Developer seeks to evict all tenants at North Cowichan rental complex, citing structural defects

“It’s a mess. People are frustrated,” says tenant Jess Phair.

The developers of a 64-unit apartment complex in North Cowichan have notified all tenants that they’ve applied to empty the building for at least six months in order to remediate structural issues.

“It’s a mess. People are frustrated,” says Jess Phair, who lives in the building with her husband Sean, along with their toddler and cat. “There’s probably people [who] are terrified about what they’re going to do.”

The building, called the Magdalena, was built in 2019 and is located at 4114 Crosland Pl. (formerly 6387 Green Rd.), near the Cowichan Commons retail complex. It was constructed by WestUrban Developments Ltd. and is managed by WestUrban Properties Management. 

WestUrban Developments, in partnership with Cowichan Tribes, also built the new 96-unit building at 300 Government St., near downtown Duncan. The partners hosted a grand opening celebration there on Wednesday morning this week, the day after tenants at the Magdalena were informed about the planned evictions. 

According to the notice served to tenants on July 26, property managers have applied to the Residential Tenancy Branch (RTB) to ask for the termination of all tenancies in the building. 

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Under rules that came into effect last year, landlords in B.C. who want to evict tenants to complete extensive renovations or repairs must apply to the RTB for an Order of Possession. An arbitration process follows, and the landlord must demonstrate that terminating the tenancy is necessary to complete the work. If the Order of Possession is granted, the landlord must give four months’ notice to vacate and one month’s free rent. 

A large, modern apartment building
The Magdalena building was built in 2019 by WestUrban Developments Ltd. Photo by Shalu Mehta/The Discourse

The Discourse reached out to WestUrban Properties Management and received an emailed statement reiterating many of the facts sent in the notice to tenants.

“While we have explored all options for completing these remediation works with tenants in place, we have been informed by a third-party construction contractor with significant experience in structural remediation that, due to the invasive nature of the work to be done, it is not possible to do this work while the building is occupied,” the statement reads. 

The company has also promised to allow tenants to voluntarily end their leases at any time, offering one month’s rent free and the return of damage deposits. 

But residents worry they may not be able to find a new place that is affordable, especially during a housing crunch. Since news of the tenancy terminations broke, Sean says advertisements for a one-bedroom unit in Ladysmith have gone up on doors in the building. But the unit is $2,500 — nearly $1,000 more than what his family is paying for a one-bedroom at the Magdalena. 

“Now there’s [dozens of] units worth of people that are looking at the same time and nobody here can afford more than what they’re paying,” Jess says. 

Reached by phone on Wednesday morning, North Cowichan Mayor Al Siebring said municipal staff are aware of the issue and working on it, and will have more information to share soon.

The drywall in Jess and Sean Phair’s apartment, pictured with a large crack in it. Photo submitted by Jess Phair

Jess and Sean have been living at the Magdalena for a year and a half. They report ongoing issues with the building and its management but say they haven’t left because of the challenges of finding another affordable, pet-friendly apartment. 

Since moving in, cracks have started to appear in the drywall in their unit and in the building’s common areas. Their door, which once was able to latch properly, cannot anymore because the faceplate in the frame and the latch are now about two inches off from each other. Exterior building doors are also unable to close, causing a security risk, and there have been several service calls for elevator and water issues.

Since March 2022, Jess says “[building management] shut down the water once or twice a month.”

“We have a two-year-old. Not having access to water is not acceptable.”

According to the notice sent to tenants this week, property managers had already closed the building’s parkade in June after the discovery of structural issues in need of remediation. 

“In addition to the structural deficiency that resulted in the closure of the parkade, there are other structural deficiencies that have been identified elsewhere in the building,” the email states.

A "closed" sign on a building parkade entrance
Property managers announced the closure of the building’s parkade in June 2022. Photo by Shalu Mehta/The Discourse

The deficiencies require significant remediation, including within residential suites, to ensure long-term safety, the email continues. “Jackhammering in the parkade will create significant noise for tenants, kitchens and bathrooms will have to be removed, walls will be deconstructed, water will be shut off for extended periods of time, fire exits will be blocked and the sprinkler system will have to be turned off.”

Meanwhile, tenants are worried that even if issues are fixed, they won’t be able to afford to move back in, Jess says. 

“There’s a lot of concern that they’re going to renovate [and] make it all better and then up the prices.” [end]

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