Renters rally to protect rights against unfair evictions

Renters rally to protect rights against unfair evictions

By Kelly Sinoski, Vancouver Sun May 7, 2011

NDP MLA Spencer Chandra Herbert joins Vancouver tenants to stand up to landlords trying to evict long-term renters from a Kitsilano-Point Grey apartment complex and to call for stronger eviction protection laws in Vancouver, BC., May 7, 2011. Daved Eby (l) with Tim and Amy Bratton on the right. David Eby, NDP candidate in the provincial byelection in the Point Grey constituency, is in the background to the left of Chandra Herbert.  Photograph by: Nick Procaylo, PNG

VANCOUVER – For five years, Amy Bratton never had any trouble with the landlords of her Kitsilano suite. They even knocked money off her rent when she took care and maintained the seven-unit building.

But that all changed eight months ago when the landlords decided to sell the stucco-covered house-turned-apartment building at the corner of Balsam and 3rd Avenue to new owners.

Now Bratton and her husband Tim say they are facing a so-called “renoviction” — a tactic in which landlords attempt to kick out renters under the guise of renovating the suites before substantially raising the rents.

The trend, which began in the West End 2007, is spreading across the region as landlords use tactics such as not replacing lights and increasing laundry costs, to force long-term tenants out.

Within days of taking ownership last December, the new landlords in the Bratton’s building renovated an empty suite and raised the rent from $750 to $1,075 — the same amount the Brattons pay for their one-bedroom suite. “It’s been a real source of frustration,” Tim Bratton said. “This is a place we have made our first home in … we feel powerless to do anything about it. The current law does not provide enough protection for us as tenants.”

The Brattons were among about 30 people — including NDP MLA Spencer Chandra Herbert and Vancouver-Point Grey byelection candidate David Eby — who rallied in the rain outside their apartment building Saturday to raise awareness of their plight and call for the Liberal government to impose stronger eviction protection laws to balance the rights of both landlords and tenants.

Many carried placards reading: Eviction: Are you next? and No tenant in B.C. safe from renoviction.

“I’ve seen this story play out again and again across B.C.,” said Herbert, who has introduced new legislation aimed at prohibiting landlords from using the tactics. “The vast majority of landlords are good. They work with residents. They don’t attempt to kick people out so they can jack up the rents.”

Herbert noted in some cases, the renovation only involves a fresh coat of paint and new cabinets yet the rent is inflated by 73 per cent.

The renoviction situation first arose in Vancouver’s West End, where residents continue to fight against what they say is a legal loophole in the Residential Tenancy Act that allows for such evictions.

Many of the people at Saturday’s rally were survivors of other apartments where renovation notices had been served.

The residents want changes to Section 49 (6) (b), of the act. It says a landlord may end a tenancy if the landlord has all the necessary permits and intends in good faith, to renovate or repair the rental unit in a manner that requires the rental unit to be vacant.

More than 50 buildings have been tracked for renovictions in the past few years, according to Sharon Isaak, of Renters at Risk, who is still at her West End apartment after fighting her own eviction notice in the courts.

But Isaak noted that many tenants tend to give in because they don’t have the time, money or energy to fight the eviction notices, especially once the landlord starts withholding services or ripping up carpets, making their home seem uninhabitable.

“Tenants don’t want to go public about it; it’s too stressful,” she said. “It wasn’t that widespread before but now more people are doing it.”

Eby, who is running against Premier Christy Clark for the Vancouver-Point Grey seat in a byelection Wednesday, promised to work with tenants and stand up for renters.

Bratton, who has lived in the suite for five years — and the last eight months with Tim after they got married — said the landlords have given them a smaller storage space with no electrical lighting and have not replaced the light bulbs at the front and back of the building.

“It’s been stressful,” she said.

Added Tim: “This has shown us how vulnerable we are as renters. You don’t know when a landlord can come in and push you around. We have the resources to move and relocate but we know a lot of people who can’t.”

Renoviction Ruline Highlights Inconsistencies in RTB decisions

Renoviction Ruling Highlights Inconsistencies in RTB decisions

Published in the Westender

03/02/2011 12:00 AM

Mark Moore says the Residential Tenancy office is shrouded in secrecy and stacked against renters. Credit: Jessica Barrett

Mark Moore, Christine Brandt and Andrew Simmons stood outside the West End’s Seafield Apartments on a bitingly cold Wednesday morning trading war stories.

The trio had turned out to support 15 of the building’s tenants who last week learned they’d successfully fought mass evictions by their landlords, Gordon Nelson Investments Inc. But as the press conference dissipated, the three neighbours lingered to recount their own David-and-Goliath battles against landlords who’ve been attempting to evict entire buildings in the West End.

The Seafielders may have won this time, but the way these neighbours see it, the victory highlights serious inconsistencies in rulings by dispute resolution officers with the Residential Tenancy Branch (RTB) and an overall lack of transparency in the bureaucratic framework intended to protect renters’ rights.

“Really, it’s not a very transparent system at all,” says Simmons, a resident at nearby Emerald Terrace, who has successfully fought eviction by landlord Hollyburn Properties.

“No it’s not, there’s no sunshine, which is really antithetical to a democracy,” replies Brandt, joined by her partner Moore. After leading the fight against evictions in the building, the couple and their young son were evicted from the Seafield in mid-October after a dispute resolution officer (DRO) rejected their argument the order to vacate their two-bedroom suite to make way for a live-in property manager had been made in bad faith.

Moore says the experience was the last straw in dealing with a system that, in his opinion, seems shrouded in secrecy and stacked against renters. “We don’t know who these people are, we don’t know how they get their jobs, we don’t even know what their first names are because  they’ll only give you an initial,” says Moore of the DROs in charge of hearings at the RTB.

A look at decisions posted by the provincial agency illustrates his point. Want to find out if a certain landlord or tenant has a habit of showing up in dispute resolution hearings? Tough. Decisions published on the RTB site have been scrubbed of all identifying details of the parties involved. Wondering whether a certain DRO has a tendency to side with landlords over tenants, or vice versa? No dice. There won’t be any details on the individuals deciding the case, either.

According to a spokesperson for the Ministry of Public Safety and Solicitor General, qualifications for DROs include “experience in binding and legal decision-making in an administrative law setting,” but publicly released decisions by the RTB are stripped of identifying details in order to protect the privacy of participants.

“All decisions are published and universally accessible, however identifying information is removed from them,” the spokesperson wrote in an e-mail to WE. The e-mail also explained “the RTB has the same jurisdiction as the Provincial Court, and the decisions belong to the participants.”

But while decisions released by provincial courts and virtually every other quasi-judicial body in B.C., such as the BC Human Rights Tribunal or the Employment Standards Tribunal, clearly state identities of arbitrators and disputing parties in most cases, the RTB is exempt.

For renters like Simmons of Emerald Terrace, that practice seems engineered to keep renters in the dark about landlords’ track records. “So you can look at 10, 20, 30 decisions online and not know that it’s 30 decisions in a row against the same landlords,” he says.

Lawyer Scott Bernstein with PIVOT Legal Society, agrees the practice is dubious and unique among legislative tribunals in the province.

“I think it really speaks ill for accountability of dispute resolution officers and the Residential Tenancy Branch as a whole,” he told WE in a phone interview. “When you choose to litigate something in the courts, you have to make a special application for having your name taken off the header… I think maybe it should be the same way.”

Having information of the parties and arbitrators publicly available would help renters identify pattern behaviours, Bernstein continued.

“It would reveal systemic issues of how landlords treat their tenants and take care of the buildings and so on.” PIVOT currently has a mandate to conduct legal outreach on renters’ issues, he added.

Whether landlords’ records should be taken into account in dispute resolution hearings is another issue facing renters. Bernstein stopped short of saying DROs should be compelled to take previous decisions against landlords or tenants into account in dispute hearings, but there should be more consistency in rulings by the RTB.

“If your neighbour got one kind of a ruling from one dispute resolution officer and you bring in the same facts and the same situation against the same landlord, you should have the same ruling,” he said.

For many West End residents that has not been the case. Sharon Isaak of the non-profit group Renters at Risk cites her experience in 2006 when landlord Hollyburn Properties were evicting residents, floor-by-floor, from Bay Towers to conduct renovations.

“We had mixed decisions coming out of the RTO. I won, and then every other floor lost and the arguments and the evidence were identical,” she said. “It was this storm of mixed decisions coming out… it was this whole mentality of divide and conquer.”

Former Seafielders Moore and Brandt are still dismayed by their unsuccessful dispute hearing last October. A copy of the decision in their case supplied by the tenants shows the DRO, identified only as D. Bryant, refused to allow them to present previous tenants as supporting witnesses. Nor did he take the landlords’ prior behaviour in evicting previous tenants, or their unsuccessful bid for a 73-per-cent rent increase, into account. However the past behaviour of Gordon Nelson Investments figured prominently in the most recent decision by one D. Vaughn, another DRO, who ruled in favour of the remaining Seafield tenants who’d claimed their eviction notices had been issued in bad faith.

“They’re given a lot of latitude what evidence to accept,” said Moore of the adjudicators. “They don’t have to follow the kind of rules of evidence that a court would. They can decide what evidence they want to hear, what evidence they don’t want to hear.”

A spokesperson for the ministry explained the discrepancy between the two cases was due to differing evidence. “The applications for this particular matter were not for the same things, the evidence differed, therefore, the outcome was different,” she wrote.

WE’s request for an interview with Rich Coleman, the minister in charge of the RTB, was denied.

reporter@westender.com

Landlord sells building after tenants win

Ownership of an apartment building located in the heart of the gay village has changed hands following the announcement of a Residential Tenancy Branch (RTB) ruling that overturned the landlord’s attempt to evict several tenants to carry out renovations.

For David Bronstein (right) and his partner, Donald Ransom, the eviction fight took its toll. The couple decided to move out of Seafield last July after Ransom suffered a heart attack. “We felt we were forced to move,” Bronstein said.

Jason Gordon of Gordon Nelson Investments says his company has sold the Seafield building at 1436 Pendrell St for $3,688,000 – nearly $240,000 more than what it was purchased for in 2008.

The sale was announced Feb 23, following the RTB’s ruling.

Gordon would not disclose the identity of the buyers, but says he expects the deal to be closed on March 1.

“It’s been an absolute clusterfuck for everyone involved,” Gordon says of the two-year dispute, the reason he gave for selling the building.

Dispute resolution officer D Vaughn stated in the decision that “on a balance of probabilities,” Gordon Nelson Investments’ claim that it needed to evict tenants to undertake renovations is “undermined by their ulterior, primary motive of achieving a substantial rent increase.”

Vaughn also stated that he suspected the landlords served the notices to end tenancy because they were “unsuccessful in their attempt to achieve significantly higher rates for the rental units in question.”

“We hope this is a signal to other developers and other landlords that it’s not going to be easy to kick tenants out,” Douglas King, a lawyer for the tenants, said during a press conference held outside the Seafield building on Feb 23.

“We’re here today to celebrate a victory,” agreed Vancouver-West End MLA Spencer Chandra Herbert.

However, despite the celebrations, tenants and housing advocates say more must be done.

“We’ve won today but the war remains,” Chandra Herbert said. “For every building like the Seafield there could be dozens of buildings that don’t fight – that give up,” he said.

“It’s good news for the Seafielders but it [also] points out that changes need to be made to the whole [Residential Tenancy Act],” added Andrew Simmons of Emerald Terrace apartments, another West End complex that has also been embroiled in eviction hearings with their landlord Hollyburn.

“Why is it that tenants have to enforce the law?” Simmons asked.

Seafield tenant Melissa Mewdell said the Residential Tenancy Act is “broken,” and must be addressed to stop landlords from using “predatory business tactics.”

“I’m not sure how a system that allows this to happen in the first place can be called a working system,” she added. “It’s really no way to live,” she said of the constant worry of losing her home. “We have lost people to this [battle] and not everyone can fight.”

For David Bronstein and his partner, Donald Ransom, the fight took its toll and the couple decided to move out of Seafield last July after Ransom suffered a heart attack. “We felt we were forced to move,” Bronstein told Xtra, adding that the stress of “not knowing day to day what would happen next,” was just too much for the aging couple.

“This [win] never would have happened if it weren’t for that hard work of the Seafielders,” King pointed out, adding that “we are not sure this is the end of the issue.”

He called on the federal government to take notice of the problem. “It’s not just a provincial issue, it’s a national issue,” he argued.

As the Seafielders celebrate their victory, Gordon says his company has washed their hands of any ongoing and further action against the tenants.

“The deal is over,” Gordon said. But he too predicts the tenants’ fight will be an ongoing on.

“They’re never going to win this,” he says. “The next owners will want [market value] rent. This issue is not going to end.”

West End tenants win ‘renoviction’ case

West End tenants win ‘renoviction’ case

BY: ROBYN SMITH
Vancouver— Globe and Mail Update

Published Wednesday, Feb. 23, 2011 5:40PM EST
Last updated Wednesday, Feb. 23, 2011 6:00PM EST

 

After a two-and-a-half year long battle, a tight-knit community of tenants in Vancouver’s West End will not be forced to leave their homes for renovations.

B.C.’s Residential Tenancy Branch ruled that the landlords of the 80-year-old Seafield apartment building acted “in bad faith” by attempting to evict tenants under the pretence of renovating.

The decision comes after a series of disputes between landlords Gordon Nelson Inc. and the tenants of 1436 Pendrell St.

After purchasing the building in 2008, the landlords served tenants with an eviction notice to leave their apartments for two months or face rent increases.

According to Brian Broster, who has lived in the Seafield for 17 years, the tenants protested the notice. The dispute was taken to the Residential Tenancy Branch, where the landlords applied for approval to hike rents up to 73 per cent. The tenancy branch approved a rent increase of up to 38 per cent, but the tenants appealed that decision in court. The landlords’ application to raise the rent was returned back to the tenancy branch for a rehearing, which was dismissed entirely in Oct. 2010.

Ten days after the dismissal, the landlords served the tenants with another eviction notice for renovation.

The Residential Tenancy Act permits landlords to evict tenants for renovations and to raise rents once the units come back on the market. Some landlords have used the pretence of renovations to turn out renters paying less than market rates, an act casually known as a “renoviction.” However, a dispute resolution officer with the Residential Tenancy Branch ruled the timing of the later eviction notice demonstrated the landlords’ “ulterior, primary motive of achieving a substantial rent increase,” and cancelled the eviction notices.

Mr. Broster called the decision a “victory” for renters.

“The process of collecting evidence against these landlords is onerous. It’s a full-time job, and everyone is this building has cohesively pulled together to fight every single broadside attack from these landlords,” he said.West End tenants win ‘renoviction’ case

 

Vancouver Apartment Owner Acted in Bad Faith

Vancouver Apartment Owner Acted in Bad Faith, Residential Tenancy Branch rules

Originally posed in the Vancouver Sun

By Jeff Lee, Vancouver Sun February 23, 2011 10:03 AM

VANCOUVER – A West End apartment owner acted in bad faith in trying to mass-evict the 14 tenants of his building 10 days after failing to win a 73 per cent rent increase, the Residential Tenancy Branch ruled Monday.

 

In a decision hailed by legal aid lawyers as a rare and strongly-worded rebuke, the branch overturned eviction notices issued by Gordon Nelson Inc. last year for residents of the three-storey Seafield Apartments at 1436 Pendrell St.

 

Adjudicator D. Vaughn said he accepted the residents’ arguments that Gordon Nelson’s motive for trying to evict them was likely in retribution for their successfully beating back the rent increases.

 

“In the circumstances before me I find that, on a balance of probabilities, the landlord was not acting in good faith when they served the tenants with notices to end tenancy,” he wrote. “Rather, I find it likely that the (notices) were served because the landlord was unsuccessful in their attempt to achieve significantly higher rates of rent for the rental units in question.”

 

The decision is the third major setback for Gordon Nelson, which bought the 75-year-old building in 2008. Almost immediately it issued rent increases of 73 per cent. Some of the residents had lived there since 1960 and all were considered long-term tenants.

 

The residents challenged the rents before the Residential Tenancy Branch, which instead approved an increase of 38 per cent. The residents then appealed for a judicial review, and B.C. Supreme Court set aside the increase and sent the case back to the branch for reconsideration. The branch subsequently sided with the residents and in November, 2010 threw out the rent increase entirely.

 

Ten days later Gordon Nelson served eviction notices to everyone saying it needed the building empty to carry out renovations. The tenants said none of the repairs required them to move out.

 

In his ruling, Vaughn said it was likely that Gordon Nelson bought the building with the intent of evicting the residents on mass in order to raise rents. He also said the timing of the eviction notices was suspect, coming almost immediately after the company lost the judicial review.

 

“Therefore, I find that the landlord is attempting to end these tenancies in bad faith,” the adjudicator wrote.

 

Don King, a staff lawyer for Pivot Legal Society, which represented the tenants, hailed the ruling.

 

“The decision was basically that the owner was operating in bad faith, and that’s not an easy thing to get from the Residential Tenancy Branch,” he said. “That’s an important finding.”

 

He said the ruling doesn’t protect the tenants from yet another notice of eviction or rent increase. But he said Gordon Nelson can’t use the same arguments of needing vacancy in order to carry out repairs.

 

jefflee@vancouversun.com

 

 

19 Emerald Terrace Tenants Win 4th Dispute Against Landlord at Residential Tenancy Branch

JANUARY 23, 2010

VANCOUVER – Tenants asserting persecution and intimidation by their landlord, Hollyburn Properties Limited, have been vindicated with their most recent win at the Residential Tenancy Branch.

Emerald Terrace Residents Speak Out At Press Conference Today

Emerald Terrace is the rental building where Hollyburn has employed numerous tactics in order to circumvent a BC Supreme Court ruling preventing them from evicting tenants for cosmetic renovations. Tactics include providing misinformation to tenants through “Resident Opinion Polls” in an effort to scare them out of the building and bogus letters stating their tenancies would end. Hollyburn also tried to evict 83-year old Lynn Stevens, a 40 year tenant battling cancer, because they claimed they needed her suite for a resident manager. Hollyburn’s attempt to evict 10 pet owners in 2009 was also thwarted when those tenants filed for dispute resolution at the RTB and had the evictions set aside.

Excerpts from Dispute Resolution Officer K. Millar’s decision:

“I find that the landlord deliberately misinformed the tenants regarding the impact of the plumbing re-pipe.”

I find that the misinformation above had that effect on the tenants and that as a result they were deprived of the right to live in an environment free from intimidation.”

“While to a non-resident the Opinion Poll can be taken to show the landlord’s commitment to upgrade the building which presumably would benefit the tenants, I accept that for the residents of the building it assumed a more sinister air.”

“Emerald Terrace is the tip of the iceberg” explains resident Cynthia Holmes. “These tactics have been exposed only because the tenants in this building had the wherewithal to fight. There is something wrong with the system and the legislation when landlord accountability is entirely dependent on tenant action.”

“Although the amount awarded really does not adequately compensate us for our troubles, I am happy that the decision is in our favour” says 82-year old tenant Les McBride. “My wife Olwen passed away and I believe the stress and anxiety caused by Hollyburn had a significant impact on her health during her final days.”

 

Hollyburn Ruins Honeymoon, Offers Newlyweds an Eviction Notice Instead of Finishing Promised Renovations

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Dec 29,2010

HOLLYBURN PROPERTIES FORCES COUPLE TO CANCEL HONEYMOON OVER RENOVATIONS, THEN RENEGES ON PROMISES

VANCOUVER BC – Newlyweds Steve and Daniela Correia are at the Residential Tenancy Branch (RTB) today seeking justice after Hollyburn Properties Limited (Hollyburn) forced them to cancel their honeymoon to complete renovations in their rental suite, then reneged on doing the work. Hollyburn even threatened to evict the newlyweds when they complained about the unfinished repairs.

In 2010, Steve and Daniela moved into a renovated unit at Emerald Terrace, located at 2045 Nelson Street. They were shocked to discover that many tenants have been subjected to numerous unnecessary and illegal eviction tactics the tenants believe Hollyburn employs in order to jack up rents since buying the building three years ago. Former evictees include cancer patient Lynn Stevens, 82, who has lived in the building for 42 years and 10 pet owners, including many seniors, who successfully disputed Hollyburn eviction notices at the RTB in January 2009.

After experiencing a host of problems in their poorly renovated and unfinished suite, the Correias made an agreement with Hollyburn to change suites within the building. Hollyburn was adamant that the moving date must be August 15, despite being informed the couple were going away on their honeymoon during this time. The Correias canceled their honeymoon to accommodate Hollyburn’s schedule, only to find that when they moved to their new suite on August 15, they once again found their new unit had shoddy and unfinished renovations.

“We are not asking for anything special, we are paying for a renovated unit and we just want Hollyburn to complete the maintenance and renovations they promised under our rental agreement” says Steve Correia. “Hollyburn has done everything they can to avoid living up to their obligations, including fabricating charges of suite damage and threatening us with eviction.” The dispute with Hollyburn has taken a significant toll on the couple emotionally. “Hollyburn’s treatment has left us with many sleepless nights” says Daniela Correia. “We are always on edge, wondering what Hollyburn will try next. Instead of finishing the repairs we requested, we were threatened with an eviction notice.”

“We have been renters all over the world and never have we been treated so badly by our landlord, who claims to be customer service oriented” says Steve Correia. “How does a company like this keep an A+ Better Business Bureau rating while so flagrantly disregarding residential tenancy laws?”

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Click here to see more information about  current RTB disputes, ongoing news and tenant stories at Emerald Terrace

 

Media contact:    mail@rentersatrisk.ca

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