Way Cleared for 38% Hike in Heritage Apartment Rent

WENDY STUECK

Globe and Mail

VANCOUVER — A Residential Tenancy Branch decision has cleared the way for rent increases of up to 38 per cent, or about $500 a month, for a majority of units in the Seafield Apartments, a heritage West End building whose tenants had banded together to fight the increases.

Residents of the building, who include an elderly brother and sister who have lived in their apartment for nearly 50 years, yesterday declined to comment on the decision, which was reached earlier this month.

But renters’ groups and New Democratic Party candidate Spencer Herbert yesterday used the decision to highlight what they say are flaws in British Columbia’s Residential Tenancy Act.

“Landlords will use this loophole to drive up rents far above the allowable increase,” Mr. Herbert told reporters at a news conference in Vancouver. “In economic tough times, we should be doing more to protect renters, not less.”

Mr. Herbert was referring to a provision of the act that allows owners to seek increases over the annual allowable increase if the rent for a unit is significantly lower than rent paid for comparable units in the same geographic area. The current annual allowable increase is 3.7 per cent.

According to the RTB decision, the owner of the Seafield Apartments, Gordon Nelson Investments, applied to boost per-square-foot rents by as much as 75 per cent, based on advertised rental rates for nearby apartments.

Tenants fought back, arguing that rents at the Seafield – a three-storey walk-up built in the 1930s – were being compared to those for units in modern buildings with amenities such as pools and rooftop balconies.

The decision gave the landlord a green light to raise rents for nine units in the 14-unit building, but denied the landlord’s application to raise rents in four other apartments. One apartment, recently leased at higher rates, was not part of the application.

The increases, to be phased in between now and August of 2010, would boost the rate for two-bedroom apartments now costing between $1,300 and $1,450 a month to $1,833.

The province “limits rent increases to give tenants stability and peace of mind,” but also recognizes the need for flexibility, a Housing Ministry spokesman said yesterday.

Over the past two years, B.C. renters’ groups have been lobbying for changes to the provincial tenancy act, including provisions that would protect renters from “renovictions,” evictions that result from renovations. Ontario’s 2007 rental legislation gives renters the right to move back in to units, at their former rent subject to the annual allowable increase, if they are evicted for renovations.

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2 Responses to “Way Cleared for 38% Hike in Heritage Apartment Rent”

  1. Derek Richer Says:

    Here is how the BC Housing Ministry has responded to the travesty of the Seafield RTB decision, as reported in the article above:

    ‘The province “limits rent increases to give tenants stability and peace of mind,” but also recognizes the need for flexibility, a Housing Ministry spokesman said yesterday.’

    Judging from the Orwellian language emanating from Rich Coleman’s housing ministry, the word “flexibility” covers a multitude of sorrow. How can any renter experience stability or peace of mind when the law permits greedy landlords to acquire increased “flexibility” in the double digits at the same renter’s expense?

    If I were a provincial Liberal candidate, I would be deeply embarrassed to be associated with the sort of mentality that would dream up such verbal nonsense.

  2. Hal Says:

    “If I were a provincial Liberal candidate, I would be deeply embarrassed to be associated with the sort of mentality that would dream up such verbal nonsense.”

    Derek, I think that there isn’t much of anything that could embarrass or shame the current crop of Liberal MLAs and candidates.

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