Displaced residents who were told to vacate their 11-storey apartment building in Langford on Monday are banding together to fight for fair compensation as they scramble to find new homes in a tight housing market.
Ashley MacDonald, one of the former residents of RidgeView Place, is organizing discussions with other evacuees about pursuing a class-action lawsuit against those responsible for the building’s problems.
“We’re not going away. And when we do find housing, and in a month or two when everything is settled down and we have our stuff, hopefully, and we can all look back and maybe have a laugh at this nightmare, we’re still not going to go away, because this wasn’t our fault,” she said.
MacDonald said she understands that everyone makes mistakes, but “this is a pretty big one.”
The property owner, Centurion Property Associates Inc., informed residents Monday that they had to vacate their apartments because the company had received notice from the Engineers and Geoscientists of B.C. about serious concerns with certain structural elements of the building. It was the second time in less than four years that the building was evacuated after an investigation by the provincial engineering regulatory body.
Centurion and the City of Langford were informed by the regulatory body on April 17 of an investigation into the engineer responsible for remediation work on the building. Residents weren’t notified until one week later on April 24, after an independent engineer retained by Centurion to inspect the building last weekend recommended that tenants vacate.
Centurion has offered $2,500 per unit in “compassionate assistance,” and promised to return damage deposits and refund rent from April 24 to 30. Residents who were paying through direct deposit have so far only received an initial $1,000 from Centurion, MacDonald said.
She’s frustrated that compensation hasn’t come quicker, given that Centurion was aware of concerns for a week before ordering an evacuation and the company handled a similar evacuation in 2019.
“There is no rhyme or reason why all of that money, these cheques couldn’t have been ready to go on Monday, latest Tuesday,” she said.
Centurion did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
MacDonald said it’s difficult to determine what fair compensation for tenants would look like until all the costs incurred — from moving to lost wages — can be assessed.
“Stress isn’t a big enough word” for this week’s challenges, MacDonald said. She and her seven-year-old son and her father have been bouncing between hotels in Langford and Victoria, paying out of pocket until Thursday, when provincial funding came through to support displaced residents with lodging for up to five nights.
MacDonald took only her essential belongings on Monday when the notice to vacate was issued, filling her car with clothes, toiletries, toys, dog supplies, groceries and sentimental items. The rest of her belongings — her furniture, kitchenware, a fridge full of food — are still in the building, because she doesn’t know if it’s safe to return.
“It’s like fleeing. It was not moving out,” said MacDonald, who learned Friday afternoon that she had secured a new place to live.
Others have been lucky enough to quickly find new homes or short-term situations. Nic Roach and her husband crashed with a co-worker who she had only known for a few months before securing a new place on Thursday through a work connection.
Vitian Esparza and her family of four are moving to a house in Saanich, which will mean commuting about 20 minutes to Langford for work and her son’s school and paying much higher rent, around $4,000 versus about $2,600 for a three-bedroom apartment at RidgeView Place.
A fundraiser for the displaced residents had raised ust over $7,000 through 39 donations as of Friday afternoon.
A City of Langford spokesperson said the tenants of 54 of the building’s 90 units have so far registered for provincial emergency support.
Housing Minister Ravi Kahlon said this week he hopes the province’s offer of five days of supports including lodging and food — as well as a community navigator to help residents find accommodations — will help for now and that the local government will also step up.
“There’s no specific playbook for this type of thing, but we’re doing our best to work with local government to support people through what is a really challenging time,” he said. Kahlon said the province is aware some individuals may need support for a few more days.
The Advanced Education Ministry has also reached out to the Engineers and Geoscientists of B.C., said Kahlon, “to get a sense of what their responsibility is here.”
The minister said he’s not concerned the problems seen with RidgeView Place are widespread in B.C. The province “some of the best engineering firms and professionals in the world,” he said.
“I do think it’s very isolated to this incident, but there’s always lessons to be learned and we certainly will be doing that.
“That’s why we reach out to the [Engineers and Geoscientists of B.C.] to say, ‘What happened here, where were the errors made? And what can we do to further mitigate that if that is a concern?”
The sudden eviction is especially difficult during a housing shortage, with limited affordable-housing options and rising cost of living, he said.
“When you have such a lack of housing available, the challenge becomes even greater.”
— With files from Cindy E. Harnett
>>> To comment on this article, write a letter to the editor: firstname.lastname@example.org