Abraham Berhe and his wife own a business called Afro Hair Studio on Commercial Drive, specializing in dreadlocks, cornrows and hair extensions.
The couple was planning to rent a property on East Hastings Street until the property management company, Coblenz Holdings, raised concerns the salon would jeopardize the business of another tenant — a barber — who’d been there 40 years.
Court documents show that Berhe alleged Coblenz Holdings wanted to change the terms of the signed tenancy agreement to restrict him and his wife from cutting white men's hair.
"We have a freedom to work hard and to support our family, but when it comes, like, not to cut white men's hair, we feel a little bit bad," said Berhe, who emigrated to Canada from Ethiopia 23 years ago.
The Berhes left the property in the midst of the dispute in February 2011, three months after the contract was signed.
B.C. Supreme Court Justice Linda Loo ruled that Coblenz Holdings did restrict the couple to "styling only for men with Afro-American hairstyles" after all parties had signed a tenancy contract which did not mention that restriction.
The judge said that Berhe was entitled to $67,706.50 for materials used to renovate the premises, breach of contract and legal costs.