A cat once known as the saddest cat on the internet would be downright despondent if he knew what was happening to his family.
New West residents Sandy Windover and Adam Tutt adopted BenBen in the spring of 2016, when the stray cat was taken to an animal hospital with a crushed spine, puncture wounds, infected lacerations and a damaged ear. He was dubbed the “saddest cat on the internet” when a photo of the ailing kitty was posted online, but he’s gone on to live a good life with his “hoomans” and feline friends Norman, Jerry and Moe.
But the fate of BenBen and his family is up in the air, after his owners received an eviction notice from Harron Investments Inc., the owners of Tiffany Place Apartments on Fourth Avenue.
“Adam and I got a notice of eviction due to renovations in our apartment building,” Windover told the Record. “In the last year, the apartment has entered a new no-pet policy. Under the Residential Tenancy Act they have to offer us our suite back under a new agreement. So they are going to take our pet policy away and increase our rent substantially. There’s nothing we can do about it.”
While they’d heard stories of evictions occurring in other buildings in the area, they didn’t see it coming as they know of buildings in far worse condition and some bathrooms had been renovated in the building last summer. Although the couple could move back in to their suite after it’s renovated and pay the new rental rate, they’re not prepared to be separated from their fur babies.
“They will honour the no-pet policy for everyone moving back in,” Windover said. “It’s a complete new lease agreement.”
Windover believes the province needs to take action to stop buildings from evicting tenants and charging much larger rents if they’re able to move back in. She’d also like to see legislation preventing property owners from banning pets, saying her four cats cause less damage than some homes with one dog or children.
“The fear for us not having a home is stressful,” she said. “As well, (we are) as spreading awareness for our neighbours with pets who will be displaced, and they don’t have the social media or the large internet community that we have.”
While BenBen may have nearly 300,000 followers from around the world on Instagram and almost 40,000 Facebook fans, even that’s not enough to spare him and his family from renoviction. In an attempt to find housing that would allow them all to stay together, the family launched a GoFundMe campaign to help with their impending move, and exceeded their $10,000 goal within 12 hours.
“We started a GoFundMe because we were not financially prepared for this eviction,” Windover said. “The GoFundMe is to help with relocation fees for our family, so we don’t have to be separated. That would mean potentially moving costs, a storage unit, a damage deposit on a rental unit or to help go towards us buying a property where we can all stay together.”
With a low vacancy rate among rental units and some buildings having a no-pet policy, the family has been unable to find a new place thus far. Some folks have reached out to them on social media about potential homes but nothing has been firmed up at this time.
In addition to contacting the Residential Tenancy Branch about their rights, the couple has also confirmed with city hall that the building owner has the proper permits in place to do the work. They’ve been told the evictions in their building will be done in blocks of units, but eventually all units will be renovated.
John Stark, the City of New Westminster’s senior social planner, said the renoviction issue is a council and staff priority, and the city is exploring a range of options to address renovictions. He said the city is also awaiting the findings of the province’s Rental Housing Task Force, which may include recommendations to address renovictions.
“To date, city staff are aware of 12 buildings and 215 tenants being impacted by renovictions in New Westminster,” he said in a Dec. 10 email to the Record. “Staff suspect there are buildings that have not come to our attention.”
The Record has reached out to the manager of Tiffany Place Apartment for comment, but has not yet heard back.
In response to the growing number of renovictions occurring New Westminster, the Vancouver Tenants Union has held a number of meetings in New West and has formed a local branch. The group has provided the province with 50 policy changes it would like to see adopted.