The YWCA was within its rights to have RCMP evict a man and his daughters from a suite it leased after he held parties, caused damage, and worried neighbours when they overheard a threat to burn the building down.
Reaching that conclusion in a judgment released on Thursday, Supreme Court Justice Karan Shaner overturned a 2019 decision by the territory’s chief rental officer.
Shaner ruled the Residential Tenancies Act – a territorial law that governs landlord-tenant relations – does not apply to accommodation provided by the YWCA NWT to people in need under its Supportive Housing Program. The ruling means groups like the YWCA have more latitude to manage tenants who violate their rules.
The NWT’s chief rental officer had earlier concluded the opposite. Examining the NWT’s legislation, the rental officer decided the YWCA did not qualify for an exemption. Though the legislation states accommodation “established to temporarily shelter persons in need” is exempt, the rental officer in part ruled that the word “temporarily” meant a matter of days rather than an arrangement lasting weeks or, in the man’s case, months. She ruled in the man’s favour.
“Respectfully, I find that the rental officer followed an analytical path which caused her to reach incorrect conclusions,” Shaner wrote in her 19-page decision, noting the officer’s decision would have affected more agencies than just the YWCA.
“The interpretation … offered by the rental officer would lead to absurd, impractical and unintended consequences. For example, anyone relying on emergency accommodations, such as a women’s shelter or a shelter for people experiencing homelessness for more than a few days, would acquire the same rights as a tenant.
“They would also acquire the obligations of a tenant, including, quite possibly, the obligation to pay rent. That is clearly not the purpose of such programs, nor the intention of the users.”
The YWCA offers a number of transitional housing programs, including one called the Supportive Housing Program.
It helps families experiencing homelessness or in imminent danger of becoming homeless to gain stable housing.
Participants referred to the program undergo an assessment to determine, among other things, their housing needs and skills they need to maintain stable housing.
The case in question
In January 2018, a single father with two daughters joined the Supportive Housing Program, run at that time from Yellowknife’s Rockhill Apartments on 54 Street.
That building burned to the ground in October 2, 2018, leaving 33 families homeless.
The YWCA was forced to lease housing units from private landlords to accommodate program participants. The man and his children were relocated to Simpson House, a 20-suite building at 5201 51 Street.
On November 5, 2018, the man entered into a residential services agreement with the YWCA. That agreement required the man to pay $1,800 a month to the YWCA alongside a security deposit.
The agreement came with several conditions. The man had to attend weekly meetings with YWCA supportive housing staff and agreed not to pose a safety risk to staff, neighbours and others, or engage in activities unacceptable to the YWCA.
On September 10, 2019, landlord Northview informed the YWCA it had 48 hours to vacate the housing unit occupied by the man and his daughters.
Northview said this was because the man “had a guest there who threatened to burn the building down,” stated Shaner in her decision. “This appears to have followed on the heels of a series of complaints.”
The YWCA, in turn, advised the man he would have 48 hours to leave the unit and would be provided with housing elsewhere. He refused to leave.
The landlord changed the locks but allowed the YWCA access to help the man retrieve his property. The man gained entry to the property by force and again refused to leave.
He was removed by RCMP officers on October 1, 2019.
He then filed a complaint with the rental officer – a statutory decision-maker appointed under the Residential Tenancies Act, enacted by the NWT Legislative Assembly.
“The rental officer accepted that the Supportive Housing Program is rehabilitative in nature,” stated Shaner in her decision. “She also accepted that [the man] and his family were ‘persons in need’ and she appears to have recognized that his living arrangements were not intended to be permanent.
“What appears to have troubled her was how closely the agreement between [the man] and the YWCA under the Supportive Housing Program resembled a traditional residential lease. These seem to be what led her to adopt such restrictive interpretations of the scope and meaning of [the legislation].”
Concluded Shaner: “The appeal is granted. The rental officer’s order is set aside.”