Valley Journal Advertiser
‘WE NEED HELP’
Windsor tenants frustrated and worried after devastating flood prompts eviction notice
“I have no other place. My daughter literally grew up here. She was two weeks old when we moved in. It’s hard to just pack up your stuff and just leave.” Melissa Brightman
Janine Levy’s eyes glisten with tears as she recalls how she tried to salvage precious mementos after storm water, combined with raw sewage, flooded the first floor of her Windsor home. She had a box of photos and slides sitting by the computer, ready to be scanned in. Then the storm that wreaked havoc throughout Nova Scotia July 21-22 caused massive flooding to her rental property on Wagner’s Court.
In the days that followed, Levy remembers trying to delicately peel the slides apart, with the pungent smell of vinegar and excrement in the air, only to see colourful ink dripping onto the floor below — and with it, cherished memories that she wiped up with a paper towel.
Alexandra “Sandi” Hughes remembers the fear she felt as she realized sewer water was filling her rental home. In the early morning hours, the water rose dangerously close to electrical outlets. She thought about her safety, and that of her three cats.
Melissa Brightman was among the first to realize her home was flooding as she rushed outside to save her mother’s potted flowers. At that point, the water was already lapping at the door.
These women are neighbours — and are fighting an eviction notice.
“I’m very frustrated and sad and I cry a lot, but it’s just because I don’t really have a place to go,” said Hughes.
And, Wagner’s Court has become home.
“I want to stay. This is my home,”
said Hughes, who grew up in Sackville but came to Windsor about five years ago.
Brightman has lived on Wagner’s Court with her family for 20 years. She also doesn’t want to leave.
“I have no other place. My daughter literally grew up here. She was two weeks old when we moved in,” said Brightman. “It’s hard to just pack up your stuff and just leave.”
The trio of women all went to bed in the early morning hours of July 22. Brightman’s mother, Peggy Hebb, was the first to notice the flooding outside. She alerted Brightman, who then called a neighbour, who in turn knocked on the doors of Levy and Hughes.
“It was crazy that night. I was walking outside and it was just over my knee,” said Brightman, recalling the flood.
Hughes said she struggled to go to sleep that night due to the thunder and lightning. She awoke to a neighbour pounding on the door and couldn’t believe what she saw.
“I looked out the window and I saw this whole lane was just flooded with water,” Hughes recalled. She grabbed a few necessities in a bag and made her way outside, where it was knee deep.
Both Brightman and Hughes called 911.
The Levys were also woken up by the sound of knocking. Levy’s husband, Wayne, was greeted by ankle-deep water at the bottom of the stairs. He rushed back upstairs to get some clothes and tell Levy and their son to evacuate.
“Without thinking, I came down and I slipped on the stairs because they were wet and broke my toe. So I ended up in the hospital the next morning, not being able to help him clean up,” Levy said.
“It was about six inches of sewage water. The entire bottom floor, the main floor of the house. So we lost quite a bit, including some of my husband’s and son’s musical instruments.”
Levy’s husband plays with the Four Seasons Community Orchestra as well as in church. The family heirloom piano, complete with ivory keys, now sits in the middle of the living room, water stained but still operational.
“We’re waiting to see if anyone can actually take it and maybe put it in their barn or something (and store it). Otherwise it’s just gonna go to the dump,” she said.
There are six rental properties on Wagner’s Court that are owned by Geome Properties Ltd. The company took ownership in November 2021. The women say their landlord, Ezra Edelstein, came by and looked at the property once the water had receded a bit.
“He didn’t say too much. Took a look around at everyone’s place to see the damage and stuff,” Hughes said.
On July 24, Edelstein returned with a Form F — a notice to quit — which is a document via the Nova Scotia Residential Tenancies Act. This act outlines the rights and responsibilities for the tenant and landlord.
Rachel Boomer, a spokesperson with Service Nova Scotia, said in this case, the landlord is following the correct process.
“Under the Residential Tenancies Act, a landlord can serve the tenant with a notice to quit if the unit is uninhabitable due
reasons. to a fire, flood or other Tenants have the right to contest the eviction notice,” Boomer said.
The notice indicated they had to leave by July 31.
“We were all panicking because that’s seven days to try to find a place and it’s hard enough in this market to try and find a place,” said Hughes.
Following the storm, the women scrambled to secure storage units and trailers as so many Nova Scotians were impacted by the storm system.
Hughes said thanks to West Hants Caremongers, the households were able to salvage a lot of their stuff.
Still, nearly everything that was located on the main floor of the homes couldn’t be saved.
The Brightman household and the Levys did not have tenant’s insurance. Hughes did, but as of Aug. 8, she’s only spoken to her adjuster by email, and there was one brief inspection, about a week after the storm, where they took photos of the damage. This has only added to her frustration and worry.
As the July 31 deadline to move loomed, Hughes said they all messaged the landlord and said, “‘please, you’ve got to give us more time. We can’t do this in seven days.’ He did get us all to sign another document — an extension — to the notice to quit so that we could get seven more days.”
That extension has since expired, but the women are still in their homes, contesting the eviction.
In an email interview, Edelstein confirmed he issued the notice to quit in order to start necessary renovations to the damaged properties.
“The main floors were completely submerged with between four and six inches
subfloor, of water. The flooring, walls and insulation in both the floors and walls were completely wet,” he said of the damage. “Parts of the furnaces
important were also damaged. It’s to note these units were not empty when they flooded. Some tenants have been there for many years and their belongings were seriously damaged, as well.”
In order to make the homes habitable, the flooring and subfloor must be removed and replaced, as well as the bottom two feet of the walls and insulation. The baseboard heaters will need to be removed and likely replaced as well.
The women say they’re all in the same boat — they can’t afford to move.
Even before the flooding, Nova Scotia had a housing crisis. The women say it’s nearly impossible to find accommodations that will accept pets or accept large families while at an affordable price.
As rental prices have skyrocketed elsewhere since she first signed a lease, Hughes said she knows she has a bargain. Her lease auto-renews, and recently increased by two per cent.
Both Hughes and Brightman filled out a Form J, another form made available through the Nova Scotia Residential Tenancies Act, which allows them to contest the eviction.
Boomer explained that a hearing would be held, at which time the landlord will have to prove that the unit can’t be lived in while the work is being done.
Hughes said she’s going to try to stay at the property until the hearing, which is in September.
Despite cleaning the site as best she could, Hughes says she now wakes up every morning congested. She is worried about the air quality, but she has nowhere else to go.
Edelstein is also worried about the tenants’ health if they stay.
“Given the moisture readings that were taken last Friday (Aug. 4) of the walls, subfloor and insulation, ranging from 40-99 per cent moisture, we are absolutely concerned about them staying in these buildings — both for tenants’ health and for the long-term condition of the buildings themselves,” said Edelstein.
“Under normal conditions we would expect these readings to be six to 10 per cent. Whether tenants can stay until the hearing is entirely the decision of the tenancy board, but for the health and well-being of tenants, we have strongly encouraged them to find alternative arrangements prior to the hearing.”
On Aug. 8, Levy said she was hoping to also fill out a Form J as well. However, she said she knows staying at her place is not a viable option.
“We can’t live there. It’s carpeted; it’s sewage laden,” she said.
Her husband’s employer has offered them, temporarily, a one-bedroom apartment. But with three grown adults, that makes for tight living quarters. So, one of them is staying at the Wagner’s Court residence.
“There’s no way we can afford rent anywhere else unless our son actually lives with us. So there are three of us looking for a place to stay and there’s just nothing around that’s affordable,” she said, noting her son is now delaying his return to schooling so that he can continue to help them.
“We need help. I mean, I’ve called everyone, I’ve put posts on Facebook to try to find a place to stay. There’s just nothing,” said Levy.
The Levys have lived on Wagner’s Court since 2008. Her husband and son both work, but she can’t due to a disability. Plus, she says she has been fighting Canada Pension since 2007.
“We’re the people who slip between the cracks of social services. We earn just over the amount where you can get assistance but not enough to actually live on,” Levy said, frustration in her voice.
Brightman, who lives with her mother, her older brother Duane Brightman, and daughter Brenda Clark Brightman, said she just wants to stay together as a family unit.
Levy said she “would like to have first option to come back under the same rent or rental program through the government that we had with our previous landlord.”
Edelstein said they don’t receive any government subsidies for the tenants at Wagner’s Court, and can’t predict what the rent costs will be until repairs are made.
“Many of our tenants at Wagner’s pay rents that are dramatically lower than what (an) average three-bedroom house rents for in West Hants and the surrounding area,” Edelstein said.
“We have not significantly increased the rent of existing tenants and were clear to say we didn’t intend to in letters we distributed to every tenant when we bought the property. Most of these tenants only received a two per cent increase this past July, which was 18 months after we purchased the property,” he continued.
“Until we begin the remediation and can assess the extent of the damage, the repairs needed and the overall condition of the individual units, it’s impossible to know how long this will take and what comes next.”
He said he knows the units are special to the tenants, which is why, “outside of an extreme natural disaster, we’ve done our best to maintain status quo for the long-term residents.”
Hughes said she just wants an assurance that if they can find temporary housing, they can return to their homes eventually.
“All we want to know is can we come back after he fixes the places,” she said.
Levy is afraid the rent will increase significantly, making it impossible for them to return.
Brightman said she just wants a straight answer. And if she has to move, help finding a place.
Until the hearings, the women are planning to stick it out in their homes, hoping for the best.
Speaking on the future of the renovated rental units, Boomer said “there is nothing in the Act that gives the previous tenant first right to rent the property again once it’s repaired.”
She also noted that “the rent cap only applies to existing leases; a renovated, vacant unit would not be subject to the rent cap.”