West End Rent Increase ‘Patently Unreasonable,’ Judge Rules

By Keith Fraser

The Province

Landlord ordered to refund paid increases; new hearing to be set

A judge has overturned a decision that allowed a landlord to raise rents in a Vancouver West End apartment building by up to 38 per cent.

B.C. Supreme Court Justice Linda Loo called the April 2009 ruling by the Residential Tenancy Branch to allow the increases in rents at the Seafield heritage building “patently unreasonable,” and ordered a new hearing.

The judge also ordered a refund of rent increases that were paid.

“Everybody at the Seafield is thrilled about this news,” said tenant Melissa Mewdell.

“[The next increase] would have pushed the majority of people’s rents up to the point where they wouldn’t be able to stay. This news is just in time to save the community and keep us all together. We couldn’t be happier.”

Mewdell, one of the few renters in the Pendrell Street building to escape the increases, was speaking for her fellow tenants.

Vancouver-West End NDP MLA Spencer Herbert, who has supported the renters in their battle, called the decision a “huge win” for tenants in B.C.

Rent-control guidelines limit rent increases, but the provincial Residential Tenancy Act allows landlords to apply for higher rents if they can prove units in neighbouring buildings have much higher rents.

Gordon Nelson Investments Inc., the landlord of the building, had initially demanded increases of between 53.2 and 73 per cent but, on review by the Tenancy Office, that was cut to between 15 and 38 per cent for 10 of the 14 units.

That allowed the rents for seven two-bedroom units to rise from the range of $1,325 to $1,450 per month, up to $1,833 per month, and the rent for two one-bedroom units to go from between $1,067 and $1,068 per month to $1,225 per month.

But Justice Loo found that the dispute-resolution officer, identified as K. Miller in the ruling, had failed to comply with the statutory requirement by not considering the tenants’ evidence. She found Miller was “patently unreasonable” in awarding the landlord an above-normal rent increase.

Chris Nelson of Gordon Nelson Investments said he was “generally speaking, very disappointed” by the ruling.

He noted that there were several existing long-term tenants in the building that pay more than $10,000 less per year, or 50 per cent less, than other tenants in similar suites.

“We certainly feel very strongly that we should receive a rent increase, and we’ll either get that through a re-hearing or we may even appeal Justice Loo’s decision.”

A Housing Ministry representative released a statement saying the court decision is being reviewed.

kfraser@theprovince.com

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