New policies implemented by a Vancouver housing co-op are “oppressive and unfairly prejudicial” to a family of four struggling to get by in a two-bedroom unit as well as to other co-op families considered to be “under-housed,” a judge has ruled.
The family was on a waiting list for seven years before being accepted as members of the Vancouver East Cooperative Housing Association in 2013 and being offered a two-bedroom basement suite in a rancher-style house built in the 1940s.
At the time the couple’s oldest boy was six and their youngest two and with only two bedrooms in the home, the family, who cannot be identified due to a publication ban, were considered to be “under-housed” members of the co-op.
The oldest boy, who is now 12, has a disability which is sufficiently serious that he requires his own bedroom. The other bedroom is occupied by the parents and the younger boy.
“The evidence also establishes that the eight-year-old is negatively impacted by this situation,” B.C. Supreme Court Justice Francesca Marzari said in a ruling posted on the court’s website Tuesday.
“Furthermore, according to the petitioners, the 12-year-old’s condition is worsening. On any measure, including the Co-op’s policies, the petitioners have been and are inadequately housed. The Co-op does not dispute this.”
When the family moved into their unit, the same policies relating to unit allocation on the basis of housing need had been in place for well over a decade, court heard.
A member who was “over-housed” was someone living in a unit where there were more bedrooms than people and was responsible for self-reporting their situation to the co-op’s board.
Thus two people residing in a two-bedroom unit would be considered appropriately housed but two people living in a three-bedroom unit were over-housed.
Since moving into their co-op unit, the family has attempted to get permission to move into a larger unit to no avail.
When the co-op refused to act, the couple filed a petition in late 2017 to have the court rule that the policies were oppressive or unfairly prejudicial to their interests.
They challenged, in particular, a new policy that allowed non-member adults or housemates to move in with over-housed units, avoiding the requirement that over-housed members might have to move.
The policy, voted in by the membership in May 2018, substantially increased the co-op’s tolerance of over-housing by “essentially removing the problem of over-housing by nearly defining it out of existence,” noted the judge.
“The evidence suggests that the petitioners’ efforts have garnered them negative and increasingly hostile attention from the board and other members of the Co-op, particularly as a result of this litigation.”
The judge concluded that the changes were a marked departure from the reasonable expectations of the under-housed members of the co-op and were oppressive and unfairly prejudicial.
“I find that the effects of the identified portions of the New Policy to be harsh, burdensome, and inherently unfair, particularly in the context of a Co-op that has such a long-standing under-housed population.”
Marzari struck down several provisions of the policy and edited parts of others in addition to ordering disclosure from the board.
The co-op has 39 units in 13 buildings at six locations. The association has existed since 1979.
The members collectively own and support the co-op and its units and provide affordable and sustainable housing that “nurtures a diverse community,” according to the co-op’s website.
Deborah Labun, a lawyer for the petitioners, said Tuesday that she was “impressed” by the judge’s ruling.
“It’s so clear that she got down with these facts and really thought hard about what would be just. She really put in the work, defended her decision on a broad review of the law.”