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West End Apartment Evictions

November 10th, 2008 @ 10:56am (PT) by Rebecca Bollwitt

We have lived in the West End for just over three years and we’ve really come to love our little neighbourhood. As soon as you stroll one block in from Davie or Robson the sounds of rushing traffic and trolley buses re-energizing turn to birds chirping, bicycle bells and lawn mowers. Deciduous trees act as canopies in the summer months providing cooling shade, while in the fall their frying pans-sized leaves tumble to earth, soaking up the rain before being raked away by vigilant gardeners.


Photo credit: Stephen Rees on Flickr

When you live in the West End there are a few things you come to accept such as Fireworks nights in August, skunks, and the sound of behemoth fire engines rolling past your window while you’re trying to do a podcast. You also pay attention to notices that are frequently posted to telephone poles about tenant and community meetings (from the West End Residents Association or Renters at Risk).

With so many older buildings (built 1960s) mixed with towers, walk-ups, and heritage structures, the neighbourhood is a real melting pot, and an obvious target for developers. However, with renters making up 82% of residents in the West End, changing, renovating, demolishing, rebuilding, and introducing mortgages and condos into this area is a bit tricky, and the way it’s been handled so far is the cause of much outrage, alarm, and disbelief.

In some cases building owners would like to raise (even double) rent for current tenants in order to renovate, tenants may be given ultimatums (to pay up or ship out) and in other cases, they are simply asked to vacate.

There’s an apartment block along our route to the grocery store that was emptied out last year and renovated. By renovated I mean they added a fresh coat of paint, new windows, and little gates where the small yards used to be. There have been signs up on the corner to buy into this place (instead of rent) for so long now, and I still have not seen one person move in.

A case that has been getting much attention in the news (although this sort of thing has been going on for years) is the struggle over at the Seafield Apartments – near Pendrell and Nicola. I received an email from a resident a few weeks ago who spoke of their threat of mass eviction and sent along a link to their website. They have banded together to get their story out in the news, and they’ve started sharing their cause online with Building at Risk.

The Seafield group has also taken to supporting other apartments in danger, including showing up in protest at 1209 Jervis Street where eviction notices were issued last winter.

The rally gave a voice to renters who are concerned about the lack of tenant protection in the Residential Tenancy Act. Evictions for renovations, voluntary rent increases, geographic market increases and fixed-term leases are all loopholes employed by corporate landlords to get around current rent control legislation (3.7 percent increase/year).

At the rally, members of Renters at Risk asked politicians to make changes to the Tenancy legislation to protect renters, including the enactment of the Right of First Refusal. [Seafield]

Housing for any, many and all has been a huge topic throughout the Federal Elections in this region, as well as the recent by-elections and the upcoming civic electionsthis has been taking place across the city in various forms for years.

The Seafield’s website (built with WordPress) is full of personal stories, articles, blog posts, links to mainstream coverage and various data surrounding renters’ rights. It adds a very real voice for these buildings and all of those who call them home.

Learn about your rights at the Tenant Resource and Advisory Centre or through the Residential Tenancy Branch of the BC Government.

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16 comments

  1. Keira-Anne says:

    Great post, Becks. As a West End resident myself, it’s definitely an issue at the back of my mind most of the time. Luckily (or perhaps not so luckily) I rent from a building within an actual management company. At least they’re predictable in their management…whose to say, though, if they’d try and sell off their properties?

  2. Darren says:

    This is a tricky issue. Obviously Vancouver is a highly desirable place to live, and there’s a ton of money floating around the real estate and rental markets.

    I believe there is a form of rent control in place, where you can only increase the rent by x each year. But I take it the renovation thing is a loophole? Is more and tighter inspections what’s required? I’m a little unclear on the solution that doesn’t overly and artificially manipulate the rental and sales market.

    Clearly the guys who bought the Seafield building are pretty sketchy, but it’s hard to blame them for charging what the market will bear in terms of rent or sale.

  3. mark says:

    Here is a clarification for Darren as to the legal-regulatory background. In 2004, the Residential Tenancy Act was amended by the BC Liberal government. Rents can now be increased by landlords every year up to two percent beyond the rate of inflation, and landlords can apply for additional rent increases under a variety of circumstances. However, as you note, demand is rising and the stock of rental housing on the downtown peninsula has not changed in many years, meaning that rents on vacant apartments are increasing at a faster rate than the increases allowed during ongoing tenancies.

    In addition, the Act was amended to include the infamous Section 49(6)(b), which allows landlords to evict tenants if the landlords intend in good faith to perform renovations and repairs “that are so extensive as to require vacancy”.

    http://www.qp.gov.bc.ca/statreg/stat/R/02078_01.htm#section49

    It is this (perhaps deliberately) poorly defined loophole that landlords have been using to issue eviction notices. The purpose is ultimately to break tenancies so that rents can be raised without constraint.

    While one can certainly debate whether the current rent increase regulations are the best policy, the combination of these and 49(6)(b) has meant at least many hundreds or thousands of evictions to tenants over the last few years, and not just in the West End. Most evictions are unopposed, not least because the process of opposing them is so time consuming, stressful and unpredictable. Most people simply choose to move elsewhere, if they can find a vacant apartment.

    Gordon-Nelson Investments, Inc., who have purchased the Seafield and at least four other buildings in the West End over the last 18 months, are using this loophole as a business strategy to dramatically increase the cash flow (and so the market value) of their buildings. This strategy has been used by other landlords, such as Hollyburn and Transglobe.

    Among the problems with this situation are: this is an extremely costly way to allow landlords to get higher rents (if that was the intent of 49(6)(b) – the Minister of Housing and Social Development, Hon. Rich Coleman, has personally told tenants of the Seafield that this was not the intent); it is extremely disruptive to people’s lives, destroying communities such as the one that exists in the Seafield; and the courts have ruled in favour of tenants, arguing that this section was not intended to allow landlords to end tenancies (See: http://www.courts.gov.bc.ca/Jdb-txt/SC/07/02/2007BCSC0257.htm)

    Mssrs. Jason Gordon and Chris Nelson, Seafield owners, are free to apply in well-specified circumstances for rent increases that exceed the annual increase of two percent above inflation, just as they are legally allowed to charge whatever rents they can get on vacant suites. However, the law does not allow them to charge whatever they want during an ongoing tenancy, nor to use 49(6)(b) to evict in order to set rents as they like. Most landlords care about their tenants and act within the letter and spirit of the law. The current loophole disadvantages them, at the expense of those owners who act as though a landlord’s right to use their property trumps a tenant’s right to security in their home.

  4. George says:

    No doubt, there can be unscrupulous landlords, just as there are many, many problem tenants. I personally know of a landlord who just had to spend $12,000 to fix a new place damaged by a tenant.

    A landlord has the full right to do what is best for their investment so long as they act within the law. They are not a charity and have no obligation to ensure that a tenant has some kind of right to live in a popular area at a low rent. I own a property in Yaletown and treat my tenants very well. However, I will raise the rent next year. I am currently subsidising some of the operating costs myself, the rent does not cover all the costs. The tenant may not be pleased, but as an investor, this is what I must do. If there is no financial incentive for an owner to have a rental propety, why would they bother? This will of course, decrease the already available rental stock.

  5. DMorency says:

    We need to control the market rental sector. Politicians and government must be accountable for the lack of affordable housing and rental. This is about controlling the private market and force the landlords to be socially responsible to the tenants and the City of Vancouver. How is it possible to charge for things such as Stanley Park and the ocean when it has been there forever. When it is something provided by mother nature a commodity whereby you can astronomically increase the rent. We need the City of Vancouver to start buying the private rental stock and control the rents otherwise those of us who can afford an average rental that the rest of the country charges will be forced to leave the province because we cannot afford to live here. If this smacks of socialism so be it because capitalism profit driven system will always be motivated by immediate greed and money.

    The argument that those who can afford it will pay the higher rents. It was affordable to those tenants before you purchased the property – if not for those gapping loopholes in the Tenancy Act this would not happen. You would not be able to do this legally and for all of you who have taken take the spirit of this legislation to increase your profits the expense of people that live in those buildings; you are all guilty and yes you have contributed to the affordability issues that we now face just because you can does it mean you should?

    As I have said in the past until capitalism, human greed and profit driven systems are forced to be moral & ethical our lives as we know it will be forever changed.

    The economic issues that have hit everyone is the result of capitalism and the people at the top. These people, educated, ran billion dollars empires are responsible for the economic crises we are ALL facing. These people are responsible as a result of their greed and power have caused untold damage to thousands.

    So, to the Government of BC your lack of state paternalism laws and your profit based legislation has made it possible for those landlords and companies to get around the loops to the detriment of the people you purport to represent. What exactly are you representing? Good government and its politicians have to be above reproach, have a higher ethical standard and never be motivated by profit. To leave the market up to the private citizen you get what we are now dealing with evictions, dis-location and despair.

    The residents of the West End are not the ones causing the problems with homelessness and rental affordability issues. It is the developers, property management companies that are the problem. They buy property and speculate and try to shove through their developments ideas down our throats.

    I am lobbying hard to have a complete ban on any further development in the West End. Is it possible that we can have a capitalist system and still have social integrity?

    What makes the West End unique are the low rises, the Mom & Pop shops that still exist. Developers are sucking the vitality out of the West End. Where are the people who work at the “crappy” jobs supposed to live? They will not be commuting to downtown Vancouver to work at Starbucks when it is costing them $10.00 per day in transit. If you people do not do your jobs and think about these re-zoning proposals and force social obligations you are going to lose the West End. Private companies will never think about the greater good as the motivation is to make money. They do not care how it will impact those who are affected . Why can’t the City for the first time force these developers to be socially responsible?
    This may have never been done in Vancouver but it does not mean it shouldn’t be done. This process has been done in major European cities and we can do it here. Everyone is responsible for the problems in Vancouver and we cannot expect the developers to have a social conscience unless government legislation is implemented to prevent this type of exploitation – government must set the example if we expect private owners to be ethical and fair.

    .

  6. stuart says:

    Everyone can thank Gordon Campbell of the Liberals for changing the Tenancy Act to allow evictions for renovations. Campbell was and is a developer and when he finally gets kicked out of office, that’s where he’ll return. The Liberals are no friends to working people – just the elite (like Bush). We need an Obama here in BC big time.

  7. Tyler says:

    Wow good post and since I’ll be a real resident of the West End as of Dec 1 2008 I will be looking at this closer too. I’ll have to mention it to my girlfriend because she’s been here for almost 4 years now.

    I remember walking down Nelson one day (during the West End Farmers Market which is pretty cool…) and noticed a small rally and I noticed it had to do something with west end rent. They had fliers but at the time I did not take notice. I am glad this post helped shed a bit more light and now I will be keeping an eye on this development to see how things go.

    My girlfriend is appreciative of this post as well.

    And people think I’m crazy for moving to the West End from my comfy 1,300 sqf place in the ‘burbs! lol ;)

  8. Darren says:

    Thanks to Mark for the clarification. DMorency’s fantasy aside, what are the practical solutions to this issue. I guess there needs to be some kind of oversight to what constitutes a legitimately extensive renovation? And maybe some kind of right of refusal for tenants who, after the renovation, wish to once again rent their former apartment?

  9. fotoeins says:

    As 2010 rapidly approaches, I’m worried about the increasing number of such unsavoury practises to rapid and forcible turnover in order to maximize opportunity. Thanks, and please keep us all informed.

  10. DMorency says:

    In response to Darren – my previous post is not fantasy. The City has an endowment fund of over two hundred and fifty million dollars. They have spent one hundred million on the Olymic Housing. The City could begin buying private market buildings and allow the tenants to remain in these apartments and control the rental. The city could in collobration with CHMC and tenants can create a Co-Op out of the building as well.

    The BC Government can close the loop holes in the Tenancy Act and give the right of refusal to tenants, shore up the rights of tenants so that property owners cannot dislocate tenants.

    The BC Government has an obligation to govern and represent the people in this province. They point of having a government is to ensure that those who do not have a voice,lobbyist, or lawyers, provide and create legisltation to balance out the abuses and social injustice. There is the law of the land but the more important one is social justice. My personal friends are and have been going through the eviction process with Hollyburn – they are fighting it tooth and nail and so far winning. But the stress and anxiety it creates is sometimes overwhelming and this what landlords count on.

    We can all choose to do things different and try to come with solutions. The evictions that are taking place is the result of greed, money, and with no regard to the impact it has on the people they are evicting.

    The reason I and all my friends rent is simply – owing anything in the City has become unattainable. I may even have to move right out of the province in a few short years.

    Maybe we need to stand in the millions as they do in Europe in order for the government to listen….

  11. Skunks! I had never seen a skunk in my life until I moved to the West End.

  12. […] people were being evicted in the West End and now the kitties have to go. [West End Residents Association] [via Beyond […]

  13. […] update on the West End Apartment Evictions from the residents of Seafield Apartments. “The Seafield residents, a tight-knit group of […]

  14. […] the theme… 88 keys… 88 on the dial). The topics today will focus on the West End; from rent-o-victions to St. Paul’s and I’ll be adding my own notes, history tidbits and insights on living […]

  15. […] My source in the park said that Zigay’s lawyer mentioned that Mr. Zigay intends to live in the mobile home park in one of the cabins on the property and operate a home-based landscaping business, for which he needs vacant possession of his land. To me, this sounds like a loophole in the Manufactured Home Park Tenancy Act, rather than Sooke’s Mobile Home Park Redevelopment Policy. It appears similar to the Residential Tenancy Act, which allows for eviction of tenants if the landlord is to undertake major upgrades or renovations, or to need vacant possession of the property for personal use. Vancouver Blogger Miss604 has been covering one such situation in the West End of Vancouver. […]

  16. […] one of the biggest concerns for his constituents in the West End, including the group over at the Seafield Apartments (who aren’t alone in their rentoviction […]

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