One of the last remaining tenants of a Halifax apartment building that's being renovated says she is under mounting pressure from her landlord to leave the property, where workers recently removed the front steps, demolished her balcony and blocked her usual entryway.
Stacey Gomez, who has been fighting to stay in her home for eight months, says she feels her safety is at risk while she awaits a residential tenancies hearing Wednesday that will determine if she can stay or if she has to start looking for a new place to live.
In mid-August, weeks after CBC News published her story, Gomez said she found a letter on her door that stated the landlord would not be responsible if Gomez dies or is injured at the property.
"It left me feeling scared for my safety and my life," Gomez said.
"And it also feels unfair because really, I'm just living in my home. I have a legal right to be here and I'm really just exercising my rights as a tenant."
Since 2017, Gomez has been living in the bottom-floor apartment of a seven-unit building on Church Street. When the landlord, Marcus Ranjbar, bought the building last March, he began the process of "renovicting" all the tenants. A renoviction occurs when a landlord forces residents to leave a building so it can be renovated, then rented to new tenants for substantially higher prices.
But Gomez knew her rights, and stayed in her unit while others moved out or reached agreements to do so.
Since then, Gomez has been living in the middle of a construction site while she awaits the tenancy hearing and a subsequent ruling. The hearing was originally scheduled for Aug. 12, but it was postponed when the landlord didn't submit any evidence.
"There are processes in place and it's up to the residential tenancy officer what's going to happen in the case," said Gomez. "There are rules that are supposed to be followed."
In a statement emailed to CBC News, Ranjbar addressed the letter that referenced Gomez's death, and said it was a "standard construction disclaimer to protect the company against any potential liabilities."
He said renovations are necessary to remediate black mould in Gomez's unit that was flagged in a third-party environmental report, among other "safety issues." The mould can't be remediated while the building is occupied, he said.
"HRM [Halifax Regional Municipality] Compliance has given us an order to comply to abate the environmental hazard within Ms. Gomez's basement unit ... HRM Compliance will levy daily financial penalties if not done so," Ranjbar said.
Ryan Nearing, a spokesperson for the municipality, confirmed an order to comply was issued for the property on Aug. 29, but not for any reason involving mould or an environmental hazard.
A stop-work order was issued at that time, he said, because exterior work being conducted on the site was not approved.
"The stop-work order remains in place until an approved permit for the unauthorized work is in place," Nearing told CBC News.
The building permit issued in January lists the repairs as "flooring, trim, baseboard, paint, fixtures, siding." It notes there will be no structural changes or demolition, and the new siding will be installed over the old siding.
Gomez said Ranjbar and his property manager initially tried to get the tenants out by pressuring them to sign shorter, fixed-term leases, or sign a DR5 form, stating that high radon levels had been detected in the building and repairs were required.
"When I asked to see the [radon] report, he didn't send it to me," Gomez said. "And then he said, 'We have to do extensive renovations,' though the permit was for just minor renovations. Now he's saying there are mould issues.
"So his reasoning for the eviction continues to change."
Sarah Budgell and her partner are among the tenants who left. They signed a DR5 form, or an "agreement to terminate for demolition, repairs or renovations".
"We didn't know we had the option [not to sign], and I feel like that was our only mistake we made, and it was a very crucial mistake," Budgell said.
At first, they tried to stay in their apartment, but left due to "ongoing harassment" from the new owners.
According to legislative changes to the Residential Tenancies Act that came into effect in 2022, if both parties agree to a renoviction, landlords need to give tenants one to three months' rent as compensation. The amount depends on the size of the building.
So Budgell and her partner received two months' rent and Ranjbar covered their moving expenses.
She said the experience has opened her eyes and led her to research her rights under the Residential Tenancies Act.
"I don't even think [Ranjbar has] read the tenancy act," Budgell said. "Throughout our experience with him, it was like time after time of him kind of weaponizing his incompetence against us, his lack of knowledge of the tenancy act to do whatever he wants."
Ranjbar said in his statement that all tenants were granted at least three months to find a new home, up to six months' rent and $500 for moving costs, in addition to the return of their damage deposit.
"Even though we are legally required to only provide one month's rent as compensation, we have gone above and beyond for our tenants. Unfortunately, Ms. Gomez has not responded to our offer."
Gomez said she is hopeful the ruling that comes after her hearing will affirm her rights as a tenant.
"I truly do not know what is going to happen. I think that [Ranjbar] doesn't have enough to win at the hearing, but we'll see. And I think that either way, I think the city at least is watching what's happening."
But she also wants to see changes to Nova Scotia's residential tenancy program as a whole, so similar situations don't happen to others.
"I feel like the rules are being broken," Gomez said. "At the same time, I think that there's not enough protections against landlord abuse in this province, and I think that the rules need to be strengthened."
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