Provincewide Rent Control ‘Effectively Dead,’ MLA Says

By Darah Hansen

Vancouver Sun

Renter advocates say tenants across British Columbia should brace themselves for “staggering” rent hikes in the wake of a decision giving a Vancouver corporate landlord the right to bump up rents in an apartment building by almost 40 per cent.

“Provincewide rent control is effectively dead as we know it,” said Spencer Herbert, an New Democrat MLA seeking re-election in Vancouver’s West End.

A three-storey heritage walk-up on Pendrell Street, known as the Seafield, is at the heart of the issue.

Landlord Gordon Nelson Investment Inc. won the right earlier this month following a hearing before the Residential Tenancy Branch to raise current rents by more than the standard annual increase of two per cent plus the rate of inflation.

The investment company used a clause in the Residential Tenancy Act that permits landlords to boost rents beyond the allowable limit if they can prove their suites are going for well below rents at similar suites in the same neighbourhood.

The decision largely affects tenants living in the building’s spacious two-bedroom suites, including 83-year-old Roland McFall and his 92-year-old sister, Mary, who’ve lived at the Seafield since 1961.

The two-bedroom units currently rent for an average of $1,375 per month. That can now be increased to $1,855 per month — a hike of almost $500 per month — by August 2010, the tenancy branch ruled.

The company was also granted approval to boost rents at two of three heritage one-bedroom units from about $1,100 per month to $1,225 per month.

The branch rejected a bid by the landlord to raise rents at four other suites.

Tenants were refusing to talk to the media, pending a judicial review of the decision.

But Herbert, who joined other tenant advocates outside the Residential Tenancy Office on Richards Street for a rally Thursday, said they are “reeling” from shock.

“I think, for many of them, [the decision] has the same effect of basically an eviction,” he said.

Martha Lewis of TRAC Tenant Resource and Advisory Centre said she was concerned that the branch had approved the rental-increase bid using the so-called “geographic” clause.

The original spirit of the clause was that it would be used only in “exceptional circumstances,” she said. Instead, she said, it is being applied with increasing frequency to allow landlords to get top dollar in an overheated rental market.

Lewis said the branch’s decision in the Seafield case goes against provincial rental increase rules.

“This way it is just a joke,” she said.

Seafield co-owner Chris Nelson said tenants in the apartment building are still getting a “very good deal” despite the pending rental hikes.

New tenants of a recently vacated two-bedroom suite in the same building are currently paying $2,250 per month.

Nelson said the $500 rent increase approved by the RTO for the two-bedroom units still leaves them priced below market, and that still represents “a big subsidy for our business to these tenants.”

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