A Surrey family of seven is trying to track down their former rental home's buyer after claiming they were wrongfully evicted so that the rent could be hiked 70%.
Natalie Egger, her husband Ryan, and five children had been renting a detached home in South Surrey when her landlord notified them in March 2021 that the house was to be listed for sale.
In September 2021, the property sold for $2.3 million and the family was given a two-month notice to vacate by that December.
That notice contains a clause stating the home's buyer has "asked the landlord in writing to give Notice because the purchaser or a close family member intends in good faith to occupy the rental unit."
The Eggers moved out in October to a nearby home to accommodate their children. Their rent spiked from $2,800 to $3,200 monthly, said Eggert, a 41-year-old consultant for agricultural businesses.
"We had to jump on the first place because there's only so much we could do. We didn't have a lot of options at that time, so you sort of get what you get and don't get too upset," explained Egger.
When December rolled around, the Eggers noticed the home was vacant. Then they saw — with the help of former neighbours — that many people were coming and going from the house. Egger and others suspected that prospective renters or buyers were viewing the home.
Egger looked online and saw the home listed for rent at $4,750 monthly — a mark-up of $1,950 from what her family had been paying.
At some point in time earlier this year, the home became occupied. Egger and her husband have since picked up mail from the house and were able to ascertain from the occupants that they were renting it.
Glacier Media phoned the number listed on a Craigslist advertisement for the rental listing, and a woman who picked up confirmed she was the buyer.
She first stated she was living at the home but later stated that she intended to live in it. Asked about who was occupying the house now, the buyer said friends of the family were. She did not take further questions.
Egger has filed a notice of dispute resolution with the Residential Tenancy Branch (RTB), which oversees landlord-tenant disputes and rental regulations in the province.
"Our landlord sold the property and served us notice that the purchaser intends in good faith to occupy the rental unit. The purchaser did not occupy the rental unit after taking possession on Dec.1/2021 and placed ads on Facebook Market Place and Craigslist within one week of possession to re-rent the unit at an increased rate of rent of $4,750. Our current rent was $2,800/month. We wanted to stay, told the landlord and their realtor, but were not given that option by the purchaser," states the claim filed with the RTB.
According to the Residential Tenancy Policy guideline, a landlord is to pay compensation to a tenant when the landlord "fails to use the rental unit for the purpose for which the notice was given" for at least six months after possession date.
"If the landlord does not fulfill these requirements, they must pay the tenant compensation equal to 12 months' rent payable under the former tenancy agreement, unless the landlord's failure was due to extenuating circumstances," states the policy.
Extenuating circumstances include the death of a family member who intended to occupy the home or a rental unit destroyed in a wildfire. Changing one's mind is not extenuating, the policy states.
Egger is seeking $33,600 in compensation.
Zuzana Modrovic, a lawyer with the Tenant Resource & Advisory Centre (TRAC), says her group sees many instances of unfaithful declarations leading to compensation claims. The process typically has tenants navigating through an RTB hearing and possibly court.
Egger says getting a hearing, which is scheduled for October, has been daunting.
She has yet to ascertain the buyer's home address because the seller failed to disclose it on the notice to end the tenancy. Subsequently, neither the buyer's realtor nor the seller's realtor would assist Egger. A land title search only provides the names of the buyers and doesn't list their other home addresses.
Glacier Media has reached out to the B.C. Financial Services Authority, which regulates real estate professionals, to clarify if the agents made an error by not providing the buyer's home address to fully inform Egger.
Egger may need to hire a process server to serve the buyer with notice of the claim.
"RTB basically said it's our job to find the owners," said Egger.
Egger has also learned that the RTB has no enforcement mechanism, should her case be successful. If the compensation is not paid, Egger may find herself in a court battle as a creditor.
"Most people just drop it because it's too much work. RTB doesn't do much; the laws are there, but no one enforces them, or it's very poorly enforced," said Egger.
A spokesperson from the Ministry of Attorney General and Responsible for Housing told Glacier Media that the RTB is a neutral public body that cannot assist applicants. However, it says the government has made some changes to assist tenants.
The most significant change related to compensation claims is shifting the burden of proof to the landlord.
"Before, if the landlord failed to follow through on that plan, and a tenant sought compensation from their landlord, the burden was on the tenant to prove it. The amendment shifts the onus to the landlord to prove they have used the property for the stated purpose of ending the tenancy," stated the spokesperson by email.
The spokesperson noted that an applicant, such as Egger, must ensure that the landlord is properly served; otherwise, the application may be dismissed without leave to reapply.
"If an arbitrator issues a monetary order, the successful party must serve the order on the unsuccessful party. If the unsuccessful party does not pay the amount of the monetary order, the successful party can enforce the order in the Provincial Court of British Columbia if the amount ordered is below the small claims limit," stated the spokesperson.