Pay 73% More or the Building Gets It!

illegally evicted at the seafield Pay 73% More or the Building Gets It!

Photo by Ian Smith

It’s rare that Seafielders post articles that appear in the media on their homepage – but this is an article that was contributed to the Vancouver Sun today by the West End’s MLA, Spencer Chandra Herbert. Spencer has been a big supporter of all of us at the Seafield since day one – and has done his best to help residents in the West End defend their community against landlords like Gordon Nelson Inc. Thank you for the strong words and ongoing support, Spencer!

By Spencer Chandra Herbert
Special to the Vancouver Sun

Imagine you live in an apartment building where your landlords believe you should pay 73 per cent more in rent. The landlords say your building is the same as ones with swimming pools, fitness centres, large decks and ocean views. They argue that your building is in the class of luxury apartments, is undervalued, and you should pay what others in similar great buildings pay, even if it means paying thousands more.

Now imagine you live in an apartment building that the landlords claim is falling apart. They say it has reached the end of its life, poses a fire hazard, and that the power blows out all the time. They want to evict you because the building is in such bad shape, and needs to be renovated as soon as possible or it could be finished.

Both scenarios are real, and if you live in the Seafield apartment building in the West End, you are living both of them at the same time. The Seafield is a structurally sound building that was well-maintained by the previous landlord, with whom the tenants worked on several occasions to complete major upgrades. However, since July 2008, when the building was purchased by the current owners, the residents of the Seafield have gone to the Residential Tenancy Branch 13 separate times to challenge unfair practices and to fight to stay in their homes.

It’s as if the landlords are playing the villains in a bad movie with a gun to the building, saying: “Pay 73 per cent more, or the building gets it!”

How is this possible? How can someone be told in one year that they should pay 73 per cent more in rent because their building is so luxurious, and then the next that they must be evicted from the same building because the landlords now claim it is crumbling, and requires a building-wide overhaul.

It’s possible because in 2004 the B.C. Liberals made significant changes to the Residential Tenancy Act, throwing it out of balance, in favour of a few large landlord corporations, and at a loss to renters.

Now let’s think about another example in the West End. In the Emerald Terrace apartment building, 41 tenants received letters telling them they would be evicted because, according to the landlord, the renovations would be so disruptive that “by law” the residents must move out.

Some longtime residents took the landlord’s word and unhappily moved out of the neighbourhood they knew and loved. Other residents stayed, thinking an official eviction notice was on the way. It never came. The landlord’s crew came in, did the renovations with minimal disruption to the tenants, and left. There was no reason any of the tenants had to leave. The tenants who stayed called the landlord’s bluff and still have their homes, with the renovations complete. The ones who left had to pay higher rent in their new homes.

Most landlords want long-term tenants who treat their homes with respect, pay their rent on time and care for their community. A good tenant saves apartment owners money in the long run, and most building owners do whatever they can to keep long-term tenants. Many landlords in the West End do renovations with the tenants’ cooperation, or when they move out as about one in three choose to do every year. Unfortunately, a few unscrupulous landlords continue to use legislation which was meant to provide security of tenure, and a balance of rights and responsibilities between renters and landlords, to do just the opposite — force people out, and jack up rents over and above what they would legally be allowed to do in normal circumstances.

The Residential Tenancy Act as we know it is badly in need of reform. In B.C., it is far too easy for unscrupulous landlords to use this piece of legislation to force people out or seek huge rent increases. The fact is that this doesn’t happen in other provinces like Ontario, where there exists a more balanced tenancy act. The solutions are out there; the B.C. Liberal government just needs to act.

To go back to where this began. Where can you live in a building that is both supposedly worth 73 per cent more than you are paying because it is so luxurious, yet also crumbling and unfit for habitation?

Only in British Columbia with a Residential Tenancy Act badly in need of real renovation.

Spencer Chandra Herbert is the New Democrat MLA for Vancouver-West End.

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2 Responses to “Pay 73% More or the Building Gets It!”

  1. Derek Richer Says:

    Spencer Herbert’s observations and comments are spot on. GNI have committed a grievous logical fallacy in their fickle pursuit of various eviction or rent increase schemes. If their eviction scam were to be successful, they would need to exhibit a consistent appearance of good faith that the building is in such dreadful shape that it needs to be emptied of all tenants to complete the necessary repairs. The fact that they can’t make up their minds about the state of the building and the tactic they want to use sinks their mass eviction claim. Consider this clause from Section 49(6)(b) of the Residential Tenancy Act:

    A landlord may end a tenancy in respect of a rental unit if the landlord has all the necessary permits and approvals required by law, and intends in good faith, to do any of the following:
    (b) renovate or repair the rental unit in a manner that requires the rental unit to be vacant;

    Does harassing tenants with cheap tactics equal good faith: the removal of laundry machines, raising laundry costs to $4 per load (way above the market rate), taking away parking spaces and storage lockers for renovation work that never happened, ripping up carpets in the common areas, leaving exposed nails, and removing all vegetation from around the building? Does the erratic choice of eviction tactics, particularly 73 percent rent increases and renoviction claims, equal good faith? Do several attempts to evict tenants for cause (when there is no cause), indicate good faith? All signs suggest that the main aim of GNI is to empty the building of all tenants, not to complete necessary and radical renovations.

    They have assembled such a burden of evidence against themselves that they will be paying their lawyers overtime to achieve the impossible.

    Consider a further appraisal of the illogical and inconsistent stance of GNI.

    First off, a building’s decline into decrepitude does not happen within a 2 year span, and one must wonder why such astute business people as GNI would have paid $3.4 million for a piece of junk, which is how they now want to describe the Seafield. Ripping out all the vegetation and carpeting from the place may have made it look seedier, but will not have undermined the solidity of the building’s fabric, which was well maintained over the years.

    Second, GNI’s 73 percent rent increase claim strongly supports the view that the building is in sound shape. How could they be so foolish to contradict themselves? The DRO and other adjudicators in the case will surely laugh their heads off when they note the paradox of GNI’s illogical wavering between a 73 rent increase and the renoviction claim.

    Nor will hiring Momac Consultants and lawyers hide the overt signs of bad faith being exhibited by GNI. In fact, threats of legal action against the tenants for any hint of “defamation” demonstrate a profound lack of confidence in their evidence in the case; if they had solid evidence, they would not need to use coercive tactics to prevent the tenants and other supporters from speaking the truth. Ironically, GNI have revealed their true motives to the public already, which is that they will use any possible method to evict the tenants so they can increase the rents to exorbitant levels.

    Thus, the renoviction claims are just an excuse to achieve what they have wanted all along: raising the rents well above $2000 per month. End of case.

    Of course, we have the unwavering wisdom and goodwill of Gordon Campbell and his extraordinary cabal of malcontents to thank for the ongoing assault on tenancies in BC. These clowns are the ones who deserve an immediate mass eviction for facilitating the harassing tactics of GNI and Hollyburn. The sooner the Residential Tenancy Act is revised the better. The Liberals’ inaction in the face of mass evictions in BC represents a highly immoral and irresponsible attack on the public good.

  2. Settlers Point Apartments Says:

    In fact, threats of legal action against the tenants for any hint of “defamation” demonstrate a profound lack of confidence in their evidence in the case; if they had solid evidence, they would not need to use coercive tactics to prevent the tenants and other supporters from speaking the truth.

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