Renters, politicians cry foul over outreach offices
For the second time in five months, the provincial government announced the opening of two new Residential Tenancy Branch outreach offices in Vancouver’s downtown, one at 518 Richards Street and another at 390 Main Street. Openings of the same offices were first announced days before the October 29 provincial by-election last year. According to a March 18 media release issued by the B.C. Ministry of Housing and Social Development, the Richards Street office – located in a single-room-occupancy hotel, where it shares office space with BC Housing – will be open weekdays from 8:30 a.m. to 12 p.m.; the Main Street office, which occupies free space provided by the City of Vancouver, will be open weekday afternoons. The only other Residential Tenancy Branch in the Lower Mainland is located in Burnaby, at 5021 Kingsway Street.
In addition to their unusually limited business hours, the actual functionality of the new Residential Tenancy Offices (RTOs) remains a mystery to those who have tried to access its services, including Sharon Isaak, co-founder of West End-based tenant advocacy group Renters at Risk. “The one on Richards really has no signage, and doesn’t appear to be a functioning government office,” she says, having attempted to visit the office in the past week to inquire about an eviction. “It looks like there should be somebody there, but nobody ever answers [the door].”
Christine Ackermann, who fought an eviction from her West End apartment building last May and has since been an active volunteer with Renters at Risk, encountered similar problems with the new offices. “There’s no activity, there’s no office, there’s no signs, nobody there can tell us anything about it,” she says. “This announcement does nothing to protect B.C. renters, and it’s not even a promise that’s been fulfilled. I invite [B.C. Housing Minister] Rich Coleman to meet us down at that office and show us what [we clearly] must be in error about, if he [has made] an announcement that it’s open.”