A woman being renovicted from a Halifax apartment building made her case before a residential tenancies officer on Wednesday, accusing her landlord of using shady tactics to push her out.
Stacey Gomez has lived in the building on Church Street in south end Halifax since December 2017. She’s currently paying $918 in monthly rent. At the end of last year, Gomez’s new landlord, Marcus Ranjbar, bought the building.
The numbered company that owns the building, according to HRM, is 4364812 Nova Scotia Ltd., incorporated in October 2021 with Mohammad Ranjbar, Benjamin May, and Roy Cleves listed as directors. According to Property Valuation Services Corporation, the three-unit building sold for $720,000 on December 20, 2021. The other side of the duplex, with four units in it, sold for $750,000 the same day.
This past spring, Ranjbar launched a process to legally evict the tenants from both buildings for renovations, a.k.a. renoviction. His representative approached Gomez with a Form DR5 — an agreement between landlord and tenant on the end of a lease for renovations, including the terms of compensation due to the tenant.
Gomez didn’t believe the work was significant enough to require vacancy. Under the provincial Residential Tenancies Act, the landlord has to either be demolishing the building or “making repairs or renovations so extensive as to require a building permit and vacant possession of the residential premises.”
The municipal permit for the property, issued January 13, 2022, describes the work to be done: “Flooring, Trim, Baseboard, Paint, Fixtures, Siding. No changes to location of fixtures. No structural changes. No drywall demolition or major demolition. No siding demolition, new siding will go over existing.”
The reason given for the renoviction at the time, Gomez said, was radon gas. She asked for documentation or test results, and never received it. The reason has since changed, with Ranjbar arguing there’s black mould in Gomez’s first floor unit so significant as to require all the flooring to be replaced.
Gomez didn’t sign the DR5, deciding instead to exercise her rights as a tenant and stay put. From then on, she alleges, Ranjbar has sought to push her out with increasingly aggressive maneuvers.
The renovations started in May, and in July, after Ranjbar filed the paperwork to evict her, Gomez went public with a news release and a CBC story by reporter Nicola Seguin.
After the story, Gomez said Ranjbar posted defamatory comments about her on his now-defunct Instagram account, @halifaxhouseflips. The residential tenancies hearing on her eviction was scheduled for August 12, but was adjourned after Ranjbar failed to submit evidence to Gomez in advance.
In mid-August, Gomez posted a YouTube video detailing what she dealt with in the meantime. She found a disclaimer note posted at either entrance to the building warning, “Stacey Gomez assumes full responsibility for and risk of injury to his/her person, or his death or damage to his/her property, whether caused by the negligence of the landlord or otherwise, occurring during or as a result of the Stacey Gomez’s presence” at the building.
The landlord then demolished the decks on either side of the house, she said, without notice, and destroyed her garden. Workers erected scaffolding in the passageway to Gomez’s unit to replace siding on the building. One day when Gomez arrived home and the workers tried to let her through, Gomez said Ranjbar told the worker not to. When Gomez told him he can’t do that, she said he said, “I can do whatever the fuck I want.” She later found a note taped to the entrance of that passageway, “Stay the fuck out.”
After she posted the YouTube video, Gomez said she received an abusive and threatening text message from a number she doesn’t know, warning of a coming “shitstorm.”
“You simply do not understand who you are fucking with,” the message said.
Gomez, Ranjbar make their cases
Wednesday’s hearing was held via telephone, with Gomez, Ranjbar, and provincial residential tenancies officer Kim Sinclair on the line. Ranjbar made his case to have Gomez evicted, while Gomez brought her own counter case, arguing she should be allowed to stay and Ranjbar should have to pay her for not keeping the apartment up to standards.
Provincial Department of Service Nova Scotia and Internal Services spokesperson Blaise Theriault told the Halifax Examiner those hearings are not public “in order to protect the privacy of all individuals involved at the hearing and to protect the integrity of the outcome.” Allowing reporters to cover them “could inadvertently have a negative impact where those attending may feel limited as to what they need/want to say.”
Gomez invited the Examiner, along with CBC, to listen to the hearing, and we’re reporting it on that basis.
Ranjbar’s lawyer, John Boyle, said his client was willing to pay Gomez six months rent, moving costs, and return her damage deposit, which he said would be done anyway.
Gomez said she’s not willing to end her tenancy, but would agree to leave the unit while repairs are completed, and then move back in.
“I wish to retain my tenancy,” Gomez said.
Sinclair asked why the landlord couldn’t spend the same amount he was willing to give the tenant to move out, about $6,000, to house her for the duration of the renovations.
Boyle argued there’s too much uncertainty in the renovation timeline for that option, saying it would take “several months.”
Ranjbar said an environmental assessment conducted recently found indications of black mould in Gomez’s unit. His witness, Justin Lewis of Rainbow International Restoration, said it would take four to five months to remediate, but that he couldn’t guarantee that timeline. Lewis said they won’t know the full scope of the job until they pull up the flooring.
Lewis described the possibility of having to pull up the floor and the plywood subfloor underneath and replace both of them, all while containing the black mould in the building.
“That doesn’t sound like it would take that long,” Sinclair said.
Gomez argued the landlord hadn’t sufficiently proved mould was present in her apartment, casting doubt on photos purportedly showing her unit in an environmental assessment report.
“I have a lot of questions around the credibility of this report. For example, it’s only a visual inspection. There’s no samples, or air quality testing that was that was submitted as part of his evidence,” Gomez told reporters after the hearing.
“I think that it’s possible that there is mold in the unit, but the extent is not clear to me, and I haven’t seen evidence in terms of … how big the problem is.”
HRM issues stop work order, threatens fines
Meanwhile, a municipal building official visited the property earlier this week and issued a stop work order.
The order by building official Shawn Kennedy, dated August 29, says “The work at the above noted property does not have a valid building permit and is therefore in contravention of the above noted statutes and Bylaws.” Municipal spokesperson Ryan Nearing told the Examiner that order “was a result of unauthorized external construction that was being conducted on the property.”
Ranjbar said that stop work order covers only the decks, front and rear, for which permits are required.
But that same day, Kennedy inspected Gomez’s apartment and issued a notice of violation.
Kennedy found the smoke detectors in the building aren’t interconnected, and gave the landlord until September 9 to have that fixed or face a daily fine of $237.50. He found trim was missing from windows and doors and the tile floor by the patio door was “soft and showing signs of water damage,” and ordered the landlord to repair them by September 16 or face another daily fine of $237.50. Also by September 16, Kennedy ordered the landlord to conduct air quality testing. And by September 25, Kennedy ordered Ranjbar to “investigate the source of water entry and repair as necessary.” The same daily fines apply to those orders.
“We’re in a very, very tough spot here,” Ranjbar said, with HRM threatening fines on one side and Gomez challenging her eviction on the other.
Gomez argued Ranjbar should have to pay her more than $6,000. That number is the sum of Gomez’s calculated penalties for Ranjbar’s actions. For instance, she argues he should pay her 50% of her rent per month for eight months, $3,672, because he’s known since purchasing the building that there could be mould in it due to water entering the building, and he hasn’t fixed it. She’s looking for 10% of rent for eight months because Ranjbar ceased offering private waste collection, something the old landlord did. And she’s seeking 5% of her rent since late-June, when her deck became unsafe to use.
“I feel like he’s purposely doing this to create a situation where I feel forced to leave my home,” Gomez said after the hearing.
“And so I would like compensation for these actions that have been taken that have impacted my ability to enjoy my use of my space, and also for these actions to stop and for there to be a positive relationship between my landlord and myself.”
Sinclair has 14 days to issue a decision. That decision can then be appealed to small claims court.