Tenant decries subsidized housing treatment
Okotoks: Westwinds Communities accused of attempting to unjustly end lease
Wednesday, Nov 15, 2017 10:13 am
A single mother of two is speaking out over what she calls unfair treatment and borderline harassment at her subsidized home in Okotoks.
Amy Goodison lives in a four-plex unit operated by Westwinds Communities. She was approved for subsidized housing in 2016 and pays just under one-quarter of the normal $1,000 per month rent for her unit.
Everything was fine for the first year, until Goodison received a notice of non-renewal of her lease in June.
“Somebody had been complaining about me, I guess,” said Goodison.
Among some of the complaints were that Goodison was yelling, screaming and slamming doors late at night, especially around 11 p.m.; that she had eight other adults living in her three-bedroom unit; that people were smoking outside her unit all the time; and that her mother and brother were visiting too often.
With severe health issues – Goodison suffered from bilateral pneumonia in 2016, which was exacerbated by her asthma – she said she needed help through much of the summer when forest fires in B.C. and Washington affected the air quality in Alberta.
Her mother, who has applied for subsidized housing four times in the past nine years, visited often to help with the children when Goodison couldn’t breathe.
Lauren Ingalls, CAO of Westwinds Communities, said the organization could not comment on the situation due to privacy laws under the residential tenancy act.
Goodison filed an appeal in June, and won. A month later, she was told her lease wouldn’t be renewed again. Westwinds stated her water and gas consumption had gone up, which indicated other people were living in the unit.
Goodison said the increased water use was because her daughter had a medical condition that was causing boils on her body.
“She had MRSA, which is a superbug and it comes out of your body in boils. So I was giving her baths constantly to help her with the pain and doing laundry constantly trying to get rid of it because it’s very contagious.”
She appealed the non-renewal once again and provided medical letters outlining her daughter’s condition and her own, indicating she needed help with her children over the summer.
In addition, she included a letter from her mother’s landlord stating she and Goodison’s brother rented a unit in Riverbend Campground and lived there.
At the end of July, another one-month lease agreement included the following conditions: Goodison’s mother or brother were not allowed to spend the night without permission from Westwinds and any overnight guests had to be reported to Westwinds prior to their stay.
Goodison agreed to most of the lease renewal terms, but refused to sign at first because the list of conditions included her son.
He and a couple of friends had found a spray paint can and painted a few surfaces around the complex, she said. He’d admitted to it and Goodison made sure he cleaned up his part of the mess. She said one of the terms in her new lease stipulated that her son get counseling for behavioral issues.
“How could that possibly be something that shows up in someone’s lease? A landlord shouldn’t dictate whether my child needs to get help,” she said.
Goodison filed and won another appeal. The part about her son was removed from the lease agreement and she signed a one-month renewal.
At the end of August, the situation continued when another non-renewal of lease arrived. This time it listed things like a loud party on August long weekend – when Goodison claims the only noise in her apartment was children playing – and garbage around her unit, including men’s underwear on the ground.
“I don’t have men’s underwear, so it’s not coming from my place,” she said. “It’s ridiculous.”
To appeal this notice, she collected letters from all of her neighbours, except the two she said had filed complaints against her.
She turned to Okotoks Mayor Bill Robertson to attend a meeting with Westwinds, but she said his presence didn’t seem to help. She said he suggested noise complaints weren’t substantiated because there had never been a visit by police or municipal enforcement.
It resulted in new clauses being drawn into her new (three-month) lease effective Sept. 1, which indicated there is not to be any noise violation substantiated by peace officer or disturbance calls.
Though she’s relieved to have a three-month lease, Goodison said she’s walking on eggshells and nervous about what November will bring. She said she and her children have no other options, and nowhere to go if Westwinds want to pursue eviction.
“I don’t even know what to think anymore, I’m so overwhelmed and so frustrated,” she said. “If the kids slam a door I give them trouble. I even have to tell them to laugh and play quieter now. It’s awful.”
Robertson said it’s an “awkward situation.”
While Westwinds Communities needs to provide affordable housing to families in need, he said individual tenants also have their rights.
“I definitely want to be a support to Amy and I definitely want to support Westwinds because affordable housing and subsidized housing is so very important to a segment of our population,” said Robertson.
Ingalls said the expectations of subsidized housing tenants are the same that any landlord would have for their properties. This includes paying rent on time, being considerate of the landlord and other tenants, keeping the premises clean, preventing damage and not endangering anyone, performing illegal acts or conducting illegal business on the property. When someone is in violation of their lease agreement, she said Westwinds approaches them to try to find a resolution to the issue.
“If we couldn’t, depending on the severity, we put the onus on the tenant to come to us and we provide a timeline for compliance and if they’re not able to adhere to it we may meet with them again or we might not, depending on the severity,” said Ingalls.