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the wall

By Loreth Beswetherick The stigma of the wealthy Whistler landlord out to gouge employees is something Irene Wood wants changed. Wood and her partner Pete Davidson — landlords themselves — have recently had to deal with a series of "nightmare tenants." The experience, which resulted in separate cases of arbitration under the Residential Tenancy Act, has left them frustrated and feeling that the law is weighted too heavily in favour of tenants. The couple won their first arbitration. The next is pending. However, trying to play by the rules has proved trying and they say they are not alone. Wood and Davidson have now taken steps to form an association of Whistler landlords — WALL. The goal, said Wood, is to create a non-profit organization that will promote the interests and serve the rights of residential property owners. "I want to help make the strained landlord/tenant relationship in Whistler a more positive experience," she said. "I want it to work both ways." Wood said stories of tenants gone bad and abused landlords abound in the community and initial response to the WALL concept has been encouraging. Whistler RCMP Const. Trish MacCormack said police respond to "a couple" of tenant/landlord conflicts a week. She said the RCMP are called in, on average, 12 times per month. Cases range from keeping the peace to determining whether damage caused to property should be referred through a civil dispute resolution process or whether it was wilful and warrants criminal charges. "Usually it’s not criminal in nature," said MacCormack. "A lot of times we will just stand by and try and keep the peace if both the landlord and the tenant are there. We try to offer them some suggestions and options to look at" Wood feels 90 per cent of tenants are no problem. It’s the other 10 per cent that go from one rental accommodation to another that are causing problems and they know how to play the system. She said it is not legal to make a list of tenants gone bad but high risk renters could be pinpointed through an association’s networking system. They would, in effect, hit a WALL, when they tried to rent in the community again. "Word would go out and it would really impact on them finding some good accommodation," said Wood. Other benefits of being a WALL member would include up-to-date information on legislative changes and municipal regulations plus education on how and what can and can’t be done in the dispute resolution process. Wood said she would like WALL to be affiliated to the Greater Vancouver Apartment Owners Association. She said there is no point in reinventing the wheel. However she doesn’t want to be a fully-fledged member as she still feels the Vancouver association doesn’t meet all the unique needs of a resort town. Affiliation could mean WALL members would be able to tap into the Vancouver association’s tenant screening process. The GVAOA has access to licensed credit reporting agencies and members can have a file pulled on prospective tenants within seconds. The Vancouver association also has a political lobbying arm — the Rental Housing Council of B.C.. The association appoints eight of their own directors to participate on the housing council board. Wood said it is this arm that could help WALL lobby to get rid of some archaic lease regulations — like the one that stipulates if a tenant leaves in a hurry, the landlord is obliged to store all the belongings left behind for three months at their own expense. She said she would also like to see a government agency office in Whistler open at least three days a week. "I feel the need warrants it." Wood said, currently, to serve a delinquent tenant papers, a landlord must drive to Squamish, endure a two- to four-hour wait for papers and then serve them to the tenant, in person, within three days — not an easy task if the tenant doesn’t want to be found. She would like to see changes to the Residential Tenancy Act that include the ability to serve papers by putting them in a mail box, sending them by mail or tacking them to a door, "instead of running around trying to chase down people at their place of employment." She feels the province has recognized Whistler’s uniqueness and she feels WALL should be able to lobby for a lease that would suit the needs of an international resort. "I see all kinds of changes happening here, like liquor stores being open in Whistler on Sundays. I think we should be entitled to collect and have more tenant information on file. Right now you are not allowed to take social insurance numbers or make photocopies of certain documents." Networking should also give the good tenants a break, said Wood. "We could keep a list of people looking for something." She noted the Vancouver association also has a code of ethics the landlords have to abide by. Wood said some Whistler landlords have been driven to push their rents sky high to make the trouble they endure worthwhile — a double edged sword. "I think a lot of landlords get gun shy and others jack up their rents to make it worth their while or get put of the business." She hopes WALL will help change that. "A lot of the landlords are locals who live and work in Whistler. They have taken a chance buying a revenue property. They use their equity and are 100 per cent financed. If the tenant doesn’t pay the rent, they don’t pay the bank... We have got to get rid of the idea we are wealthy Whistler landlords."