Vancouver Apartment Owner Acted in Bad Faith, Residential Tenancy Branch Rules

 Vancouver Apartment Owner Acted in Bad Faith, Residential Tenancy Branch Rules

Photograph by: Stuart Davis, Vancouver Sun files

BY JEFF LEE

VANCOUVER SUN

A West End apartment owner acted in bad faith in trying to mass-evict the 14 tenants of his building 10 days after failing to win a 73 per cent rent increase, the Residential Tenancy Branch ruled Monday.

In a decision hailed by legal aid lawyers as a rare and strongly-worded rebuke, the branch overturned eviction notices issued by Gordon Nelson Inc. last year for residents of the three-storey Seafield Apartments at 1436 Pendrell St.

Adjudicator D. Vaughn said he accepted the residents’ arguments that Gordon Nelson’s motive for trying to evict them was likely in retribution for their successfully beating back the rent increases.

“In the circumstances before me I find that, on a balance of probabilities, the landlord was not acting in good faith when they served the tenants with notices to end tenancy,” he wrote. “Rather, I find it likely that the (notices) were served because the landlord was unsuccessful in their attempt to achieve significantly higher rates of rent for the rental units in question.”

The decision is the third major setback for Gordon Nelson, which bought the 75-year-old building in 2008. Almost immediately it issued rent increases of 73 per cent. Some of the residents had lived there since 1960 and all were considered long-term tenants.

The residents challenged the rents before the Residential Tenancy Branch, which instead approved an increase of 38 per cent. The residents then appealed for a judicial review, and B.C. Supreme Court set aside the increase and sent the case back to the branch for reconsideration. The branch subsequently sided with the residents and in November, 2010 threw out the rent increase entirely.

Ten days later Gordon Nelson served eviction notices to everyone saying it needed the building empty to carry out renovations. The tenants said none of the repairs required them to move out.

In his ruling, Vaughn said it was likely that Gordon Nelson bought the building with the intent of evicting the residents on mass in order to raise rents. He also said the timing of the eviction notices was suspect, coming almost immediately after the company lost the judicial review.

“Therefore, I find that the landlord is attempting to end these tenancies in bad faith,” the adjudicator wrote.

Doug King, a staff lawyer for Pivot Legal Society, which represented the tenants, hailed the ruling.

“The decision was basically that the owner was operating in bad faith, and that’s not an easy thing to get from the Residential Tenancy Branch,” he said. “That’s an important finding.”

He said the ruling doesn’t protect the tenants from yet another notice of eviction or rent increase. But he said Gordon Nelson can’t use the same arguments of needing vacancy in order to carry out repairs.

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