Vancouver mulls creating rental website to help tenants search building records

Renters who want to avoid moving into an apartment with mould or faulty plumbing will have a new tool at their disposal if Vancouver council gives it the go-ahead next week.

Coun. Tim Stevenson has pro-posed the city create an easily searchable website containing the inspection records, building code violations and maintenance histories of all the rental buildings in the city. Existing apartment rental websites do not contain this information.

“I really think it’s a wonderful tool that renters have never had before,” Stevenson said, noting that half of Vancouverites rent, with the proportion as high as 85 per cent in his neighbour-hood, the West End.

“Even the most diligent renter probably hasn’t gone out of their way to find this information out.”

Stevenson said Vancouver’s website will not follow the confrontational model of one in New York City called the NYC Worst Landlords Watchlist. Operated by the city’s public watchdog, it names and shames bad landlords. Stevenson noted that New York has many more problem landlords than Vancouver does.

“This is much more a database to allow citizens … some ability to look and see what’s the history – both safety and other-wise – of a building. Is this a building that I want to move into? Is it a building where my family and I want to live?” The website would only include rental buildings, not suites in detached houses, or single-room occupancy hotels, Stevenson said, adding that it could be expanded to include such places in the future.

Because the data are already available from the city, the web-site can be created by municipal staff, which means the costs involved would be minimal, Stevenson said.

The motion will be debated and voted on by council on Tuesday, and Stevenson said he is confident it will pass. He hopes to see the website operating in the first half of 2012.

Besides New York’s controversial landlords website, there is one run by the city’s department of housing that offers renters similar information to what Stevenson hopes Vancouver’s will contain.

New York City’s public advocate Bill de Blasio, who operates the ‘worst landlords’ watch list in that city, said it was created “so there would be new consequences for bad actors that walk away from their most basic responsibilities to tenants.”

The site ranks the 50 worst landlords overall, as well as the worst landlords by neighbour-hood, as defined by the number of infractions per unit.

De Blasio said some landlords are desperate to get off the list and make needed repairs quickly, while others need help after running into financial difficulties.

“For those landlords that need more pressure to do right, we enlist the media and mobilize tenants to turn up the heat.”

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