Living with cats is a joy for many but not when they leave behind a “nauseating smell.”
But as a recent case shows, even the best tenants may not receive compensation when an apartment remains stinky after they leave.
In a case heard November 2021, and published recently online, an arbitrator was told that tenants of a two-bedroom basement suite in Port Coquitlam were given two months to move on Nov. 30, 2020.
A relative moving into the unit was the stated reason.
RENT WAS MORE EXPENSIVE
This notice set off several weeks of anxiety for the tenants.
They had lived in the unit for three years and were paying $1,400 a month.
Eventually, after a “stressful” search, the tenants found a new place to live but it was going to cost them $200 more a month.
“It was completely just an awful experience,” one of the tenants told the arbitrator.
Once settled in their new place, the tenants were surprised to find their old suite was being rented out.
In February 2021, two months after the move, one of the tenants was perusing Craigslist ads when they spotted their previous unit was available for $150 more than they had been paying.
They “felt cheated,” they said because they believed the landlord had planned to use the basement suite “for family use.”
And when they realized their eviction occurred just two weeks after a provincial ban on evictions was lifted, another “red flag” was raised.
They took their case to the Residential Tenancy Branch, seeking 12 months' rent at the rate they would have paid had they stayed — $16,800 — plus another $2,400 for the difference at their new place.
The arbitrator spent considerable time listening to both sides of the case.
According to the landlord, who lived on the top floor of the house, the mother refused to move in despite efforts to rid the unit of the smell left behind by the tenants’ cats.
SUITE SMELLED OF CAT URINE
The “smell was just terrible […]nauseating […],” the mother told the arbitrator, “and really, really strong.”
Even though a contractor was brought in to clean the floors, using chemicals, tea tree oil and essential oils, and the suite was painted, the smell hadn’t dissipated enough for the mother to move in.
The arbitrator was told that the landlord feared cat urine had saturated the floor and they were worried the the smell was permanent. They couldn’t afford to replace the floor.
“It’s very sad the whole thing,” the mother further told the arbitrator.
“We’re not messy, dirty people,” the tenants told the arbitrator. “We made our best efforts to take care of the cats.”
They also doubted the credibility of the contractor brought in to clean the suite, stating that they couldn’t find information verifying their credentials.
According to the landlord, the mother refused to take up residence in the suite because of the smell, and they were “forced to find someone” to rent the suite.
A witness for the tenants said they didn’t notice any smell when they walked prospective tenants through the suite, nor did they notice any neglect of the property.
NO CHOICE BUT TO RENT IT
The landlord said some who viewed the suite noticed the smell, and others did not, noting that ultimately “cleanliness is subjective.”
In the end, the arbitrator sided with the landlord.
In dismissing the tenants’ request for compensation, the arbitrator noted that the landlord broke Residential Tenancy Act rules when a family member did not reside in the suite for six months following the departure of the original tenants.
However, the arbitrator said the issue was beyond the landlord’s control because it was the mother’s decision to not move into the suite.
“For this reason, it is my finding that there was extenuating circumstances that prevented the landlords from using the rental unit for the stated purpose.”