Pet People at Emerald Terrace Celebrate

Sandra Thomas

Vancouver Courier

Supporters and media surrounded a jubilant crowd of tenants from the Emerald Terrace apartment building in the West End Monday morning as they celebrated a decision allowing them to keep their cats.

“Yay for cat people,” one of the supporters yelled as several of the tenants, including 81-year-old Mary Milligan, addressed the crowd.

The tenants found out Friday an officer from the provincial Residential Tenancy Branch decided seven Emerald Terrace renters had not breached their tenancy agreement by keeping cats. The 17-page decision cancelled the eviction notices the tenants received in January from their landlord Hollyburn Properties, which bought the apartment block located in the 1200-block of Nelson Street the year before.

Sharon Isaak, spokesperson for the volunteer group Renters at Risk, an advocacy group for tenants facing eviction said the group had been waiting for the decision.

“We hope this sends the message that you can win if you stand up for yourself,” said Isaak.

She added the case was about who had the most credibility.

“And it was the credibility of the tenants that won the case,” she said.

Last November Hollyburn notified the tenants that unless they had written permission to have a cat, they had to move out or get rid of their pet. In January that notice was followed by eviction letters for those who didn’t comply.

The tenants argued Hollyburn knew for at least a year that they had cats because the landlord’s agents were in the suites several times to complete work. The longtime tenants also argued that their previous building manager gave them verbal permission to keep a cat.

In the decision, the residential tenancy officer wrote that the landlord’s agent Allan Wasel must have known about the pets.

“The landlord did not even begin to issue warning letters to the tenants for more than a year after they took over the building,” wrote the officer.

In a written statement issued by Hollyburn spokesperson Allan Wasel, the company expressed disappointment with the decision. “We respect the role of the dispute resolution officer in this matter and will comply with her ruling,” said the statement. “As a responsible landlord, the health and safety of our residents is of utmost importance to Hollyburn Properties. We will continue to consider our residents’ well being in all policies, including our policy requiring that all residents must have written authorization to have a pet in their unit. We continue to act in strict compliance with the Residential Tenancy Act.”

NDP Vancouver-Burrard MLA Spencer Herbert, who spoke at the press conference, noted the victory is short-lived because decisions made by the Residential Tenancy Branch aren’t binding and can’t set a legal precedent. Each case is judged individually.

“It’s time to change the [residential tenancy] legislation,” said Herbert.

Brian Broster, a tenant from nearby Seafield Apartments, was on hand at the press conference to congratulate the tenants. Broster had a vested interest in the result of that decision because he and fellow Seafielders were heading to arbitration of their own against landlord Gordon Nelson Investments today, March 11. The Seafield tenants are contesting proposed rent increases.

“This gives us hope,” said Broster about the Emerald Terrace decision. “I’ve been following the case and realize how difficult it was to fight. We’re exuberant about the outcome.”

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