Pesticide-sprayed tenants bite landlord

A Residential Tenancy Branch decision, released on December 28th, 2009, has ordered a New Westminster landlord to pay $11,950 to the residents of two apartments for illegally spraying pesticides in their apartment building. 

The decision, made possible through a grant from West Coast Environmental Law's Environmental Dispute Resolution Fund, emphasizes the importance of landlords and tenants alike knowing their rights and responsibilities related to pesticides. 

On July 23, 2007 Angelo Mazzarolo, the owner and manager of an apartment building in New Westminster, decided to spray for silverfish.  He had not given any advance notice to the tenants of the building.  Mr. Mazzarolo sprayed in the hallways and knocked on the doors of apartments, letting himself in to spray if there was no answer.Sylvia and Maurice Lavigne and their grandaughter

Sylvia Lavigne (shown in this recent photo with her husband and granddaughter) refused Mr. Mazzarolo entry to her apartment.  However, she nonetheless suffered physical symptoms that the Dispute Resolution Officer, S. Okada, found were likely the result of spraying the hallway.  Sylvia and her husband were also awarded damages for stress resulting from the spraying.

Their daughter, Nicola Lavigne, who lived in another apartment in the building with her infant daughter, did not hear Mr. Mazzarolo knock or enter her apartment, and was surprised to find him in her living room.  He sprayed her apartment and, according to her testimony to the Residential Tenancy Branch, assured her that the spray was not toxic.  She subsequently suffered headaches, stomach cramps and other symptoms that the Dispute Resolution Officer determined were likely caused by pesticide exposure. 

Okada awarded only minimal damages for the significant physical harm and stress suffered by the Lavignes.  However, she awarded both households “aggravated damages” due to Mr. Mazzarolo’s “egregious violations of the Residential Tenancy Act” and subsequent behaviour.  Okada found:

The landlord did not allow the tenants to properly prepare for or respond to the spraying, and he did not follow even the basic instructions on how to carry out the spraying… Despite [a] letter of apology, he continued to act … in such a manner toward the applicants that he caused them further stress and anxiety. Further, the evidence – including the landlord’s own testimony – suggests that the landlord purposely hid evidence of his use of Diazinon, that he only cooperated with cleanup of the building after having been directed to do so, and that after the spraying he continued to blame the [Lavignes] for the resulting tension among the tenants in the building. 

As a result, the Lavignes were awarded $10,000 in aggravated damages, on top of $1,950 for damages suffered. 

So far as West Coast Environmental Law is aware this is the first time in British Columbia that a landlord has been penalized for such a large amount for exposing tenants to pesticides.  We are proud to have been able to support the Lavignes in bringing this precedent setting claim. 

One of the best ways to avoid such conflicts is for landlords and tenants to be aware of their respective rights and duties.  In 2008 West Coast Environmental Law released Pesticides in your Home, part of the Pesticides and You booklet series, to educate tenants about their rights in relation to pesticides.  No one should have to go through what the Lavignes went through.  If you are a landlord, please consider using non-chemical pest control.  If you are a tenant, find out about your rights.