far in the future now.”

Read the latest news about the emerald terrace story.

Tags: ,

Leave a Reply