The ACORN tenants-advocacy group is lobbying Surrey city council to “put some teeth” into bylaw enforcement of maintenance and repair standards related to rental apartments in the city.
Emily Armitage, of ACORN, escorted media on a “disrepair tour” on Thursday Sept. 21, aiming to “put a spotlight on the deplorable conditions many low-income families are forced to deal with while living in the city’s ageing housing stock.”
Thursday’s site was Shannon Gardens, which rents out one and two-bedroom apartments at 10229 149 Street. Armitage described it as “one of the worst, that’s for sure, in terms of maintenance and repairs not being done for tenants.
“We’ve heard reports from people who spent all of last winter without heat, people who are experiencing ongoing leaking, mold issues. Just the sort of general cleanliness, upkeep of the building it’s very, very poor and a lot of tenants in the past have faced retaliation or been asked to pay for repairs themselves when maintenance needs to be done,” Armitage told the Now-Leader.
Sheilina Premji, the new property manager of Shannon Gardens, replied they are “always eager to hear from residents about the building and we take action on issues that are brought to our attention.
“Over the past several years we have invested in a range of enhancements across the property, including the ongoing replacement of carpets throughout the building,” she told the Now-Leader. “So far 124 out of 126 units have had carpeting replaced since 2019 as part of an ongoing project. We expect to complete the in-unit carpet replacement before end of year, and the common areas over the coming year.”
On Armitage’s claim concerning tenants going without heat, Premji said management received a report about a failed boiler last winter and “took immediate action, which included ordering and installing a replacement boiler as quickly as possible.
“We recognize the inconvenience of this type of equipment failure and addressed the issue as soon as we were able to procure a replacement,” she said.
ACORN wants the City of Surrey to adopt a landlord licensing policy and standards in maintenance bylaws that would give the city more tools to regulate repairs in rental buildings.
“Cities like New Westminster, they have this already and Surrey took the first step in implementing a standards of maintenance bylaw back in 2012 but it’s quite basic, quite weak compared to other cities and it hasn’t been updated ever since,” Armitage said.
Surrey Mayor Brenda Locke has not replied to a request for comment.
Surrey bylaws officers have the authority to inspect conditions and issue fines when a building goes unrepaired, Armitage noted, “but in practise I’ve never seen that happen.
“So that’s why we’re pushing, through the Livability and Social Equity Committee of Surrey city council, working with them to draft a motion” to “really put some teeth behind the enforcement.”
Armitage said elements of ACORN’s “Stand Up For Surrey Housing Campaign” will be considered at the next Livability and Social Equity Committee at city hall on Sept. 26 with tenants expected to state their case that quick action is required from Surrey’s mayor and council to protect renters and their homes.
A No Vacancy sign hangs outside Shannon Gardens, where Hasnaa Ladhem has lived for 15 years. She currently pays $1,230 monthly, for her two bedroom apartment.
“I had my bathtub clogged, it took me five years to fix it,” she said. “The problem is they don’t provide any maintenance and they don’t want to do anything, right.”
Ironically, a sign hanging on her door says “It’s so good to be home”
Ladhem was a french teacher in Morocco before moving to Montreal and then here. Many of the tenants are Iraqi refugees, most of them with language barriers.
“They came from a country where there is war, so they just want peace, they don’t want to have any problems so most of them they don’t say anything.” Ladhem said many tenants are scared of drawing retaliation from management if they speak out.
Jollat Hurmaz, also from Iraq, has lived at Shannon Gardens for six years and currently pays $1,158 rent. Her living room carpet is tattered.
Meantime, Premji said that the building’s entire roof was replaced and resealed last year and the building’s plumbing system was flushed and hydro-jetted. “This year we also replaced lighting fixtures in common areas with modern LED lighting. As well, in 2018 work was completed to update the building’s envelope and rain screens and replace tenant electrical panels.
“Beyond these larger projects, we make every effort to address tenant issues in as prompt a manner possible, and have two staff members regularly onsite to prioritize cleaning, upkeep and repairs that may be necessary. We do not require our tenants to pay for building repair work,” Premji added.
She said “ongoing” investments into the property “reflect the pride we have in the building and our interest in improving the tenant experience. We encourage all residents to share any concerns with us directly.”