Sandra Thomas, Vancouver Courier
On Monday afternoon another press conference was held in the West End in front of another apartment building where the tenants have been served eviction notices.
Sharon Isaak, a volunteer with the ad hoc Renters at Risk, said it’s a scenario that’s been playing out too often in the West End. She believes it’s the reason Liberal candidate Laura McDiarmid didn’t stand a chance running in the West End in Tuesday’s provincial election. The NDP’s Spencer Herbert, who won the riding in the provincial byelection last October, received 9,302 votes to McDiarmid’s 5,375.
“It’s fantastic that Spencer won,” said Isaak. “But the Liberals were in power yesterday, and they’re still in power today. We’re going to have to see if they change the legislation that caused this mess.” Renters rights have become a huge West End issue in the past year, particularly during the provincial byelection and last November’s municipal election. Renters advocates say the problems stem from changes to the Residential Tenancy Act in 2004 by the Liberals which allows landlords to raise rents beyond the 3.7 per cent annual limit, providing they can prove neighbouring buildings are charging higher rents. This “geographic profiling” was used by the owners of the Seafield Apartments on Pendrell Street to justify a proposed 73 per cent rent increase application.
The Residential Tenancy Office ruled last month the owners could increase the rent up to 38 per cent. Another change to the Act allows landlords to evict tenants to make way for renovations. In many cases, says renters activists, landlords have used the loophole to evict tenants, add a coat of paint to suites and then raise rents. Tenants living at the Berkeley on Bute Street were given “renoviction” notices this week and organized the press conference in response.
“I would like to see the Liberals revise the Act,” said Isaak. “It’s obvious the Act is flawed. Too many tenants are being evicted and with the Seafield ruling landlords are all going to try and raise their rents. But this is not a story about bad landlords, this is about bad government.”
Isaak said Herbert has worked to help tenants, including introducing a private members bill that would see the Act revised.
“I’m glad he’s on our side,” she said. Brian Garlick, who’s lived in the Berkeley for more than five years, said he’s glad Herbert won the riding but was disappointed the Liberals won the general election.
“I’m sorry the Liberals, or should I say the Socreds, got back into power,” said Garlick. “I know they’re not called Socreds, but a skunk by any other name is still a skunk.” The Social Credit party dominated B.C. government for almost four decades between 1952 and 1991, aside from a brief NDP administration from 1972 to 1975. It had fiscally conservative views on social welfare spending and loosened rent controls in the 1980s.
Garlick, who was diagnosed with HIV in 1986, said the Berkeley has been an ideal home because it’s close to St. Paul’s Hospital, where he receives treatment and also speaks to men and women with HIV and AIDS. Garlick said his situation caused him to pay close attention to the May 12 election and he now plans on volunteering to help Herbert fight for changes to the Residential Tenancy Act.
“I hope he’ll be able to keep his focus on this issue, but he’s got a lot of other responsibilities too,” said Garlick. “So I’m going to be there helping.”