An arbitrator with B.C.'s Residential Tenancy Branch has sided with two residents of a mobile home park in Williams Lake fighting against a landlord who tried to impose new rules shortly after taking ownership.
In his decision, arbitrator Adrian Denegar said imposing fines of $1,000 or more for disobeying the park's rules and not properly maintaining yards, as well as evicting tenants for slander on social media, contravenes the province's Manufactured Home Park Tenancy Act.
"While the landlord has every legitimate operational and business reason to maintain a well-run park, implementing draconian and unreasonable rules is not the best method for doing so," Denegar wrote.
The decision says the landlord argued he was "just trying to run a tight ship" and the new rules were meant to "make a stern statement" to deal with some serious issues. But the tenants' advocate argued the rules are vague and punitive, and "look like bullying."
The arbitrator ordered the landlord to comply with the Manufactured Home Park Tenancy Act and remove the rules.
'We have our rights'
"I was very happy to hear that we won," said Trent Martens, one of the two tenants in the decision. "You know, we have our rights."
Paul Lagace, a poverty advocate who often represents tenants in mobile home parks and was directly involved in this case, said the hefty fines and strict rules made the case unusual.
"I've seen some pretty crazy stuff over the years of doing this, but this just tops everything," Lagace said.
The owners didn't respond to requests for comment by deadline.
Nearly 100 tenants affected
According to the decision, the landlord, RJ De Ath Estates Limited, purchased the manufactured home park last year.
The previous owners had run the park, named the Fran Lee Trailer Court, for 27 years. There are nearly 100 tenants at the park.
Two of the tenants, Martens and his neighbour, went to the Residential Tenancy Branch after the new owner tried to make all the tenants agree to the following new park rules last July:
- All complaints had to be made in writing and supported by evidence.
- Fines of $1,000 and up for not abiding by all rules and regulations, issued without warning or notice.
- Fines of $1,000 and up for yards not properly maintained, plus costs for cleanup and mowing done by a contractor, issued without warning or notice.
- Termination of tenancy effective immediately for residents found slandering on social media or anywhere else.
Only the last three rules were contested in the decision.
'Reasonable' rules allowed
The Manufactured Home Tenancy Act does allow for landlords to establish, change and repeal "reasonable" rules that govern a park as long as it protects and preserves the condition of the park, promotes convenience or safety of the tenants or regulates access to a service or facility.
Tenants in mobile home parks are generally required to take care of routine yard maintenance.
But in this case, the arbitrator said the $1,000 fines were "wholly unreasonable" and "unconscionable." The decision points out that the tenancy act doesn't permit landlords to issue fines for breaching the rules.
As for the landlord's rule about posting negative comments on social media, the arbitrator said the park's rules can't contravene the tenancy act's laws governing evictions.
'We are just trying to run the park'
According to the decision, the owners said they didn't intend to enforce the rules, which were meant to "keep people in compliance."
"We are just trying to run the park, and we want it to be well-run park," the landlord was quoted as saying in the decision.
The arbitrator agreed that although manufactured home park landlords have the right to make sure their tenants abide by the park's rules, any disputes should be filed through the Residential Tenancy Branch.