By Sandra Thomas
West End NDP candidate Spencer Herbert says a decision by the Residential Tenancy Office to allow an almost 40 per cent rent increase at the Seafield Apartments in the West End signals the end of rent control.
“Rent control is effectively dead in this province,” said Herbert, who represented the former Vancouver-Burrard riding before it was redistributed for the election. “And now, thanks to the Liberals, renters have no protection.”
Rent control guidelines limit annual rent increases to 3.7 per cent, but a clause in the provincial Residential Tenancy Act allows landlords to apply for higher amounts if they can prove units in neighbouring buildings garner substantially higher rent. In January, landlords Gordon Nelson Investments notified tenants of the Seafield, at 1436 Pendrell St., of rent increases up to 73 per cent. The tenants appealed, and this week the Residential Tenancy Office approved increases of up to 38 per cent.
Arbitration decisions aren’t legally binding, but are often used as examples during later disputes, which makes the tenants believes the ruling could set a precedent.
Herbert said the rental legislation must be changed, particularly the geographic profiling clause. “In the case of the Seafield I raised the issue with [Liberal Minister of Housing] Rich Coleman and said the legislation has to be changed,” Herbert said. “But he said it’s fine. That’s why I introduced a private members’ bill asking to get rid of this part of the code.”
Liberal Vancouver-West-End candidate Laura McDiarmid said while any legislation is open for review, she believes the law worked in favour of the tenants. “I’m very sympathetic to renters as are all the B.C. Liberals,” she said. “But from the sounds of it there was a reduction in what the landlords had initially applied for. To me that sounds like a win for these tenants.”
McDiarmid said the Liberals have offered incentives to landlords to keep rental units intact. “We have to look at both sides,” she said. A message posted on a website run by Seafield tenants says they won’t comment on the decision because they’re seeking legal advice and are considering a judicial review of the decision.
The rent increase will affect nine units out of 14 at the Seafield, which means the rent on seven two-bedroom units will increase from between $1,358 and $1,450 to $1,833 by next year.
If the initial application had been approved, the $1,374 rent on a two-bedroom apartment would have increased to $2,255. The tenants facing the highest rent increase of 38 per cent are 82-year-old Roland McFall and his 93-year-old sister Mary who’ve lived in the building for 48 years.
According to the 12-page ruling by dispute resolution officer K. Miller, the landlords can raise the rent in three increments, with three months notice in between each increase.
The ruling notes the landlords didn’t have to prove rents at the Seafield are significantly lower than “all” comparable apartments, but merely prove there are “some” units with higher rents than the subject units. Neither the West End Renter’s Survey, complied by the tenants, or the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation’s analysis of the survey, were considered as evidence.