The two owners of the last mobile homes in Prince Rupert have been served an eviction notice from the property owner, despite an agreement that they can stay indefinitely.
“The key word here is indefinitely,” Paul Lagace said at the Aug. 20 Prince Rupert council meeting.
Lagace, the coordinator and poverty law advocate at the Prince Rupert Unemployment Action Centre, took the opportunity to represent his clients at the monthly Committee of the Whole. Both Daryn Horne and Dung Van Nguyen have lived in the mobile home park at 1609 Prince Rupert Boulevard for more than 20 years, and own their mobile homes.
Ten years ago, the property owner Anh Le of D&N Seafood, asked the City of Prince Rupert to rezone the land from a two-family zone and school, institutional and public use zones to a light industrial zone for his business, Kal Tire, to operate on. Part of the agreement signed by Le and the homeowners, allowed the residents to remain on the property after a public hearing on Oct. 14, 2008 for the land’s rezoning, when council asked Le to make individual agreements with his tenants.
Conditions in the agreement said if the units are rented or sold, they must be moved at the homeowner’s expense. If the homeowner wants to remove their property, D&N Seafood will pay them $5,000. If the owner wants to move and leave the unit on the property, D&N will pay the owner one year’s pad rent. Pad rent is for the space the mobile home sits on, if it is not their property.
But on July 31, 2018, Le refused to accept the monthly pad rent. Later that same day, Horne and Nguyen were served a final notice that they had to be off the property by 11:59 p.m. the next night. Horne and Nguyen said in council they both had been given an eviction notice a year ago, but believed they were covered by the signed agreement with with Le and could not be evicted. Written letters to Le have been ignored, Lagace said in council.
“What makes it even more troubling is, as I’m sure you’re aware, these are the last two manufactured homes in the City of Prince Rupert. It’s not even that they can move their homes somewhere else — there’s literally nowhere else to move them.”
In council, Horne said her unit is able to be moved, but there aren’t any pads in town she can relocate to and Port Edward’s trailer park was cleared in the fall of 2017. She lives with her two children, one of which is entering a school program he worked hard to be accepted in, “so moving isn’t an option,” she said.
“I’ve lived there 20-odd years. It’s home.”
Lagace asked council what Horne and Nguyen or the city can do to prevent losing their homes.
Councillor Joy Thorkelson was on council when the original agreement was signed with the city in 2008. She called the situation serious and upsetting.
“What concerns me is that we were assured at the time that this was going to be enough to make sure that if we rezoned, the people were able to remain in their homes,” Thorkelson said. “Now, if we can’t do anything about it then you start to wonder as a councillor whether we should rezone anything, believe anybody.”
Councillor Barry Cunningham said while he didn’t know if the city had grounds for recourse, the tenants had proof with signed contracts. He suggested council could learn a lesson from the situation by adding teeth to future rezoning agreements.
“My attitude is once a deal, always a deal. The owner of this property got it rezoned and the city did it in good faith, taking his word,” Cunningham said. “In this town, your word’s your word. I find this very disturbing that 10 years later he thinks he can just go back on a deal not only with the tenants but with the city too.”
Mayor Lee Brain said the city will look into the agreement with the planning department and administration, and give a prompt response.
Property owner’s response
The next day, on Aug. 21, the Northern View interviewed Anh Le, the property owner. Since the tenants brought the issue up at Committee of the Whole, their presentation was not on the council’s agenda for the Aug. 20 meeting and Le did not attend.
Le called the agreement unfair to him as the property owner. He said Horne and Nguyen have both violated other terms of the tenancy agreement, such as not paying rent on time and not upkeeping the area. When Le goes to maintain the property by cutting grass or cleaning it up, the tenants have yelled at him that he’s not allowed to be there. He said they’ve accused him — wrongly — of stealing.
One encounter got so heated Le called the police. After that incident, he served Horne and Nguyen the first year-long eviction notice in July 2017.
“They live there, but they cannot do whatever they want,” Le said.
He said Nguyen keeps a second smaller mobile home on the property and rents it out to other people — which goes against the terms of their signed agreement. Cars and other items have been discarded outside of the trailers, which Le said is because the tenants know someone else will clean it up.
“$250 a month [rent] is not enough for what it costs me to clean up,” Le said.
It’s also a safety risk. Le, who also owns Kal Tire and D&N Seafood, uses that land to build and store crab traps. Tractor trailers are often moved and stored in that area.
“If they were good tenants and they had followed everything in the agreement, then it wouldn’t be a problem for them to stay, but they’ve broken a lot of the rules,” Le’s daughter Anna Le said. She sat in on the interview to help with her father’s English.
“A lot of things I don’t know how to say to make it fair,” Le said, explaining that his English isn’t very good. “It makes it very difficult for me to come talk to them.”
As for offering Horne and Nguyen less than the agreed ammount for their homes, Le said the $5,000 was offered in the original agreement for tenants who were moving right away. Of the 19 units on the property in 2008, Horne and Le were the only two who decided to stay.