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RESIDENTIAL TENANCIES - Tenancy agreement - Rent - Amount of rent

Friday, January 25, 2019 @ 2:34 PM  

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Appeal by S.A. from a judgment of the British Columbia Court of Appeal amending a decision denying the order sought by Appellant directing the Metro Vancouver Housing Corporation (MHVC) to refund the difference between the market rent and the subsidized rent of her apartment. Appellant was a person with disabilities for whose benefit a Henson trust was settled. She resided in a housing complex operated by MHVC, which offered rental assistance on a discretionary basis to tenants who met a separate set of eligibility criteria. Appellant ceased receiving rental assistance because she reported having assets in excess of $25,000. The issue was whether her interest in the Trust had to be treated as an “asset” for the purpose of determining whether she was eligible to be considered by the MHVC for a rent subsidy. The Chambers Judge dismissed Appellant’s petition, concluding that her interest in the Trust was an “asset”, and denied the order she sought. He allowed MVHC’s corollary petition and held that MVHC was entitled to require that Appellant disclose the value of the Trust before it would consider her application for rental assistance. The British Columbia Court of Appeal dismissed S.A.’s appeal and held that the Trust should be characterized as an asset as used in the Assistance Application, not the Tenancy Agreement. The Court had to consider the nature of a Henson trust, which was settled for the benefit of a person with disabilities who relied on publicly funded social assistance benefits.

HELD: Appeal allowed. The dispute between the parties was fundamentally contractual in nature even if Appellant did not have a contractual entitlement to a rent subsidy. The Tenancy Agreement imposed on MVHC an obligation to consider whether a tenant’s rent would be adjusted in accordance with the terms of and information provided on the Assistance Application. The terms of the Trust did not confer any fixed entitlements on Appellant, and instead provided the Trustees with ultimate discretion over any distributions that could be made out of the Trust’s income or capital for Appellant’s care, maintenance, education or benefit. Therefore, Appellant’s status as co-trustee was irrelevant to the determination of the nature of her interest in the Trust. She had no enforceable right to receive any of the Trust’s income or capital. The words in the Assistance Application should have been given their ordinary and grammatical meaning in light of the specific context in which they were used. Appellant’s interest in the Trust did not fall within the meaning of the word “assets” as she was unable to compel the Trustees to make any distributions to her or for her benefit and was prevented from unilaterally collapsing the Trust under the rule in Saunders. The word “assets” in the Assistance Application was to be understood to refer to financial resources on which the tenant could rely in order to pay the rent. The Court granted Appellant a declaration that the assets in the Trust could not be treated as assets for the purpose of the Rental Assistance Program. The issue of the monetary order was remitted for determination by the court of original jurisdiction. Appellant’s request for solicitor-and-client costs was not granted.

S.A. v. Metro Vancouver Housing Corp., [2019] S.C.J. No. 4, Supreme Court of Canada, R. Wagner C.J. and R.S. Abella, M.J. Moldaver, A. Karakatsanis, C. Gascon, S. Côté, R. Brown, M. Rowe and S.L. Martin JJ., January 25, 2019. Digest No. TLD-January212019011-SCC