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

Continue reading

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.


NEWS: Reaching out to senior renters

NEWS: Reaching out to senior renters

Source: Westender 10/15/2009
By: Jackie Wong

Sharon Isaak, co-founders of tenants’ rights group Renters at Risk, says many seniors would sooner move out of their home than deal with the stress of fighting unfair eviction. Credit: Doug Shanks

Since the landmark mass eviction of tenants from the West End’s Bay Towers apartment building three years ago, the advocacy work of local organizations such as Renters at Risk and the West End Residents Association has resulted in stronger public awareness of the precarious housing situation facing renters, who make up 80 per cent of households in the West End. But awareness of the issue hasn’t stopped mass evictions and volatile landlord-tenant relationships from continuing in the neighbourhood.

The stress of finding and keeping affordable rental housing takes a particular toll on seniors, says Sharon Isaak, who co-founded Renters at Risk after taking her Bay Towers eviction notice (issued by the now notorious Hollyburn Properties) to B.C. Supreme Court, where she and other tenants fought for — and won — the right to continue living in their apartments during renovations Hollyburn claimed would necessitate eviction.

“One of the seniors that got thrown out of my building… had been living in the building for years. She was the first one to go,” Isaak recalls. “Watching her move out and move into her daughter’s place in Kamloops was heartbreaking.”

Since her Bay Towers experience in 2006, Isaak has counselled and educated numerous tenants on their rights under B.C.’s tenancy legislation. Seniors, she says, continue to be among the most vulnerable tenants she meets. Fixed incomes and limited resources can put a cap on their ability to advocate for themselves, which often results in their being displaced and moved around, especially when they face an eviction notice that other tenants choose to fight. “The first people to leave are the seniors, because of the stress of the situation,” Isaak says. “They quite often have no other option but to move in with family in another city, another province, and they have to leave everything behind.”

As part of efforts to raise awareness of tenant rights and to address the many affordable-housing concerns facing West End residents, Isaak has started holding weekly outreach sessions at Gordon Neighbourhood House under the title of Senior Housing Outreach Coordinator. The position is the product of a $25,000 United Way Seed grant that partners Gordon Neighbourhood House, the West End Residents Association, Women in Search of Housing Society (WISHS), and the West End Seniors Network. Isaak will be available to assist renters with their tenancy concerns on Thursdays from 10:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.

When WE interviewed Isaak on her first day of outreach work last week (October 8), she already had two appointments. “There has been a real increase in evictions over the last three years because of the tight [rental] market, and because other companies are recognizing the opportunity to make significant profits by evicting tenants to do renovations [and then] increase the rent,” she says. “We need to have a review of the [Residential Tenancy] Act on certain issues to stop and solve these problems.”

John Lucas, executive director of the Gordon Neighbourhood House, says he has seen many seniors come through the neighbourhood house in search of advice on disconcerting rumours they hear about the rental buildings in which they live. “A number of seniors are in the position of not knowing exactly what’s going to happen to them,” he says. “A lot of seniors become stressed because they hear rumours about their apartments, [such as that] they’re going to be sold and it’s going to be renovated.”

Moderate- and low-income renters over the age of 40 are a vulnerable population that Leslie Stern, of the Women In Search of Housing Society, has been working with for years. “If we don’t help people at 45 and above to start earning more money and saving money and doing personal planning, they’re going to go into their senior years with even less,” she says. “Landlords don’t want these people anymore, because they don’t have the ability to pay the high rents that they think the market can take. That’s where I think we’re at a crisis in housing.”

In addition to Isaak’s weekly work at Gordon Neighbourhood House, the project, called the West End Seniors Affordable Housing initiative, will host public forums this winter and next spring on tenant rights and affordable-housing concerns. The first forum, called “The Right to Rent: Aging in Place,” happens November 22 at 2 p.m. For more information, contact Sharon Isaak at isaaksharon@gmail.com

Watchdog group files human-rights complaints over 2010 Olympics

Watchdog group files human-rights complaints over 2010 Olympics

Am Johal of Impact on Communities Coalition says democracy and human rights shouldnt be suspended during the 2010 Olympic Winter Games. Photograph by: Jason Payne, The Province, The Province

Am Johal of Impact on Communities Coalition says democracy and human rights shouldn't be suspended during the 2010 Olympic Winter Games. Photograph by: Jason Payne, The Province, The Province

Source: The Province

Aug 12,2009

A 2010 Olympics watchdog group has filed two human-rights complaints with the United Nations against the governments of Canada and B.C. and the Olympic organizing committee, VANOC.

The Impact on Community Coalition say hundreds of renters will face the threat of eviction prior to the Olympics because of “loopholes” in tenancy legislations.

“Hosting the Olympic Games doesn’t mean we suspend democracy and human rights for a period of time. It’s completely unacceptable in our view,” said Am Johal, chairman of the IOCC.

Johal warned more than 1,000 renters could be evicted before the Games.

“People are being evicted for renovations, rents are skyrocketing and the Olympics is definitely an issue that is creating this environment,” said Janine Fuller of Renters at Risk.

The IOCC is also complaining about the violation of civil liberties after Vancouver City Council passed bylaws preventing leafleting and protest signs during the Olympics. Access to public space will be permitted after security screening. Megaphones will not be allowed and posters “must include information that celebrates the 2010 Winter Games.”

David Eby of the B.C. Civil Liberties Association said VANOC boss John Furlong is breaching a promise, understood that protests would take place and knew that protests were part of Canada’s democratic traditions.

VANOC spokeswoman Renee Smith-Valade said the bylaws were created to prevent posters that advertise or promote commercial products.

“If you want to hold up posters that are against the Games, not only is that OK, but we have set up zones where you can protest the Games safely,” she said. “You can protest anywhere in the city except in the venues.

Smith-Valade said security checks are necessary as a safety precaution.

cchai@theprovince.com

TRAC to handle Olympic-related tenant disputes

TRAC to handle Olympic-related tenant disputes
By:  Jackie Wong

Source: The Westender
08/06/2009 12:00 AM

As part of its efforts to prevent unfair evictions during the lead-up to the 2010 Olympic Winter Games, the City of Vancouver has hired the Tenant Resource and Advisory Centre (TRAC) to help renters deal with Olympic-related tenancy issues. The City had originally set aside $40,000 for a tenant-assistance worker to start work this past spring, with the position remaining active through Games time. The position will now be shared among TRAC staff, who will hire additional part-time workers to help run a drop-in office at an as-yet-undetermined location.

Games-related tenant-assistance work will focus on helping tenants understand and exercise their rights under the Residential Tenancy Act, help them prepare for dispute resolution hearings at the Residential Tenancy Branch, and assist them with landlord-tenant disputes. TRAC will also have a supervising lawyer on hand to act as a resource to tenants. TRAC has set up a special tenant-assistance phone line and e-mail address for dealing with Olympic-related tenancy issues (604-255-5102; help@tenants.bc.ca).

TRAC spokesperson Judy Johanson says she expects an increase in tenants contacting her as the Olympics draw nearer, and as one-year leases signed in December or January come to an end. “The whole idea is to foresee that this is happening,” she says. She also expressed confidence that the City and local advocacy groups have done a good job in spreading the word about increased tenant-advocacy services during Games time. The City has set up an online tenant registry (Vancouver.ca/OlympicsTempAcc_Net) for renters who are concerned about unfair displacement during the Games.

The West End, a neighbourhood in which 80 per cent of households rent, has been the site of a number of eviction cases that have been hotly disputed by tenants, some of whom have taken their cases as far as BC Supreme Court. West End Residents Association (WERA) director Christine Ackermann fought an eviction in advance of renovations — known as “renovictions” — at the Glenmore building (at Barclay and Nelson) last May. After disputing the eviction at the Residential Tenancy Office, she was able to keep her apartment. Since then, she has been heavily involved with tenant advocacy in her neighbourhood. Given what she has learned in the past year about dealing with B.C.’s tenancy laws, she’s not sure if TRAC is the right organization to be dealing with Olympic-related evictions.

“Based on my own eviction, and through my volunteer experience gathering feedback from Vancouver tenants, I am very skeptical that TRAC will be a true advocate for Vancouver renters during the Olympics,” Ackermann told WE. “Answering phones to simply answer questions from a rule book will not provide any lasting legacy for Vancouver renters who lose their homes because of Olympic greed. It certainly will not provide any increased support to Downtown Eastside residents who are dealing with a completely different renter’s ball game in the SROs.”

Instead of the current TRAC model for Olympic-related tenant-assistance work, Ackermann would like to see a more community-based model, in which volunteers who have personally experienced evictions hold education forums in neighbourhoods with high renter populations, such as Mount Pleasant, Kitsilano, and Fairview. “Educating tenants in a meaningful way now would provide benefits beyond the March 2010 end point of this [tenant advocacy position],” she says. “WERA will be watching and monitoring this new service from TRAC to measure its effectiveness for West End tenants.” 

Laws enable Olympic evictions: advocate

Laws enable Olympic evictions: advocate
By Matthew Burrows

Source:  The Georgia Straight
July 2, 2009

The cofounder of a West End renters group has said Vancouverites will continue to be evicted in the lead-up to the 2010 Olympics if the provincial government doesn’t amend its rental-housing laws.

“The Residential Tenancy Act is the only thing that governs landlord-tenant relationships for evictions,” Sharon Isaak, spokesperson for Renters at Risk, said on June 29. “And the Residential Tenancy Act is what needs to be amended or changed to stop evictions for the Olympics.”

Continue reading

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.