Evictions by renovation hit Victoria
Mayor wants action from province to stop unwarranted rent increases
By Bill Cleverley, Times Colonist, February 17, 2009
Victoria Mayor Dean Fortin wants the province to take action to stem the tide of eviction by renovation some say is washing over the city.
Under provincial legislation, a landlord planning a major renovation to a rental unit can evict a tenant with two months notice. After the renovation, the landlord is free to jack the rent as high as he wants — escaping a cap set by provincial legislation.
“They can only give an annual rent increase of five per cent. But if someone leaves, they can jack it up as high as they wish,” Fortin said yesterday.
Fortin said that some landlords are doing surface renovations, rather than substantive work, and then increasing the rent from $200 to $400.
Victoria, with a vacancy rate of 0.2 per cent, can’t afford to lose affordable rental housing like this, he added.
Fortin and Coun. Pam Madoff want council to pass a resolution calling on the province to close “the loophole” in the Residential Tenancy Act.
“The loophole is this substantial renovation, where in essence, what we’re finding is that they’re doing one-day replacing carpets and then renting it out the next day,” Fortin said.
Madoff said the issue has been a major problem in Vancouver and is surfacing here. “There is just a real concern there isn’t accountability to it,” she said.
James Bay resident Mick Rhodes has challenged the eviction notice he received New Year’s Eve to vacate the apartment he’s lived in for six years.
The reason he was given for the notice was that his landlord wanted to upgrade the kitchen and the bathroom. Rhodes said no one has ever entered his suite to check on the condition of either room.
Since receiving the notice, Rhodes has been finding dozens of people, in his and other buildings, who have received similar notices.
“It’s flagrant,” said Rhodes. “Every month, more and more people are being served eviction notices. People are being tossed out.”
Apartment Owners and Property Managers Association CEO Al Kemp has no doubt there are some cases of the “renovictions” occurring.
However, he said, the legislation already provides a remedy if a tenant believes the landlord is being unscrupulous.
Tenants have the right to challenge an eviction notice and whether the renovations do fall under the category of major is then decided by a dispute resolution officer.
The landlord has to prove both that the renovation is major and that there is some reason it has to happen now, said Kemp.
Further, if the landlord doesn’t carry out a planned renovation, they are automatically subject to an additional fine equal to two months rent.
Kemp said a renovation like replacing carpet with laminate flooring or repainting would not qualify.
However, he said there are legitimate reasons for a landlord to issue a renovation eviction.
“Sometimes landlords get caught by the fire department or the building inspector who say as of today you have to do major renovations to your electrical systems to accommodate a fire alarm system.”
Fortin will also seek council’s approval to instruct bylaw enforcement staff not to close down buildings that may be substandard, but instead to work with owners to upgrade them.
The city has the authority under the Community Charter to order that buildings be brought up to health and safety standards, Fortin said.
“We want our staff to exercise their discretion. Rather than close buildings down and take low rent and affordable housing out of the stock, we want them to keep it going but take care of the health and safety issues.
“Nobody wants to see someone die in a fire. Nobody wants to see someone sick because of [building] health issues. But no one want to see people made homeless.”