Residents protest ‘renovictions,’ call on government to fix loophole

Frustrated residents of a West End apartment who feel they are the victims of a legal loophole that allows for “renovictions” say they’ll keep fighting to stay in their homes.

An 84-year-old man battling cancer and a pregnant woman were among the throng of angry tenants holding signs Sunday morning outside Seafield Apartments at 1436 Pendrell St. in Vancouver.

They want the provincial government to close a loophole in the Residential Tenancy Act that allows building owners to evict residents so they can upgrade the building and charge more money for the apartments.

Owners Gordon Nelson Inc. issued eviction notices, stating they need the suites to be vacated by Feb. 1, 2011, in order to renovate the building.

The tenants say they have scrutinized the landlord’s building permits and believe the renovations do not require vacant suites. The latest round of eviction notices came 10 days after the Residential Tenancy Branch denied their landlord’s decision to increase rents by 73 per cent.

The battle goes back to 2008, when then-mayoral candidate Gregor Robertson stood outside the same building with tenants facing an earlier round of evictions, which never took place. On Sunday, Mayor Robertson said the City of Vancouver has been working with its lawyers to find a way to protect renters, but have so far found no legal means to intervene.

“I appreciate the hard work of the residents at Seafield to represent their rights and the rights of renters throughout Vancouver who are threatened with renovictions, and are victims to loopholes in the Residential Tenancy Act that mean renters lose their homes here in Vancouver all too often.”

Robertson said the decision needs to made by the housing minister and the premier.

Dana Crudo, who is four months pregnant and mother to a toddler, broke down Sunday as she described the stress her family is under and the pressure they have felt to move.

“It is a roller-coaster. One day we feel like we want to stick it out and want to make sure, just on principle to follow through,” said Crudo, who pays $1,450 per month for 1,100 square feet.

On the other hand, she said she feels pressure to move out partly because of a string of new inconveniences. Laundry rates have increased from $1.50 to $4 a load.

Builders allegedly left exposed nails when they removed the carpet in the common area. The main water connection has been turned off for lengthy periods of time.

“It is hard to cope with when you don’t know what you are expecting from day to day,” Crudo said, her voice shaking as she fought back tears. “Luckily we have an amazing community and we wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for them. It’s a complete uphill battle.

“We don’t have the time, or the energy or the resources to put forth. It is a system that is making it so difficult for tenants to defend themselves.”

Ross Waring, a building tenant for 17 years, said some of the recent eviction notices included incentives to get tenants moved out by Jan. 10. But he said tenants want to stand up to what they consider an injustice and will do whatever it takes to stay.

“I say publicly here and now that the tenants in this building are willing and able to accommodate proposed renovations,” he said.

“We will appeal these disgusting eviction notices and we’re confident that the Residential Tenancy Branch will conclude that we shouldn’t be persecuted this way. And if we don’t get justice at the RTB [Residential Tenancy Branch] — and sometimes you don’t — we’ll take it to the B.C. Supreme Court.”

The residents want changes to Section 49 (6) (b), of the act. It says a landlord may end a tenancy if the landlord has all the necessary permits and intends in good faith, to renovate or repair the rental unit in a manner that requires the rental unit to be vacant.

Amid signs that read “no tenant in B.C. is safe from renovictions,” Vancouver-West End NDP MLA Spencer Chandra Herbert called on the Liberal government to amend the Residential Tenancy Act to better balance the rights of landlords and tenants.

“Right now it is broken. It is not balanced and you get a situation like here at the Seafield where first they tried to renovict and that didn’t work, then they tried a 73-per-cent rent increase and that didn’t work and then they tried all sorts of other means to force people out,” he said.

The law firm representing Gordon Nelson Inc. e-mailed a letter to the tenants of Seafield Apartments on Saturday, warning that Gordon Nelson Inc. would take legal action against anyone who made defamatory statements about the company or its principals during Sunday’s rally.

Gordon Nelson Inc. bought the more than 75-year-old apartment building in July 2008. In September 2010, it acquired permits for restoring and refurbishing it.

In a news release Sunday, the company said it plans “to preserve the building’s heritage beauty while providing safe, energy efficient and affordable accommodation.”

Planned upgrades include replacing the 1930s-era electrical system, installing modern fire alarm and fire sprinkler systems and new energy efficient appliances, updating venting in bathrooms and kitchens to eliminate mould and replacing the central gas-fired domestic hot water system with individually metered electric hot water tanks.

The company also said it has reviewed information available on the tenants in the building which suggests that they have enough income to make the transition to other rental units.

“While we have heard our tenants complain to the media that they are of limited means over the past couple of years, a review of the tenants information suggests otherwise as these [people with] doctorates, an architect, massage therapist, and renowned food and wine critic have income that in some cases exceed $100,000, travel internationally, collect rare art and own a $500,000-plus vacation home on Hornby Island,” said company spokesman Jason Gordon.

Source: The Vancouver Sun

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