Renters rally to protect rights against unfair evictions

Renters rally to protect rights against unfair evictions

By Kelly Sinoski, Vancouver Sun May 7, 2011

NDP MLA Spencer Chandra Herbert joins Vancouver tenants to stand up to landlords trying to evict long-term renters from a Kitsilano-Point Grey apartment complex and to call for stronger eviction protection laws in Vancouver, BC., May 7, 2011. Daved Eby (l) with Tim and Amy Bratton on the right. David Eby, NDP candidate in the provincial byelection in the Point Grey constituency, is in the background to the left of Chandra Herbert.  Photograph by: Nick Procaylo, PNG

VANCOUVER – For five years, Amy Bratton never had any trouble with the landlords of her Kitsilano suite. They even knocked money off her rent when she took care and maintained the seven-unit building.

But that all changed eight months ago when the landlords decided to sell the stucco-covered house-turned-apartment building at the corner of Balsam and 3rd Avenue to new owners.

Now Bratton and her husband Tim say they are facing a so-called “renoviction” — a tactic in which landlords attempt to kick out renters under the guise of renovating the suites before substantially raising the rents.

The trend, which began in the West End 2007, is spreading across the region as landlords use tactics such as not replacing lights and increasing laundry costs, to force long-term tenants out.

Within days of taking ownership last December, the new landlords in the Bratton’s building renovated an empty suite and raised the rent from $750 to $1,075 — the same amount the Brattons pay for their one-bedroom suite. “It’s been a real source of frustration,” Tim Bratton said. “This is a place we have made our first home in … we feel powerless to do anything about it. The current law does not provide enough protection for us as tenants.”

The Brattons were among about 30 people — including NDP MLA Spencer Chandra Herbert and Vancouver-Point Grey byelection candidate David Eby — who rallied in the rain outside their apartment building Saturday to raise awareness of their plight and call for the Liberal government to impose stronger eviction protection laws to balance the rights of both landlords and tenants.

Many carried placards reading: Eviction: Are you next? and No tenant in B.C. safe from renoviction.

“I’ve seen this story play out again and again across B.C.,” said Herbert, who has introduced new legislation aimed at prohibiting landlords from using the tactics. “The vast majority of landlords are good. They work with residents. They don’t attempt to kick people out so they can jack up the rents.”

Herbert noted in some cases, the renovation only involves a fresh coat of paint and new cabinets yet the rent is inflated by 73 per cent.

The renoviction situation first arose in Vancouver’s West End, where residents continue to fight against what they say is a legal loophole in the Residential Tenancy Act that allows for such evictions.

Many of the people at Saturday’s rally were survivors of other apartments where renovation notices had been served.

The residents want changes to Section 49 (6) (b), of the act. It says a landlord may end a tenancy if the landlord has all the necessary permits and intends in good faith, to renovate or repair the rental unit in a manner that requires the rental unit to be vacant.

More than 50 buildings have been tracked for renovictions in the past few years, according to Sharon Isaak, of Renters at Risk, who is still at her West End apartment after fighting her own eviction notice in the courts.

But Isaak noted that many tenants tend to give in because they don’t have the time, money or energy to fight the eviction notices, especially once the landlord starts withholding services or ripping up carpets, making their home seem uninhabitable.

“Tenants don’t want to go public about it; it’s too stressful,” she said. “It wasn’t that widespread before but now more people are doing it.”

Eby, who is running against Premier Christy Clark for the Vancouver-Point Grey seat in a byelection Wednesday, promised to work with tenants and stand up for renters.

Bratton, who has lived in the suite for five years — and the last eight months with Tim after they got married — said the landlords have given them a smaller storage space with no electrical lighting and have not replaced the light bulbs at the front and back of the building.

“It’s been stressful,” she said.

Added Tim: “This has shown us how vulnerable we are as renters. You don’t know when a landlord can come in and push you around. We have the resources to move and relocate but we know a lot of people who can’t.”