The B.C. Human Rights Tribunal has ordered a Lower Mainland landlord to pay $11,000 to a family she pressured to move out after they had a baby.
In a decision dated Feb. 19, the tribunal ruled Germaine Valdez was discriminated against on the basis of her sex and family status by landlord Meltem Bahcheli.
Germaine Valdez moved to Canada from the Philippines with her son in 2010. She lived with her parents and worked towards sponsoring her husband to join them in Canada. He did, and in 2017, the family started looking for their first apartment.
“The Valdezes were originally interested in a two-bedroom apartment,” the decision reads. “At this point, their first son was nine years old and Mrs. Valdez was about five months pregnant with their second.”
When they went to view the apartment, Bahcheli told them the two-bedroom unit was not available right away and offered them a one-bedroom instead.
The Valdezes took the one-bedroom unit, happy it was more affordable.
When Valdez gave birth to her second child months later, she texted Bahcheli from the hospital to inquire if there would be any changes to the tenancy agreement.
Bahcheli’s response was “not positive,” saying she was not OK with four people living in a one-bedroom apartment.
“That’s not what I signed up for,” Bahcheli texted Valdez. “You will need to start looking for a home that will accommodate a family of your size.”
After an exchange, Bahcheli agreed the Valdezes would leave in a little over two months, at the end of June.
When the Valdezes returned home from the hospital, Bahcheli knocked on their door and started yelling at them, calling them liars.
During a text message exchange between the Valdez and Bahcheli later that day, Bahcheli then proposed they move out at the end of May. If they wouldn’t agree to leave, she would evict them and not provide a rental reference.
“It doesn’t matter to me that you are sorry. You are a liar and I’m sorry for you that your lies cost your family a home,” Bahcheli texted Valdez, continuing that the 16 other tenants in the building “can’t be woken up multiple times in the evening [by a screaming baby].”
The Valdezes asked for more time so the mother could recover from her c-section.
“Instead, Ms. Bahcheli said that she had only taken one week to recover from her own c-section, so that was no excuse,” the decision said. “From Mr. Valdez’s perspective, this showed that Ms. Bahcheli did not care about them or how she affected their lives.”
The Valdezes eventually agreed to push up their move out date, to the end of April.
During apartment showings, Bahcheli refused to let Mrs. Valdez remain in the apartment. With no access to a car, she was expected to carry the weeks-old baby around the neighbourhood for the two-hour window Bahcheli had reserved, all while recovering from the c-section.
“Bahcheli’s behaviour was having a serious impact on Mrs. Valdez,” the decision said, explaining she was “frequently crying” and required medical attention for unusual bleeding due to too much physical exertion following a c-section.
Mrs. Valdez moved back in with her parents shortly later, on April 3, deciding the situation was no longer safe for her.
Bahcheli continued to place onerous demands on the Valdezes for showings, eventually asking them to meet on April 19 for final inspection, threatening “if you refuse to set up a time to meet the locks will be changed and you will forfeit your damage deposit.”
The Valdezes should have had until the end of the month to leave.
After a hearing, the B.C. Human Rights Tribunal accepted the Valdezes’ testimony. Bahcheli did not participate.
“She led no evidence which could support that her decision to force the Valdezes out of their rental unit was bona fide and reasonably justified, within the meaning of human rights law,” tribunal member Devyn Cousineau said.
“Nor is there any evidence or argument before me which could justify the way that Ms. Bahcheli treated Mrs. Valdez, particularly during a vulnerable time.”
The Human Rights Tribunal noted a landlord can only enforce a maximum occupancy policy that adversely impacts families if they show “they adopted the policy in good faith, for reasons related to the maintenance and use of the unit.”
“They will have to prove that the policy is not applied arbitrarily, and that it is a reasonably necessary restriction that cannot be modified without the landlord incurring undue hardship.”
The tribunal awarded the Mrs. Valdez $1,923.56 for moving expenses and $9,000 “as compensation for injury to her dignity, feelings, and self-respect.”