The YWCA’s Supportive Housing Program is exempt from the Residential Tenancies Act, Justice Karan Shaner ruled in a court of appeal decision last week.
For that reason, the YWCA was within its rights in evicting a man and his daughters from their housing unit when one of the man’s guests threatened to burn the building down. The court decision notes the incident “appears to have followed on the heels of a series of complaints” about the tenant.
The decision, which overturns a former ruling from a rental officer, deals with a man housed in a unit that the YWCA leases under its Supportive Housing Program – a program aimed at families experiencing, or in danger of, experiencing homelessness.
The man and his family joined the program in 2018. They were accommodated in an apartment building the YWCA owned.
The family was relocated to a Northview Properties-owned building when a fire burned down the YWCA apartment building in October 2018.
When the tenant was told on Sept. 10, 2019 that he had 48 hours to vacate, he refused, despite the YWCA assuring they would provide him with housing elsewhere. The landlord had the locks changed, but allowed the YWCA access to the unit for an additional period to assist the tenant in retrieving his belongings. Still, the man gained access by force and the RCMP had to remove him from the residence.
He then filed a complaint with the rental office claiming improper eviction.
The central issue of the complaint is whether the Residential Tenancies Act (RTA) applies to transitional housing programs.
The rental officer ruled that it does and that, like most landlord/tenant relationships, an eviction notice would have to be obtained from the rental office for the eviction to be permissible.
Shaner found the rental officer’s decision to be “problematic for several reasons.”
The judge states that the rental officer came to her decision in considering exemptions from the RTA including living accommodation to “temporarily” shelter those in need and living accommodation occupied for rehabilitative or therapeutic purposes. While the rental officer found the program to be rehabilitative, she concluded that the RTA legislators were referring to “institutional environments,” where living accommodation is secondary to the organization’s main rehabilitative purpose. She said that while the transitional housing provided in this case is primarily for living accommodation and not rehabilitation.
She also determined that “temporarily” implied shelter for a matter of days.
Upon the YWCA’s appeal, Shaner ruled there is nothing to support the officer’s conclusion that the RTA’s exemption is limited to institutional environments.
“Had the legislature intended to limit (the RTA) in this way, it would have expressly included this qualification,” the judge wrote.
Shaner also disagreed with the officer’s definition of temporary.
“Clearly, it refers to arrangements that are not permanent and which are not intended to become permanent,” Shaner stated.
“Again,” she said, “if the drafters intended to limit ‘temporarily’ in (the act) to a matter of days, they would have said that.”
The rental officer’s interpretation, Shaner said, “would lead to absurd, impractical and unintended consequences.”
She points to emergency accommodations and shelters as examples of cases where, according to the rental officer’s findings, occupants would hold the same rights and obligations of a tenant “including, quite possibly, the obligation to pay rent. That is clearly not the purpose of such programs, nor the intention of the users.”
Shaner set aside the rental officer’s order and ruled that the YWCA’s Supportive Housing Program falls squarely within the exemptions specified in the RTA.