Another eventful Halloween came and went at Seafield Apartments last Friday with a great turn out and waaaaay too much candy.
Traditionally a fun event for the neighbourhood kids, this year’s event was slightly different as Seafielders took the opportunity to discuss their recent mass eviction threat from new building owners Gordon Nelson Investments with members of the community and the media.
Preparations for the event, appropriately titled “Nightmare at 1436 Pendrell Street”, kicked off at about 3 p.m. on Friday, Oct. 31, with creative jack-o-lanterns, caution tape, a “Seafield Cemetery” sign, dead dummies in the tree — and interviews with two special guests: Global Television and CKNW Radio.
Later, reporters from several community weekly and bi-weekly papers came to talk to Seafield residents, after being inspired by our Seafield Stories.
Aside from the normal turn out of neighbourhood parents and kids, we had several visitors who stopped in after seeing us on the 5 o’clock news, looking for more information about our eviction threat.
Evictions for renovations are a business tactic used by some landlords in Vancouver to end existing tenancy agreements, so that they can jack up rents for new tenants.
Despite the event being a great success, it wasn’t all treats —Gordon Nelson Investments had a special trick up their sleeve in the spirit of the evening for their residents.
Jason Gordon of Gordon Nelson Investments surprised Seafielders at about 4:50 p.m. when he drove up in his silver Audi, carrying a stack of suspicious looking papers. Were they eviction notices?
Trick! They were only intimidating letters, one for each suite, asking residents to “keep the politics” either in their suites or on city property outside.
Seafielders happily obliged.
Along with several other stories, this article appeared in the West Ender about the Seafield Halloween Event:
A brother-in-law duo of former internet gaming executives have been making waves in the West End, most notably with the acquisition of four apartment buildings over the last 15 months. Tenants of the Seafield Apartments at 1436 Pendrell St., bought by Jason Gordon and Chris Nelson of Gordon Nelson Investments in July 2008, are now waiting for the eviction notices their new property owners outrightly said they’d receive. “This is my fourth [building] owner in 31 years and I have never felt threatened before,” says Wendy Stephenson, who has lived at the Seafield since 1977. “The minute [Gordon Nelson] bought, it was just, ‘oh my God.’”
The 14-suite building is 77 years old, and the oldest current resident is 92 years old. The youngest resident will be born in February 2009, the month Seafield residents predict they will be forced to move out if they receive their anticipated eviction notices December 1.
“Renovations are now being used as a way to get people out. That’s what’s wrong,” says Stephenson. “I’ve lived through a lot of renos. And they were never done as a way to get you out.”
Chris Nelson met with a group of Seafield tenants for the first time on September 9, 2008 to tell them his plans for the building. During the meeting, Nelson indicated that Gordon Nelson Investments intended to carry out a litany of renovations including rewiring the allegedly outdated electrical system, adding a dividing wall to living rooms to create extra bedrooms in one and two-bedroom suites, updating the kitchens, and converting the laundry room into a bachelor suite.
According to Seafield residents in attendance, Nelson said the renovations would result in rent increases that would be too high for current tenants to pay.
Since that meeting, Seafield residents have been anxiously waiting for the eviction notices that will effectively force them to leave homes, friendships, and a community that have prospered for decades.
“Effectively, we have become economic liabilities,” says Mark Moore, a Seafield tenant who works as a senior lecturer in economics and strategy at SFU. He says Gordon Nelson can technically justify their mass evictions with Section 49(6)(b) of the Residential Tenancy Act (RTA), which states “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… renovate or repair the rental unit in a manner that requires the rental unit to be vacant.”
Of the RTA, Moore says it contains loopholes that can work against tenants. “Landlords with no moral compunction will find a way to get around it,” he says.
When WE contacted Gordon Nelson for details of the proposed Seafield renovations and associated tenant concerns with possible evictions, Chris Nelson was uncomfortable talking about plans. “What I can say is yes, we do own the building,” he said. “But out of respect for the 14 individuals and/or families who live there, we’re not comfortable talking to the media about any potential plans for the building that may or may not effect them. We have to respect their privacy.”
B.C. Housing Minister Rich Coleman was made aware of the issue through a meeting with tenant advocacy group Renters at Risk and Seafield residents during the last weekend before the provincial by-election. Arthur Griffiths, who ran unsuccessfully with the BC Liberals, was in attendance. Renters at Risk had been trying to secure a meeting with Coleman for 18 months.
Coleman did not return WE’s phone call by press time.
Spencer Herbert, the new NDP MLA-elect for Vancouver-Burrard, has spoken with Seafield residents and is now trying to reach Coleman to discuss the Seafield eviction. “I don’t believe [the renters] got anywhere with him,” he said of the Oct. 26 meeting. Herbert is pushing to implement the Right of First Refusal clause in B.C.’s tenancy legislation, which has already been adopted by Ontario’s Liberal government. The Right of First Refusal would allow tenants to return to their apartments after renovations without paying significantly higher rent.
But could implementing of the Right of First Refusal save the Seafield tenants? Herbert says it’s only a matter of political will. “If Minister Coleman wanted to do it, if Gordon Campbell wanted to, they could. But in terms of respect for renters, we haven’t seen it from this government so far,” he says. “The Liberal government could pass legislation this November if they wanted to.”