Mother and daughter face eviction after disabling medical emergency

A woman and her mother are being forced out of their Richmond apartment after a medical emergency left the mother with a disability.

Sabrina Brosnan told Daily Hive she took time off work to care for her 73-year-old mother, Jacqueline Brosnan, but ended up losing her job over the missed days. After falling behind on rent for March and April, her Richmond landlord wants the pair out by April 30.

“It’s a very stressful situation,” Sabrina said. “One would think that they’d want to find a solution so a disabled senior doesn’t wind up on the streets with their life in serious peril.”

Sabrina and her mother have lived at the three-bedroom unit owned by Canadian Apartment Properties REIT (CAPREIT) for five months, and don’t want to leave. They were renovicted from their old apartment last year, and Sabrina spent three months living out of her car. For one month of that, her mother had to join her.

While living out in the elements, her mother developed a pulmonary embolism that landed her in the hospital in October. In the ensuing medical emergency, her mother ended up losing the use of her left hand and arm. As an artist and a chef, it’s been devastating. The incident also left her unable to care for herself, and Sabrina has been helping her with basic tasks like going to the bathroom.

Sabrina found the Richmond apartment when her mother was discharged from the hospital for $2,900 per month.

She’s keen to pay back the rent she’s missed, already handing over about half of the rent she owed from March. She wants CAPREIT to work out a payment plan with her, especially since she’s in the final interview stages for a new job that should start later this month.

She’s more than happy to hand any money directly to the landlord, desperate to keep a roof over their heads.

“The only money that I’ve gotten [this month] was like $1,000, and I immediately paid it to the [rental] office,” she said. “The landlord even admitted to the arbitrator that they’d got the receipt in the system for the $1,000. The arbitrator even asked if they’d work with us to set up a payment schedule, but they’re going straight to ‘we want them out.’”

Sabrina disputed the landlord’s first 10-day notice to end the tenancy, which was eventually withdrawn. But when she revisited the Residential Tenancy Branch over unit repairs she’d paid for out of pocket, the arbitrator surprised her by looking at the eviction notice. The arbitrator sided with the landlord, upholding the 10-day notice to end the tenancy.

She’s appealed the decision and is trying to get a court to review it — but it’s down to the wire because the landlord wants her out Tuesday. She’s also put together an online fundraiser to find temporary accommodation for her mother.

“[My mom’s] doctors have warned her that you, as a patient, cannot go back to living in the car because the clots will re-form. You won’t have anywhere to properly lay down and sleep. You will not be able to survive the re-formation of the clot, even being on blood thinners, because it will travel much faster,” Sabrina said. “It’s a very significant health risk to my mom that I’m very concerned about.”

Sabrina thinks the situation is ironic, given that CAPRIET publicly states its goals are to provide affordable rental housing for Canadians and end homelessness.

Mark Kenney, president and CEO of CAPRIET, said he couldn’t comment on the Brosnan’s specific situation due to privacy regulations, but said CAPRIET has policies of rent forgiveness in extenuating circumstances — adding additional care would be given in the case of a disability.

“We take all matters of eviction seriously. We have an active resident payment program as well as a rent forgiveness program where circumstances warrant,” he said. “Where payment plans are being fulfilled and there is good faith on both sides we do not evict. And when we have knowledge of disability we give even greater weight to the decision to evict.”

Sabrina provided a document to Daily Hive showing the full payment of February rent, partial payment of March rent, and the entire balance of April’s rent owed.

The mother and daughter’s story illustrates just how close homelessness can be as the Lower Mainland’s housing crisis worsens. The medical emergency and job loss come at the same time that Sabrina is trying to resolve a COVID-19 CERB dispute with the federal government, adding to the financial strain.

What’s more, the pair have been on BC Housing’s waiting list for a subsidized unit for 30 years now, and they can’t believe they’re facing homelessness after waiting so long. BC’s Ministry of Housing recommended the pair update their file with BC Housing to reflect their new and urgent situation.

“Allocation of subsidized housing in BC is based on needs and housing availability in the region, not length of time on a waitlist. How quickly a person receives an offer of accommodation is dependent on the needs of other applicants on the waitlist, and housing availability in the region,” the Ministry said.

Robert Patterson, a lawyer with BC’s Tenant Resource and Advisory Centre, told Daily Hive this eviction is an example of tenancy law working how it’s designed to.

“The way our tenancy laws are written, the thing that’s most protected and valued is the landlord’s ability to get rent in full and on time,” he said. “And the penalty for not doing that is incredibly harsh, and there’s no wiggle room.”

Landlords can issue a 10-day eviction notice for rent non-payment, at which point tenants have five days to either pay the rent in full or dispute and argue they have paid and there’s been a mistake.

“If you actually owe it and you don’t pay it, you will be evicted,” Patterson said. “The arbitrator has no discretion. As long as there’s rent owing, they have to evict you.”

There are only two legal scenarios where tenants are allowed to not pay rent: if they’ve gotten an agreement from their landlord, or if they’ve had to pay out of pocket for emergency repairs to the unit and are deducting the cost of those repairs.

“There’s a profit incentive to ignore the human aspect of tenancy and just say ‘you know, I can get a bigger number by causing this person to lose their home in the middle of a housing crisis,’” Patterson said, referring to how rapidly rising rent prices mean getting a new tenant — rather than letting an existing tenant stay — will often lead to more revenue for the landlord.

As for CAPREIT sometimes forgiving rent, Patterson said it’s the first he’s heard of that from a corporate landlord.

“They’re certainly not required to offer it under the law. I can’t say for certain what a landlord offers — [but] it would certainly run contrary to how these large, financialized landlords operate for them to be forgiving,” he said. “The business practice is to maximize return.”