Renters of Vancouver: “It’s a new kind of renoviction”

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      “Renters of Vancouver” takes an intimate look at how the city's millennials are dealing with the housing crisis.

      "A property company has bought up pretty much our whole block, and they’re planning to renovate our building. In the meantime, they’ve made people agree to new fixed-term leases in order to get them out of their homes without paying any money. It’s a new kind of renoviction.

      When the company took over our building in the West End, we were told our old agreements didn’t count anymore. The company rep told me I could sign a lease for three, six, or twelve months, and that the business would renew it at the end—but literally as he said it, he ticked the box that meant it would be a fixed-term arrangement, which would end after the time had elapsed. The company wouldn’t be legally obliged to renew it, and it definitely wouldn’t be in their interest to.

      My apartment is 275 square feet. I was sitting there alone at my desk, with these two large men in suits standing over me, waiting for me to sign that lease. I can totally understand why a lot of people would be so overwhelmed they would just sign it, or not read it properly under the pressure. I was happy with my old agreement, and I had a hunch that it was still valid, so I refused the new contract.

      But a lot of people in my building did sign, which means they’re out of the building after six months or a year—however long they agreed to. And while the rest of us have been offered a relocation plan when the renovations start (even though it’s unclear whether it’s even legal or legitimate), the people who have signed new leases—some of which have lived in the building for over 20 years—aren’t even eligible for that anymore. Because when their lease is up, they’re done with the company.

      The business owns the houses on both sides of us and the building just across, so it looks like the plan is to tear everything down and build a tower. Which is fine—they’ve bought the properties so it’s up to them what they do with it—but in the meantime, they've not gone through the steps of evicting us legally.

      They’ve posted notices on our walls saying that they’ve hired a private investigator to see who’s smoking on the steps, and that if you throw away your garbage improperly, you’ll be fined. They then told us that our rent could only be paid by taking our cheques to the company offices, and that we had to pay it by the first of the month. We were only informed of this on the Friday of the long weekend, and the first was a holiday. It seemed as if they made it as inconvenient as possible so they would be able to kick anyone out who failed to comply. Several people got eviction notices over it.

      The thing that brought this all to a head was when they tried to evict the old man who lives downstairs, called Ron. He’s 69, and he’s super sweet. He knows everybody in the building, and he’s lived there for a long time. He used to rent my apartment actually, but moved downstairs because it’s a bit cheaper. He pays about $620 a month, and his suite is tiny. It has about a six-and-a-half-foot ceiling and hardly any floor space.

      The company decided to throw him out when they took over the building. They didn’t fill out a real eviction notice, but just taped a typed note on their letterhead to his door. It said that his apartment was ‘illegal, and unfit for habitation.’ True—it’s a really weird downstairs suite, and it’s probably unauthorized. But it’s been there for 21 years where city inspectors have come and gone, and nobody’s cared before. Even so, I understood why they might have grounds to kick him out—until we found the apartment listed on Craigslist.

      It’s being rented out as a ‘Junior One Bedroom’ for $1500, starting October 1. Ron’s supposed to move out by September 30. When I called the property company pretending that I wanted to look round the suite, they told me that they weren’t going to be showing it until 5pm on September 30. That’s the actual minute that Ron has to be out of the apartment.

      He went to the Residential Tenancy Branch yesterday to challenge the eviction. It doesn’t seem right to us that he can be thrown out because the company has deemed his suite to be unfit for habitation, but they’re renting it out immediately for more than double the price. He’s safe in his apartment for a couple months now at least, until the RTB schedules his hearing. The problem is that Ron has already signed a piece of paper saying that he’ll leave the apartment. Although that was only based on the letter from the property company saying that the suite was uninhabitable, the RTB might still rule against him.

      We’ve talked to our MLA about what to do about the renovictions, and what to do to help Ron. He told us that we can drag things out for the next two or three years if we wanted to stay in our suites, but only by continually putting challenges in to the Residential Tenancy Branch. The property company will get the permits eventually for the renovations, and then they can evict us legally.

      It’s tough for me to decide whether to fight this, or just to go somewhere else before I’m forced out."

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