Sandra Thomas, Vancouver Courier
Published: Friday, November 07, 2008
A West End resident says proposed renovations to the rental suites in the apartment building where she lives with her husband are good news.
The bad news, said Heather Pawsey, is that tenants of the Seafield Apartments on Pendrell Street have been told their rents will increase by between 80 and 100 per cent after the renovations are completed. Pawsey said the tenants are expecting eviction notices to make way for renovations any day.
“We suspect we’ll be getting eviction notices at the end of this month,” said Pawsey. “But every time I come
home and see anything posted or slipped under my door I feel like I’ve been kicked in the stomach.”
Pawsey, whose husband has lived in the 1931 heritage listed building since 1975, said at a meeting in September the tenants were told by the owners the renovations will include new appliances and individual heaters to make residents more “accountable” for their own energy use. The renovations will also add a wall to change two bedroom apartments to three. The expected rent for the new “three bedroom” apartments will jump from between $1,400 and $1,450 to $2,600 a month.
Pawsey, whose husband Tim Pawsey is a well-known food and wine writer who contributes to the Courier, said a story about the tenants appeared in the Georgia Straight a week ago Thursday. She added that the next day, while the tenants decorated the building for Halloween, one of the owners showed up holding a pile of white papers.
“I thought we were finally getting the eviction notices,” Pawsey said.
But the tenants were instead handed letters informing them that while they were welcome to continue decorating, the owners expected them to confine conversations regarding the proposed renovation plan within their personal suites or on city property, such as the sidewalk.
“Oddly enough, the last time I looked we were living in a democracy,” said Pawsey. “And I believe that allows us to speak to people as we wish.”
Eviction by renovation, as it’s commonly called, is a growing trend across the city, particularly in the West End. With housing markets at a record high, and rental suites becoming scarce, many landlords want to increase rents.
While provincial guidelines only allow for an annual four per cent rental increase, landlords have discovered several loopholes.
Should a landlord decide to renovate a suite, he or she is legally allowed to evict the tenant and increase the rent beyond the four per cent.
Renters groups in B.C. are asking the provincial housing ministry to change residential tenancy legislation giving tenants first right of refusal to rent their suites at the same cost after renovations are completed. Similar legislation was recently introduced in Ontario.
Landlords can also simply ask tenants to pay more rent and give another reason for the renter to leave if the tenant balks at the increase. In B.C. landlords can legally evict a tenant to make room for a family member.
Geography also plays a part in allowing landlords to get around the wording of the act. If a landlord can prove other buildings in the neighbourhood are charging higher rents, they can adjust theirs in keeping with the market.
Pawsey said the 24 tenants in the Seafield Apartments 14 suites are waiting for the hammer to drop.
“We were told they had a date to begin work in February and they have to give us three months notice, so it should be any time,” she said.
Chris Nelson, one of the owners of the building, told the Courier Wednesday afternoon that he had no comment.