NEWS: More Renovictions, What Next For Renters?

NEWS: More Renovictions, What Next For Renters?

Posted May 22nd, 2009

in  Think City Minute
S_Isaak_think city_May22_2009In the wake of the provincial election results and an April ruling that granted a landlord’s request for excessive rent increases,renters in British Columbia are more at risk than ever before say tenants’ rights activists.

“Extreme rent increases or the threat of losing your home due to renovations that are really market-driven evictions in disguise are here to stay – for now,” said Renters-at-Risk spokesperson Sharon Isaak. “The setbacks of the past month mean that BC renters continue to live in fear. Affordable housing advocates must continue their efforts pressing all levels ofgovernment for solutions, immediately.”

The first setback came in late April when the Residential Tenancy Office (RTO) slapped a group of West End tenants with rent increases of up to 38 per cent – nearly $500 a month over-and-above existing lease agreements. For 82-year-old Roland McFall and his 93-year-old sister Mary who’ve lived in the Seafield Apartment building for 48 years, their housing costs will now jump by nearly $6,000 a year.

The Residential Tenancy Act (RTA) allows landlords to raise residential rents by 3.7 per cent annually. But landlords can apply for an additional increase if they can prove the increase will put their units on par with a geographic area’s current market rents. As well, landlords can evict tenants under the pretext of renovations, and re-rent the spruced up suites for much higher rents – a practice known as “renoviction”.

According to the 12-page Seafield ruling, landlords are allowed to raise the rent in three increments, with three months notice in between each increase. The ruling goes on to note that the Seafield’s landlords didn’t have to prove rents are significantly lower than all comparable apartments in the West End, but merely prove there are two or more nearby units with higher rents. The Seafield tenants are appealing the ruling at BC Supreme Court.

A second setback came with the provincial election on May 12. Renters missed an opportunity to elect more MLAs who would support rental reform. The re-election of the BC Liberal government has dampened hopes for changes to the RTA.

“During the election campaign, BC Liberal candidate Laura McDiarmid (Vancouver-West End) described the Seafield ruling as ‘a win for these tenants,’ said Isaak. “McDiarmid lost in the West End because residents here understand the Liberals do not support rental reform and renters used the power of the ballot box to elect a candidate who does. That was not the case in other ridings across the city and BC.”

“Renters-at-Risk has presented solutions to the BC Liberals to curb rental abuses, but Minister Rich Coleman told us recently it is not necessary to change the Act,” said Isaak. “Even more troubling is the news that BC Housing is working with the BC Apartment Owners Association and Momac Consulting to put on seminars instructing landlords how to raise rents above the yearly allowable amounts.”

“Despite these setbacks, there is a new sense of urgency to step up the fight for renters rights across the city,” said Isaak. “Over 50 per cent of Vancouver citizens rent. We know this problem is only going to get worse as we draw nearer to the Olympics.”

“Last week, 22 remaining tenants at the Berkeley Apartments in the West End were hit with renoviction notices which will force them out of their homes by July 31,” said Isaak. “Thankfully, the City is doing something to combat the rental problem by initiating an eviction ban until after the 2010 Games and a tenants’ registry.”

And what happens after the Olympics? Vancouver still faces a serious challenge when it comes to meeting the demand for low-and middle-income rental housing.

“Forced mass displacement to the suburbs is not the solution to Vancouver’s affordable housing crisis,” said Isaak. “For the next three years, city council has the opportunity to enlist renters in the fight to secure long-term housing solutions.”

1 Comment

  1. Of course Rich Coleman would say there is no need to change the badly flawed Residential Tenancy Act. With a stroke of a pen, the clowns in Victoria have transformed the rental housing market into a trumped up feeding trough for some of their more auspicious political supporters.

    No wonder only 48 percent of voters even bothered to cast a ballot. Add to the rental housing crisis the complete disregard for Cambie merchants who lost their livelihoods and faced considerable stress. Indeed, I find it highly ironic whenever our esteemed Premier starts spouting about the scourge of depression and related subjects, yet shows absolutely no compunction about forging ahead with policies which guarantee depression and anguish for countless thousands. (We should have seen the writing on the wall when, as Mayor, Campbell did nothing to save many seniors from evictions in Kerrisdale). When people face either the loss of their homes or their livelihoods, they can become extremely depressed. Whose grandchildren did he say he wanted to look out for in his victory speech? Perhaps he is thinking only of the grandchildren of any apartment owner who opts to increase rents through the geographic profiling clause.

    As for the revelation about BC Housing helping the BC Apartment Owners association and MOMAC consulting put on rent-gouging semniars, this is a blatant conflict of interest. BC Housing is supposed to act in an impartial way, and not use government resources to feather the nests of friends and supporters. The conspiracy deepens.

    If the government does not do something to remedy the situation, it will be facing the disgrace of having middle income people bunched up in small hutches, or even living on the street.

    Also, I advise anyone living with stress not to bother dialling the Supernatural BC phone line to reserve outdoor activities. I spent four hours redialling constantly to reserve a space on the West Coast Trail and could not get through. What would prospective tourists from overseas think about this? It is the apex of stupidity that a government would blow billions on a two week circus, yet not provide sufficient resources to promote tourist attractions in a welcoming and efficient manner. Supernatural BC indeed!

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