A Lower Mainland landlord has been ordered by the B.C. Human Rights Tribunal to pay $11,000 to a family for harassing and pressuring them to move out just days after the mother gave birth.
Tribunal Member Devyn Cousineau determined that Meltem Bahcheli discriminated against Germaine Valdez and her family on the basis of her sex and family status contrary to section 10 of the Human Rights Code, according to a ruling published online earlier this week.
Valdez moved with her son to Canada in 2010 and lived with her parents for several years while she and her husband, Jesus Valdez, worked towards sponsoring him to join them in the Lower Mainland. Jesus moved to the country in 2017.
The couple first met Bahcheli that year as they began to look for their own apartment to rent. Originally, they were interested in a two-bedroom apartment which was owned by Bahcheli but it wouldn’t be available to rent right away, according to tribunal findings. Instead, she offered the couple a one-bedroom apartment which the Valdezes said they were happy about because it was more affordable.
According to the tribunal, Bahcheli was a landlord to 16 other tenants in the building.
The Valdezes entered a month-to-month rental agreement with Bahcheli on Nov. 16, 2017 and paid a $700 security deposit before moving in on Dec. 1.
At first, there were no issues in the tenancy, the Valdezes told the tribunal, and they and Bahcheli would act civil when they crossed paths at the property. They described themselves as good tenants who paid their rent on time.
But it was after March 22, 2019, when Valdez gave birth to her second son by cesarean section, of C-section, that the harassment began, the couple claim.
Valdez told the tribunal that she texted Bahcheli from the hospital a few days after giving birth to tell her that she had a baby. She said she told her landlord the news because she was told that a landlord can raise rent if more people live in a rental unit and wanted to check in with Bahcheli, who she assumed had seen her visibly pregnant belly around the building.
But Bahcheli’s response was less than positive, tribunal documents show. The landlord said that she didn’t know Valdez was pregnant, and that four people was too many for a one-bedroom unit and asked if they had found another place to live.
“That’s not what I signed up for,” she replied by text message. “You will need to start looking for a home that will accommodate a family of your size. Then give me one calendar months notice when you find it.”
It was decided that the Valdezes would have about two months to find a new place and be moved out of the unit by the end of June.
On March 28, when Valdez returned home from the hospital, the tribunal heard that Bahcheli showed up at the unit and yelled at the couple, accusing them of being liars. She said she would need to begin showing the apartment to perspective tenants and when she did, Valdez and her newborn could not be in the unit.
“Both Valdezes explained that they thought it best to let Ms. Bahcheli vent her thoughts and frustrations, and so they said very little during this exchange, though they found it very upsetting,” Cousineau wrote.
During a text messaging exchange later that day, Bahcheli said the couple had to move out at the end of May and if not she would evict them and not provide a rental reference.
“I’m so disappointed in you it’s not funny,” Bahcheli wrote. “I can’t understand how you thought it’s a good idea to move into a home that’s too small for your needs then trick someone onto doing business with you by lying to them.”
She added that her other tenants couldn’t be woken up multiple times in the evening by a screaming baby. Valdez said she was very upset by the exchange, and it was decided that Jesus would speak with the landlord and “try to engage her in a rational conservation.”
But the next day, despite his best efforts, the conversation ended with Bahcheli yelling and calling the family liars. Jesus told the tribunal that he tried to explain that his wife had just had a C-section and was told by doctors she would need at least six weeks to recover, and that he expected some sympathy since Bahcheli was a mother herself.
But instead, Bahcheli said she only needed one week to recover from her own surgical birth and rejected their excuse.
After further back and forth, and being ignored by Bahcheli, the Valdezes agreed in April to move out by the end of the month.
Bahcheli went on to show the unit to prospective tenants, and warned the couple “not to interfere in my other appointments or disrupt my appointments or behave in a manner that prevents me from doing my job.”
This meant that on at least one occasion, Valdez, who didn’t have access to a car, was forced to leave the building with her newborn baby.
“She would have to carry the baby and the stroller down a number of steps and then walk around for the two‐hour window that Ms. Bahcheli had reserved,” Cousineau wrote. “This was not sustainable, particularly given that Mrs. Valdez was still recovering from the C‐section.”
Valdez was frequently crying, the tribunal heard, and having to physically exert herself more than she should have been led to unusual bleeding that required medical attention. Jesus, who was going to school and working, said that “all he wanted to do was make sure his wife was safe but they had very limited resources.”
On April 3, the family moved back in with Valdez’s parents but left most of their belongings at the apartment. Their plan was to pack and move over the coming weeks. That same day, they filed a complaint against the Residential Tenancy Branch and asked for Bahcheli to no longer be allowed to enter the rental unit, but it was dismissed.
Despite the couple having until the end of the month to leave, Bahcheli told them to meet on April 19 for a final inspection, threatening that if they refused to meet “the locks will be changed and you will forfeit your damage deposit.”
The Valdezes tried to book a different time, because they still had belongings in the unit, but Bahcheli refused. In the end, the family vacated their apartment on April 29, without an inspection and never received their $700 damage deposit.
In Cousineau’s decision, the tribunal member noted that Bahcheli chose not to participate in the hearing and “led no evidence which could support that her decision to force the Valdezes out of their rental unit was bona fide and reasonably justified, within the meaning of human rights law.”
Cousineau called the harassment serious and concentrated over a short period of time, or roughly two weeks, against a mother who had just given birth and was experiencing her first rental apartment as a family with Jesus and their two children.
“It should have been a happy time, when they were nurturing their family and building their lives together,” Couineau wrote, adding that instead Valdez fell into post-partum depression and her crying became noticed by her son. Meanwhile, Jesus struggled to watch his wife endure discrimination during a situation that “was so bad that he questioned his decision to move to Canada,” Cousineau continued.
In addition, landlords cannot apply a maximum occupancy policy arbitrarily and has to be adopted for reasons related to the maintenance and use of the unit.
The tribunal ruled that Bahcheli must pay Valdez roughly $1,900 for moving expenses and an additional $9,000 for “injury to her dignity, feelings and self-respect.”