Seafield Tenants win at BC Supreme Court – Landlord Denied 38% RTO Rent Increases

Seafield Tenants win at BC Supreme Court –Gordon Nelson Investments Denied 38% RTO Rent Increases and Ordered to Refunds  Tenants

January 13, 2010
Sharon Isaak

The Seafielders and BC renters won a monumental victory at the BC Supreme Court today. Madame Justice Loo’s decision overturned the RTO’s decision giving 15-38% rent increases to the Seafield’s new owners, Gordon Nelson Investments Inc,  and ordered refunds  of  the   additional rent increases the tenants have already paid resulting from the RTO decision.

In April 2009, Dispute Resolution Officer K. Miller delivered an unprecedented RTO decision ordering up to nearly $500/month increases to some tenants at the Seafield.  The DRO’s decision was based only on several higher priced units chosen from the landlord’s evidence, and she refused to consider the tenants extensive evidence showing their units were priced similarly to other comparable units in the same geographic area, and in line with current CMHC guidelines for average rents in the area.

However, BC Supreme Court Justice Loo disagreed with the DRO’s decision, and overturned it based on patently unreasonable errors in law and fact. The DRO’s refusal to consider the tenants evidence was at the heart of the appeal. The matter is remitted back to a new DRO at the RTO for another hearing.  This is not the first time DRO K. Miller’s decisions have been overturned at Judicial review on this very issue of additional rent increases.

The BC Residential Tenancy Act limits yearly rent increases to 3.7% in 2009,  except under a relatively new 2004 RTA Regulation that allows landlords to apply for additional rent increases in a geographic area on units “significantly” below rents in the area.  Soaring rents over the last three years have triggered some landlords to use this clause as a way to catch up  longer term renters to peak market values in an area and get around yearly  rent increase limits, which was not the intent of the regulation.

This is a huge victory and the first bright light for BC renters since the Berry Court Decision in 2007 overturning DRO K Miller’s Renoviction decision at Bay Towers.  It means a landlord doesn’t just get a free ride to to leverage the “Geographic Area Increase  clause for easily obtained and exorbitant market rent increases based on a few top priced rental units in the area as evidence.  Tenants will now have a stronger legal leg to stand on if they fight similar additional rent increase cases at the RTO.

BC Renters owe a large debt to the Seafield tenants, who have lived under extreme stress since the building was bought by Gordon Nelson Investments over a year ago, and yet had the courage, determination and support, to see this case through to the Supreme Court of BC.

The four key points overruling the RTO decision are:

• That the Dispute Resolution Officer (DRO) “failed to comply with the statutory requirement” by not considering the Tenants’ evidence. Madam Justice wrote: “…the Officer must consider the Tenants’ relevant submissions. It defies common sense to imagine an affected tenant…would make a submission showing that there are rental units that attract higher rents.”

• That the DRO was “patently unreasonable” in awarding the landlord an above normal rent increase when the landlord had only two “comparable” units demonstrating their case. (In contrast, our evidence – which was disregarded – contained scores of comparable units, in some cases even identical, at similar or lower rents). She wrote: “…it is doubtful that s. 23(1)(a) requires merely two comparator units.”

• The DRO made an error of law by basing her analysis on rents before (rather than after) the regular annual rent increase (3.7%) permitted under the law;

• The Judge concluded that “the officer made a patently unreasonable factual error” when the DRO granted the rent increase based on apartments that were not, in fact, comparable to units at the Seafield by her own admission.

Increased vacancy rates offer little relief for renters

Westender:  By Jackie Wong
12/23/2009 12:00 AM

Although rental-housing vacancies in and around Vancouver have risen during the past year, finding affordable housing and navigating B.C.’s residential tenancy legislation hasn’t gotten easier, according to housing advocate Sharon Isaak. In her first months working as a seniors’ housing outreach worker for Gordon Neighbourhood House, a multi-use facility that has been a hub of the West End community for decades, Isaak has been swamped with visits from people in search of affordable or subsidized housing, both of which are in short supply in many neighbourhoods.

“Public awareness [of tenancy issues] is much higher than it was three years ago,” says Isaak. “The market was so tight three years ago that it triggered a whole wave of reno-victions” — evictions for the purpose of renovations, after which rents are often significantly increased — “to capitalize on market forces. Tenants are aware of that now. What hasn’t changed is the number of tenants who challenge their evictions at the [Residential Tenancy Office]. Most tenants still find the system far too complicated, and they give up.”

Isaak’s weekly drop-in sessions at Gordon Neighbourhood House have drawn unexpectedly high attendance since they began in mid-October. “They don’t have a lot of resources to turn to,” she says of the attendees. “There’s a few tenant-help groups, there’s a few advocates out there, but it’s largely an underground community that’s hard to access for the average tenant.”

While the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation’s Fall 2009 rental-market report shows that Vancouver-and-area vacancy rates have increased to 3.6 per cent (up 1.7 per cent from last fall), rental rates are still higher than in 2008. In addition, few purpose-built rental units have been added to the total housing stock. “People aren’t finding affordable places, even though the vacancy rate is up,” Isaak says, adding that the market is now skewed towards short-term renters. “People stay a year, for their lease, and then move out because they can’t afford the rent.”

When addressing an unfair eviction or a tenant-landlord dispute at the Residential Tenancy Office (RTO), tenants continue to face process-related difficulties, particularly since most hearings now take place over the phone. In a February 2008 B.C. Supreme Court case between a tenant and Dispute Resolution Officers under the Residential Tenancy Act, Hon. Mr. Justice Joel Groves recommended that B.C.’s RTO amend its policy regarding telephone conferences. Vancouver-West End MLA Spencer Herbert’s staff has been privy to a number of cases in which a dysfunctional phone-conferencing system at the RTO has cost tenants a fair assessment of their dispute.

“What’s concerning for me is this [Groves] case was last year, but we’re still hearing about people with the same problems,” Herbert says. “It’s something we’ve been hearing for years from tenants, and from landlords, too.”

Most recently, with the Olympics less than two months away, reported disputes have led to renewed discussion about Olympics-related evictions. Earlier this month, a group of East Vancouver tenants went to the media to claim their eviction was related to their landlord seeking Games-related profits. But for renters like Katrin Lohuaru, the motives for her own eviction from a shared Cambie Street heritage house are less clear.

“The landlord is intending to completely renovate the house we’re living in… We received a letter from him on the first of December, asking us to vacate by the end of February, possibly sooner,” Lohuaru says. “The notice he gave us wasn’t on the official form; he’s not actually allowed to ask us to go unless he has all of his building permits in place.”

Even so, the landlord’s explicit intention to evict his tenants for renovations was enough to motivate Lohuaru to move, but she says it was impossible to find a new rental with comparable location and price. “I’d been looking on Craigslist for a new place, [and] I’ve found that the sublet category particularly is saturated with Olympic rentals, which are grossly more expensive than the suites would be otherwise,” she says.

Since Lohuaru’s eviction has not been made official by her landlord, she can’t dispute it at the RTO, and is not eligible for a break on her final month’s rent to cover the costs of moving. “Unless a landlord gives us legal notice, it puts us in a very vulnerable position,” she says.

While Lohuaru is extremely knowledgeable about her rights as a tenant, wisdom, unfortunately, comes with experience: This is the third time she’s experienced an unofficial eviction for home renovations. More proof, perhaps, of Isaak’s assertion that B.C.’s residential tenancy system needs revision.

Conference calls no way to settle tenant-landlord disputes

Easy to get that disconnected feeling:
Conference calls no way to settle tenant-landlord disputes

By Jon Ferry, The Province
December 16, 2009

It’s cold, it’s hard to get work and it’s tough to find an affordable place to rent these days, particularly in Metro Vancouver. Which is why the government must do all it can to ensure tenants aren’t being gouged.

When landlord-tenant disputes arise, B.C.’s housing ministry is supposed to resolve them through prompt and fair hearings, not leave either party on hold.

The trouble is, the vast majority of these hearings now are done by telephone conference call. And that, according to Vancouver-West End NDP MLA Spencer Herbert, is causing numerous problems — for seniors, the hard of hearing, those with limited English or those who simply get lost in the phone system.

“In some cases, they have called in at the appointed time, but have never been dialled through to the case, leading to their case being dismissed,” Herbert told me. “In many cases, the people I have spoken with have just given up or accepted rulings that might have been thrown out, had they had a fairer and more even process.”

Some landlords also find the conference calls frustrating. But it’s usually the tenants who come off worse, especially if they’re battling big property owners with seasoned staff.

Vancouver housing advocate Leslie Stern, who’s just been evicted from the False Creek townhome she has lived in for 25 years, says telephone hearings are impersonal and mechanical: “Everything seems biased towards a developer or a landlord who has staff and means.”

And Sharon Isaak, co-founder of the tenants’ rights group Renters at Risk, stresses they can be very confusing. “They say they’re making it streamlined, but it’s not,” she said, adding it’s nearly impossible for tenants who want a face-to-face hearing to get one.

Vernon mom June Ross, though, took on the system and won. Her 2007 application to recover money owed her by her landlord was initially dismissed by a dispute-resolution adjudicator on the grounds she’d failed to show up for the arranged telephone hearing.

That decision was upheld by a second adjudicator, but later dismissed by the B.C. Supreme Court.

The court found Ross had, in fact, followed instructions and had stayed on the line until it simply went dead. Indeed, Justice Joel Groves ordered the dispute to be reheard because the two adjudicators had “breached the rules of natural justice.”

Justice Groves said it was certainly not the first time in his experience that this type of problem had arisen, and he urged the Residential Tenancy Branch to provide a separate line for those experiencing call problems.

The B.C. housing ministry told me it appreciated both the court’s decision and its recommendation regarding hearing procedures. A spokesman said: “We do treat the process seriously.”

Well, if that’s the case, the ministry should make it seriously easier for folks to attend hearings in person — and not just at one Lower Mainland location.

Basic fairness is being compromised here. And tenants, as well as some landlords, are being left out in the cold.

© Copyright (c) The Province

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Local Groups Launch The West End Seniors Affordable Housing Initiative

In response to the alarming loss of affordable rental housing in the West End, a partnership of community groups is launching the West End Seniors Affordable Housing Initiative to help renters at risk of losing their homes.

Gordon Neighbourhood House is partnering with the West End Residents Aassociation (WERA), Women In Search of Housing Society (WISHS), The West End Seniors Network (WESN) and local rental advocate, Sharon Isaak from Renters At Risk.  The program aims to deliver much-needed rental housing assistance to older West End residents caught in the current affordable housing crisis.

Renovictions, rising market rents, above-guideline rent increases, and changes to the Residential Tenancy Act are all factors forcing many long-term renters out of the West End community. Seniors and older adults in the West End are particularly vulnerable to being displaced from their homes.

The West End Affordable Housing Initiative (WESAHI) recognizes that the ability to age in place is fundamentally important to a sustainable community, and aims to support West End seniors to stay in their rental homes.

This Initiative will deliver both practical education about tenancy laws and provide direct support by connecting seniors to programs and existing resources in the community in three ways.

1. Seniors Housing Outreach Coordinator

Sharon Isaak will be available at Gordon Neighbourhood house on Thursday mornings to assist West End residents with their local rental housing concerns.  Make an appointment by calling 604-683-2554 or email isaaksharon@gmail.com

2. FORUM 1: The Right to Rent: Aging in Place

Sunday Nov 22/2009 at 2 pm  At Gordon Neighbourhood House

Tenants Resource Advisory Centre (TRAC), the Seniors Services Society and the West End Seniors Network will provide information about current rental challenges facing the community and will introduce programs, services and resources available to seniors. There will be an interactive session with participants.

3. FORUM 2: Aging In Place: Ideas into Action:

Date TBA, Spring 2010

The second forum will build on the information and feedback from the first forum, and will explore alternative housing options and  solutions to concerns facing older adults and seniors in the West End.


The United Way ‘Solutions for Seniors’ Seed GrantUWLowMaincol provided this opportunity for community groups to generate locally-relevant solutions about key issues affecting seniors, such as affordable and supportive housing.

1215 Bidwell: New Affordable Rental Housing Coming to Maxine’s?

If  you are wondering what is  going on with the re-development project at 1215  Bidwell Street in the West End  (currently the historic  site of Maxine’s Restaurant and Lounge, formerly Balthazaar), you are not alone.   After several year of planning,  the good news for renters  is that the project now includes 49 new rental units.  (15 bedroom and 34 bachelor units ranging from 400-515 square feet,  a  400 square foot bachelor is estimated to rent for $980/month)

The city zoning currently allow developers to build a  low-rise  structure or a tall, thin condo tower up to 210 feet on that site with no street level stores or purpose built rental units.

A third option now before council is a combination of the two.  This tower would still be 210 ft, with added rental units and street level retail space.   The front façade of the heritage building would be kept intact.   This development proposal offers  much needed purpose built rental units,  higher density ratios,  and a LEEDS green building to the site.   However, there are remaining questions around  affordability and the overall impact to the community by the development.

This project’s  rezoning application was before Council on Oct 6,2009 and will be before city council for a public hearing on Dec 1st,2009.

Agenda and reports of the Council meeting

Staff are recommending to Council that rezoning should be presented for a public hearing. At a public hearing all citizens of Vancouver have the right to speak to the rezoning and tell Council what they think about the rezoning application.
http://vancouver.ca/commsvcs/planning/rezoning/applications/1201-1215bidwell/index.htm
You can find more information about this  at the West End Residents Association Website ( www. wera.bc.ca)

On Saturday November 21st, the West End Residents Association is hosting a community forum at 1 pm at the Empire Landmark about current development rezoning applications in the West End community.


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