Pay 73% more or the building gets it!
Residents at Seafield have been told they live in luxury apartments, but also that their homes are in poor shape
By Spencer Chandra Herbert, Special to the Sun December 22, 2010
Published Dec 22 in the Vancouver Sun
Photo By Ian Smith.
Imagine you live in an apartment building where your landlords believe you should pay 73 per cent more in rent. The landlords say your building is the same as ones with swimming pools, fitness centres, large decks and ocean views. They argue that your building is in the class of luxury apartments, is undervalued, and you should pay what others in similar great buildings pay, even if it means paying thousands more.
Now imagine you live in an apartment building that the landlords claim is falling apart. They say it has reached the end of its life, poses a fire hazard, and that the power blows out all the time. They want to evict you because the building is in such bad shape, and needs to be renovated as soon as possible or it could be finished.
Both scenarios are real, and if you live in the Se
afield apartment building in the West End, you are living both of them at the same time. The Seafield is a structurally sound building that was well-maintained by the previous landlord, with whom the tenants worked on several occasions to complete major upgrades. However, since July 2008, when the building was purchased by the current owners, the residents of the Seafield have gone to the Residential Tenancy Branch 13 separate times to challenge unfair practices and to fight to stay in their homes.
It’s as if the landlords are playing the villains in a bad movie with a gun to the building, saying: “Pay 73 per cent more, or the building gets it!”
How is this possible? How can someone be told in one year that they should pay 73 per cent more in rent because their building is so luxurious, and then the next that they must be evicted from the same building because the landlords now claim it is crumbling, and requires a building-wide overhaul.
It’s possible because in 2004 the B.C. Liberals made significant changes to the Residential Tenancy Act, throwing it out of balance, in favour of a few large landlord corporations, and at a loss to renters.
Now let’s think about another example in the West End. In the Emerald Terrace apartment building, 41 tenants received letters telling them they would be evicted because, according to the landlord, the renovations would be so disruptive that “by law” the residents must move out.
Some longtime residents took the landlord’s word and unhappily moved out of the neighbourhood they knew and loved. Other residents stayed, thinking an official eviction notice was on the way. It never came. The landlord’s crew came in, did the renovations with minimal disruption to the tenants, and left. There was no reason any of the tenants had to leave. The tenants who stayed called the landlord’s bluff and still have their homes, with the renovations complete. The ones who left had to pay higher rent in their new homes.
Most landlords want long-term tenants who treat their homes with respect, pay their rent on time and care for their community. A good tenant saves apartment owners money in the long run, and most building owners do whatever they can to keep long-term tenants. Many landlords in the West End do renovations with the tenants’ cooperation, or when they move out as about one in three choose to do every year. Unfortunately, a few unscrupulous landlords continue to use legislation which was meant to provide security of tenure, and a balance of rights and responsibilities between renters and landlords, to do just the opposite — force people out, and jack up rents over and above what they would legally be allowed to do in normal circumstances.
The Residential Tenancy Act as we know it is badly in need of reform. In B.C., it is far too easy for unscrupulous landlords to use this piece of legislation to force people out or seek huge rent increases. The fact is that this doesn’t happen in other provinces like Ontario, where there exists a more balanced tenancy act. The solutions are out there; the B.C. Liberal government just needs to act.
To go back to where this began. Where can you live in a building that is both supposedly worth 73 per cent more than you are paying because it is so luxurious, yet also crumbling and unfit for habitation?
Only in British Columbia with a Residential Tenancy Act badly in need of real renovation.
Spencer Chandra Herbert is the New Democrat MLA for Vancouver-West End.
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