In the 1987 movie Batteries Not Included, a pregnant woman, an elderly couple and an artist face eviction by a greedy developer anxious to tear down their building.
In the movie, the tenants are saved by tiny alien robots–which could come in handy in the West End, where a pregnant woman, an elderly couple and several artists will be evicted from their building if they can’t pay rent increases of up to 73 per cent.
Cue the robots.
Brian Broster and his neighbours at the Seafield Apartments on Pendrell Street received notice last week that their landlord, Gordon Nelson Investments, has applied to the provincial Residential Tenancy Branch for the increases. Broster’s rent would increase from $1,374 to $2,255.
The residential tenancy act allows for annual increases of up to 3.7 per cent, but exceptions can be made if a landlord can prove their rents are significantly lower than other rental units in the same area.
The Seafield tenants also received photocopies of rental ads from the website Craigslist listing higher-priced units in their neighbourhood. Broster said most of the ads were from buildings owned by Gordon Nelson Investments and Hollyburn Properties, which has also attempted to raise rents in the West End and evict tenants for owning pets.
“They’ve already mass evicted everybody from those buildings and doubled the rent, and now they’re saying these are the rents we should be paying,” said Broster. “Last year Gordon Nelson Investments and Hollyburn bought up half of the available buildings in the West End and they aren’t stopping.”
Broster contacted the Vision Vancouver-dominated city council in response to the rent increase notices. Broster voted for Vision councillors and Mayor Gregor Robertson in last November’s municipal election because of the party’s campaign promise to help renters in the West End.
Other Seafield tenants facing eviction include Dana Crudo, who is nine months pregnant, retired couple Donald Ransom and David Bronstein, and 83-year-old Rolland McFall and his older sister Mary, who’ve lived in the Seafield for 45 years. Several artists also live in the building.
Vancouver Burrard NDP MLA Spencer Herbert said he wants changes made to the residential tenancy act to eliminate the loopholes landlords use to raise rents and evict tenants.
“It’s not like [Gordon Nelson Investments] is doing a massive renovation and asking for an emergency amendment,” said Herbert. “There’s no other province that has provisions like this that leave the act so open to abuse.”
Herbert said the Seafield rent increase application is putting undue stress on the tenants, in particular the McFalls.
“This whole building is amazing, and they take care of each other. If someone hears a noise at the McFalls, someone goes and makes sure they’re all right,” said Herbert. “They’re aging with grace in their own home, but that might be taken away from them.”
Chris Nelson, a partner in Gordon Nelson Investments, told the Courier the company applied for the “above-guideline rent increase” because Seafield tenants are paying only about 50 per cent of the market rate and 60 per cent of the Canadian Mortgage and Housing survey for rent in the West End.
“We’re just trying to bring the rents in line with the market and what others are paying in the West End,” he said.
Seafield tenants will attend a hearing on the application March 31. They’ve asked other renters in the area to visit their website, www.seafieldapartments.com, and post their monthly rent.
© Vancouver Courier 2009