Court Turns Back Rent Increases in West End Tenant Battle

Sandra Thomas
Vancouver Courier

The Supreme Court of B.C. overturned Tuesday a controversial ruling by the Residential Tenancy Branch last year that would have allowed a West End landlord to increase rents by up to 38 per cent. Madam Justice Linda Loo call the initial ruling “patently unreasonable” and also ordered Gordon Nelson Investments to return all of the additional rent it collected at the Seafield Apartments on Pendrell Street as the result of the April 2, 2009 decision.

Sharon Isaak, with the volunteer group Renters at Risk, said the decision is good news for B.C. tenants. “I spoke with the tenants last night and they’re relieved and pleased,” said Isaak. “It was a good decision and they were very happy to win.”

Rent control guidelines limit annual rent increases in B.C. to 3.7 per cent, but a clause in the provincial Residential Tenancy Act allows landlords to apply for higher amounts if they can prove units in neighbouring buildings garner substantially more. Last January Gordon Nelson Investments notified Seafield tenants of rent increases up to 73 per cent. The tenants appealed and in April the Residential Tenancy Office approved increases of up to 38 per cent.

According to that 12-page ruling by dispute resolution officer K. Miller, the landlords could raise the rent in three increments, with three months notice in between each increase. Isaak said Feb. 1 was to be the final and highest increase so the ruling couldn’t have come at a better time.

“Some people weren’t going to be able to pay it,” she said. “So they were really worried.” The April 2009 ruling noted the landlords didn’t have to prove rents at the Seafield are significantly lower than “all” comparable apartments, but merely prove there are “some” units with higher rents than the subject units.

That meant the West End Renter’s Survey, complied by the tenants, and the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation’s analysis of the survey weren’t considered as evidence. In this week’s ruling Justice Loo said that information should have been considered.

Chris Nelson, with Gordon Nelson Investments, said he’s “obviously” disappointed with the ruling. “The act clearly gives us the opportunity to ask for higher rents if they’re justified based on comparable units,” said Nelson. “And I think we did a heck of a job proving that. We even have a unit in the building we rent out for $2,200 compared to the $1,300 they’re paying for the same thing. And we just rented another unit in the building for $2,200.”

Nelson said Gordon Nelson has 30 days from the date of the decision to appeal. Justice Loo gave the landlords the option of going forward with another hearing. “Right now we’re just weighing our options,” said Nelson.

Vancouver-West End NDP MLA Spencer Herbert said if the April 2009 ruling had stood, it would have effectively meant the end to rent control in B.C. “This is a real victory for renters,” said Herbert. “And now the renters will also be allowed to submit the evidence thrown out by the tenancy office.”


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