Tenants of an Oromocto apartment building that was severely damaged by fire on Wednesday are calling out their landlord for withholding damage deposits and setting unrealistic dates for moving out their belongings.
The building on Onondaga Street is managed by Real Estate 360 and housed more than 40 people.
The tenants were originally told they would have to leave for a day or two, but as the damage became clear they were told they could be out of their apartments for six months or longer.
‘Such a nightmare’
Alexa English, a tenant of the apartment, said given the state of the world due to COVID-19 a two-week moving timeframe is unreasonable.
“It’s such a nightmare,” said English.
“Two weeks to get everything out of our apartment, regardless if insurance pays for it or not, that’s not the point. It’s like we’re in the middle of a global pandemic.”
Scott Mansfield’s mother Cecile has lived in her apartment since 1993.
She’s 70-years-old and Mansfield is concerned for her wellbeing after the fire.
“I’m concerned for my mother’s health, both for COVID-19 and just stress-related and emotional trauma and PTSD and all that,” said Mansfield.
He also said having so many people move out in such a short period of time makes physical distancing all but impossible.
“We’re not practicing social distancing because we can’t,” said Mansfield.
“You can’t work together in a kitchen and try to clear stuff out and be six-feet apart in an apartment-sized kitchen. It just doesn’t work.”
Moving ‘in their best interest’
Diana Otteson, the New Brunswick general manager for Real Estate 360, said in an email that the time frame works in favour of the tenants.
“There is no heat, electricity or water,” said Otteson.
“It is in their best interest to get their belongings out before they are further damaged by condensation, fluctuations in temperature, etc.”
Mansfield said tenants don’t have free access into their apartment, which makes moving difficult.
English said she was given conflicting information from the landlords about damage deposits and other rent that could be owed.
“The landlord called me, ‘we’re so sorry this happened. Oh my God. You will get your April rent no problem. You will get your damage deposit. No problem. No questions asked,'” said English.
“Now that has changed … if we don’t move our stuff out in two weeks it will be deducted from our damage deposit.”
Otteson said the landlord is offering “a full refund of April’s rent to all tenants,” and that damage deposits are held by the Residential Tenancies Tribunal and not controlled by the landlord.
But according to a notice sent to tenants, Real Estate 360 said they have two weeks to remove their belongings, and failure to do so would result in their damage deposit refund being reduced.
“Should you fail to remove all of your belongings from your unit, we will deduct the cost of removal from your damage deposit,” said the notice.
Otteson said if timing is an issue Real Estate 360 will work with tenants and their insurers.
State of emergency
Mansfield said he understands that people can’t live in the apartments for safety reasons, but doesn’t understand why Real Estate 360 can force people to move stuff out in two weeks given the province’s state of emergency declaration.
The emergency order suspended the right of landlords to evict tenants for “non-payment of rent” until May 31.
CBC News reached out to the province for clarification on if this rule applies in this case, but has not heard back.
Both Alexa English and Cecile Mansfield are in the process of finding new apartments.
They are both clear about what they want from their previous landlord though, more time and a question’s free return of their damage deposit.
“It’s just like how unreasonable can you be,” said English.
“Give us more time. Give us like a month and even a month is not that long. We’re in the middle of a crisis.”