B.C.’s eviction freeze under COVID-19 keeps landlords out of own home

The B.C. government’s freeze on evictions is meant to help struggling renters during the novel coronavirus pandemic, but a Vancouver Island couple says the ban has backfired and is keeping them from their own home.

Gunn Yardley and her husband rented out their home while away on an extended winter vacation, but said that when they returned from Mexico, their short-term renters stayed put and stopped paying rent.

Instead of living in their home, they now have to rent themselves. Yardley said she’s owed $10,000 in unpaid rent.

“We gave them a 10-day eviction notice,” she said. “We had a hearing set up because (they) argued against it for the 26th of March.”

That was right around the time evictions were banned in B.C. except under extreme conditions to help people who were out of work due to the pandemic. Not paying rent or utilities does not qualify as grounds to kick someone out.

Global News attempted to interview the Yardleys’ tenant, but he declined and said he would send a statement, which has yet to be received.

Another landlord, Melissa Reddy, is worried about losing her investment property in Abbotsford.

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“(The tenants have) been in there since July and they stopped paying rents in December,” she said.

The tenants did not return Global News’ multiple requests for comment.

Renters who face financial hardship as a result of COVID-19 can apply to receive as much as $500 a month under the B.C. Temporary Rental Supplement Program. A landlord cannot apply for the supplement on behalf of a tenant.

Some tenants may choose not to apply, Reddy said, if they are not on good terms with their landlord.

In a statement to Global News, the Ministry of Housing said “no one solution fits every situation,” and that cases such as Reddy’s and Yardley’s are rare.

The ministry went on to say tenants should continue to pay their rent and that the moratorium on evictions is temporary.

“Renters will be responsible for outstanding rent due after the state of emergency is lifted,” the ministry added.

But the homeowners feel tenants are getting all the protections.

“It’s very taxing on our minds and our, you know, our well-being,” Yardley said.

Reddy echoed that sentiment.

“It’s stressing us out,” Reddy said. “You know, I’m fighting with my husband and I’m taking it out on my kids. And it’s just not good right now and there’s just no end in sight.”

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Limited fare gate access, masks recommended in new TransLink coronavirus initiatives

TransLink officials are introducing new measures on buses, SkyTrain, West Coast Express and SeaBus as part of their new coronavirus initiatives across the system.

One of the biggest changes will be limited fare gate access at some of the busiest SkyTrain stations. This will be to help manage the number of customers on the platform and getting on the trains.

At most of the stations, only one fare gate will be programmed to allow customers to enter the station. This may be increased to two gates if the station is really busy.

TransLink will also be installing two-metre spaced decals at some bus stops and stations to help guide customers.

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Officials are recommending commuters wear a non-medical mask or face covering while waiting or on board the system.

“Public Health and WorkSafeBC are working with transit agencies to ensure all reasonable steps are being taken to prevent the spread of COVID-19, however, it’s clear that maintaining a safe physical distance may not be possible in every situation. We recommend all passengers consider wearing a face covering while using public transit, especially during those instances where physical distancing may not be possible,” Dr. Bonnie Henry, B.C.’s provincial health officer, said in a release.

TransLink crews will also deploying cleaning staff to disinfect SkyTrain cars at high-traffic stations.

Disinfecting spray schedules will also be increased to twice per week in addition to daily cleaning.

TransLink also expects to restore service across all the systems to full capacity and will monitor passenger loads in order to deploy additional service at times where physical distancing is more difficult.

On May 8, TransLink suspended planned service reductions and the 1,500 layoff notices it was planning to hand out to members.

Last month, TransLink announced a projected budget shortfall of $570 million to $680 million this year.

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Economic recovery task force asks City of Penticton to relax patio regulations, remove permit costs amid COVID-19

The City of Penticton’s economic recovery task force is looking to city council for support to relax patio regulations and remove permit costs amid the novel coronavirus pandemic.

In a report to go before city council on Tuesday, economic development specialist Andrew Kemp says it is likely restaurants will only be able to open at half capacity, due to physical distancing guidelines, making it difficult to survive financially.

Kemp suggests the city should remove permit costs and relax design standards for storefront patios and sidewalk retail display areas to encourage businesses to take advantage of outdoor space.

“Utilizing outdoor space, where transmission of virus is much less of a concern, businesses may be able to increase the number of seats,” Kemp said in the report. “In addition, patios and sidewalk uses add vibrancy to the streetscape.”

The task force also recommends tackling property crime issues by promoting safety and security and supporting local bylaw officers and RCMP, as well as bolstering security of the industrial park through a Crime Prevention campaign and promoting recovery efforts through the “Love Local Penticton” campaign.

Slackwater Brewing is also asking for more flexibility when it comes to design regulations for patios. In a letter to council, co-founder Liam Peyton says the city’s building manager has informed him that the fencing around the patio is not in compliance with a local bylaw, even though it passed an occupancy inspection.

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The patio deck is made of cedar and the letter implies a material change would be required to meet current regulations.

“Encouraging patio and al fresco dining appears to be a pillar of Dr. Bonnie Henry’s post-COVID reality, so we feel it is important to maintain our patio, status quo, as a viable option for Penticton diners as relief from restrictions is now on the horizon,” Peyton said.

Also on Tuesday’s agenda, city council will consider sending a letter to B.C.’s attorney general, David Eby, in support of flexible liquor licensing regulations for businesses who are looking to expand their outdoor seating areas as B.C. begins its COVID-19 restart plan.

B.C. will enter phase two of its economic reopening plan on Tuesday, which includes restaurants, retail and personal service establishments. The businesses are allowed to reopen under strict health and safety protocols. Under phase two, people are still asked to stay close to home and avoid non-essential travel between communities.

Health and medical services, such as dentistry, physiotherapy and the re-scheduling of elective surgeries will also resume.

B.C. has no plans to resume large gatherings, including concerts, conferences or professional sports, until a vaccine is available. International travel and tourism will also remain restricted.

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Ridesharing firms urge B.C. to temporarily scrap licence requirements under COVID-19

The biggest ridesharing companies operating in B.C. are calling on the province to ease the Class 4 licence requirements for drivers in a bid to get more drivers on the road.

In a letter sent to Transportation Minister Claire Trevena and obtained by Global News, the companies suggest that a Class 5+ licence could provide short-term work for those out of a job due to the novel coronavirus pandemic.

“COVID-19 has resulted in too many people becoming unemployed, working reduced hours, or just needing an easy and quick way to put food on the table for their families,” reads the letter, signed by Lyft Canada, Whistle!, Uber Canada, Coastal Rides and KABU-Ride Inc.

“Working together, we can make things better for these people.”

The Class 4 licence required to work as a ridesharing driver in B.C. has been contentious.

The all-party MLA committee tasked with setting out regulations for the industry recommended a specific Class 5+ licence catered towards such drivers.

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But Trevena turned it down, opting for the existing commercial Class 4 licence and requiring an additional written and driving test and a physical exam from a doctor.

ICBC has suspended road tests indefinitely under the pandemic.

Lyft and Uber, the world’s largest ridesharing companies, have been operating since January in B.C., after receiving long-awaited approval from the independent Passenger Transportation Board.

The industry argues that an easing of the current licencing requirement can especially help women who have seen greater jobs losses because of the pandemic than men have.

“Ridesharing can give women impacted by COVID-19 immediate opportunities to make money to support themselves and their loved ones,” the letter reads.

A Class 5+ licence could allow drivers to earn money ridesharing after they pass a Class 4 knowledge test but not a road test.

The five companies also suggested using the National Safety Code, which regulates commercial drivers, and allow Class 5 licence holders who have other safety requirements to be on the road so as not to put a “burden” on ICBC.

The letter even suggests reducing the age requirement to 15 years old outside of urban areas.

“We have demonstrated for the past almost four months that we can be relied upon to help connect drivers offering safe and healthy transportation services to essential workers,” the letter reads.

“The next phase of COVID-19 is equally as critical. Ridesharing can provide flexible earning opportunities for all British Columbians and particularly those impacted by COVID-19 job loss.”

BC Liberal MLA Jas Johal says the government’s decision to require class 4 licensing was always a political decision, and not one grounded in the needs of B.C. consumers.

Johal says he has advocated for a class 5+ since the beginning and switching now would provide additional flexibility.

“The NDP have essentially created a system where there are not enough drivers in major cities or no service in smaller communities,”Johal said.

“Beyond ridehailing, the NDP have done nothing to modernize the taxi industry or level the playing field for many struggling taxi owners.”

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North Okanagan regional district to continue with capital projects for 2020

The Regional District of the North Okanagan says thanks to being in a strong financial position during the coronavirus pandemic, it plans on moving forward with budgeted and capital projects for 2020.

On Wednesday, the regional district announced that it completed the year under budget, with reserve balances increasing by $8.7 million and long-term debt decreasing by $5.7 million.

The regional district added that while the pandemic has created financial uncertainty, such as revenue downfall from not collecting transit fares, it is confident that its cash flow will see it through the current crisis.

“Creating strong financial policies and plans has allowed the RDNO to maintain and improve upon its strong financial position,” said Stephen Banmen, general manager of finance for the RDNO.

Some of the current or recently-completed projects include upgrades to the Pat Duke Memorial Arena, water main replacement projects, Okanagan Rail Trail erosion mitigation and the Middleton Mountain trail upgrades.

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“We have maintained our planned capital program and have not cancelled any construction projects,” said Banmen.

“By doing so, we continue to invest significantly in our local economy and continue to maintain and upgrade important public amenities and infrastructure.”

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Premier again extends B.C.’s state of emergency under COVID-19

B.C.’s premier has extended the provincial state of emergency a third time due to the COVID-19 pandemic, now until May 12.

John Horgan told reporters on Wednesday that the province will unveil a plan next week to start easing restrictions that were put in place to slow the spread of the coronavirus.

The plan is expected to be done in phases as the province slowly reactivates part of the economy, with a focus on getting the health-care system up and running again first.

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A date is also expected for a full return of kids to school.

More to come

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B.C.’s registered psychologists offering free mental health support during coronavirus pandemic

Mental health and well-being have always been important.

“Now COVID-19 has made it more important than ever,” said Shelagh Turner, executive director of the Canadian Mental Health Association’s Kelowna chapter.

Accordingly, the need for mental health services has risen dramatically.

“We’ve seen a significant increase in requests for help from individuals who are at home trying to manage their mental health during this crisis,” Turner told Global News on Wednesday.

It’s a need that’s being felt everywhere and the reason why help is now just a free phone call away.

All thanks to a University of British Columbia Okanagan professor.

“I put a call out to every single registered psychologist in B.C.,” said Lesley Lutes, a UBCO psychology professor.

Lutes said that within one week, she had 200 registered psychologists from the British Columbia Psychological Association (BCPA) on board.

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“To volunteer their time in order to provide in free psychological support,” Lutes said.

At first, the program was only for frontline healthcare workers.

But because of the popularity of the program with essential services, psychologists soon realized the need may have been greater.

So now the resource has been expanded to include everyone — all you have to do is call 604-827-0847 or go online to the BCPA’s website and fill out a form.

“You sign up, you tell us when you want to be called, we will call you back that day,” said psychologist Beverley Kort.

Kort is just one of the 200 registered psychologists who have volunteered to help out with the program.

“Everybody is going through the same thing and we want you to know that we are there for you,” Kort said, adding “every day you could have a half-hour conversation with one of us.”

Experts say the entire spectrum of mental-health consequences of COVID-19 aren’t predictable.

“There will be long-term impacts in terms of trauma, depression, anxiety, all those other things that clinically will come down the road,” said Lutes.

Which is why professionals are trying to offer psychological first aid now.

“To try to mitigate some of the risks early on,” Lutes said.

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‘I’m waiting by the phone’: B.C. patients face painful wait for surgeries cancelled for COVID-19

As a nurse, Alysa Stephens knows just how important preparing B.C.’s hospitals for a possible wave of COVID-19 infections is.

But as a patient, she’s frustrated.

Stephens has been sidelined from her job by an injury that’s left her with compressed nerves under her neck.

The Langley resident is grappling with numbness and pain, and has been told without surgery soon, she could see permanent damage.

That operation was just weeks away when the province moved on March 18 to cancel about 11,000 scheduled surgeries to free up beds in the province’s hospitals.

“I cried. I did. Very hard,” she told Global News.

“It’s hard because as a nurse I know the importance of everything and why things are being done, but on the other hand, I’m not alone in this, being so close to having a surgery that will hopefully give me my quality of life back and allow me to get back to work, it’s just stripped right from under you.”

The move to cancel surgeries has emptied about a third of acute care beds in the province.

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As of Monday, there were more than 4,800 vacant beds in B.C. hospitals and 137 people hospitalized with COVID-19.

“Its so early in the days for this plan that its too set anything in stone,” she said.

The province is turning to the False Creek Surgical Centre, a private health-care facility, as one way to try and clear the backlog.

Clearpoint Health Network CFO Sid Sharma says the facility has three operating rooms, along with other advantages.

“We can work six days a week, we’re not limited to office hours,” he said. “Even at a conservative end, we can look at 3,000, 3,500 day surgeries a year.”

The Fraser Institute, a long-time advocate of for-profit health care, argues once the pandemic eases the province should allow people who can pay for faster surgeries to have them — thus taking pressure off the public system.

As for Stephens, she doesn’t care where the care comes, just as long as it comes as soon as possible.

“I need this surgery. I’d be willing to pay for it if I had to,” she said.

“Every day I’m waiting by the phone to get that phone call to say we can go ahead with it.”

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Vancouver man seen spitting on elevator buttons apologizes, says he’ll seek counselling

A Vancouver man who was caught on video spitting on the buttons of an elevator in his Olympic Village condo building has issued a public apology, after the incident prompted outrage due to the novel coronavirus pandemic.

In a statement provided by his lawyer Richard Fowler Sunday, the man — who has not been identified — said the spitting happened because of a “momentary fit of anger” due to an ongoing dispute with the strata council at the building, where he owns a unit.

“I am horrified at my own actions which are reprehensible and inexcusable,” the statement reads.

“I am employed, have never had any issues with law enforcement and am otherwise a good, law-abiding citizen. I can’t explain my own actions in this situation.”

The security video, which was posted on social media Friday and was shared on the building’s private Facebook page, shows the man entering the elevator in the building on First Avenue and Quebec Street. He rides up to the eighth floor.

Once the elevator doors open, the man can be seen spitting a large gob of saliva onto the button panel before slowly exiting into the hallway.

The statement confirms residents’ suspicions that the incident occurred last Saturday, April 4.

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Residents including Marie Hui, who posted the video to Twitter, told Global News the man’s actions were especially dangerous and upsetting amid the worldwide outbreak of COVID-19, which is transmitted through droplets from the mouth and nose.

The man said he understands the worry and stress caused by the pandemic, and apologized directly to the building’s residents as well as the general public.

He said he has been following physical distancing guidelines and assured that he has “no coronavirus symptoms and no health issues,” adding he “never intended to harm anyone.”

The man said he plans to make a “meaningful donation” to the strata council that will “more than cover the cost of the extra sanitation required.”

He also plans to seek professional counselling, he said.

“There is really no way to make this right,” he said. “All I can do is express how sorry I am that this happened and to assure nothing like this will ever happen again.”

Fowler confirmed he was contacted by the man and spoke with him at length about what happened and how to rectify the situation. He said his client will not identify himself and will not make himself available for an interview.

Vancouver police said they were contacted by Hui and viewed the video, but confirmed, as officers told Hui, the matter could not be considered criminal, since intent could not be proven.

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Coronavirus: Henry calls reports of full BC Ferries ‘overblown,’ says traffic is down

B.C.’s provincial health officer is calling reports that BC Ferries is experiencing high Easter weekend traffic amid the coronavirus pandemic “overblown”, but still urged people to avoid non-essential travel during the holiday.

Dr. Bonnie Henry told reporters Saturday that she spoke with BC Ferries herself to confirm reports of lineups at terminals on both Vancouver Island and the mainland Thursday and Friday.

Some sailings had been reporting they were between 95 and 99 per cent full Thursday evening, although those numbers refer to the number of vehicle boardings rather than total passengers.

Henry said she was assured that ferries have significantly reduced capacity to help maintain physical distancing measures and that those caps would remain in place through the Easter weekend.

“I’m heartened that I think most people are doing what we need to do, and they’re staying home. They’re looking after their family, they’re taking care of their neighbours. They’re managing this challenging time staying close to home and a safe distance from others.”

BC Ferries has significantly reduced the number of sailings on all routes amid the COVID-19 crisis. It is also legally required to reduce by 50 per cent the maximum number of passengers that may be carried onboard to support the two-metre physical distancing rule.

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Coastal and island communities have called on tourists and vacation property owners to stay home.

“I understand 25 cars came off this afternoon — two were locals, 23 were not local,” Galiano Island resident Jane Wolverton said Thursday.

“When you have such a small population everybody knows everybody.”

Earlier this week, health ministers for B.C. and Alberta urged residents to avoid travelling between the two provinces during the Easter weekend, recognizing the shared border is frequently crossed during major holidays.

Henry said Saturday that many people have to travel by necessity this weekend, including to and from Vancouver Island, and are allowed to travel if they have a legitimate reason to do so.

She advised the rest of B.C. to be compassionate towards those travellers while following self-isolation orders themselves.

“I think we all need to be patient and kind with each other,” she said.

—With files from Jordan Armstrong and Jon Azpiri

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