Vancouver council considers anti-‘renoviction’ motion

Dan Fumano, Vancouver Sun
November 27, 2018

“Recommendations to the task force by tenant unions and other interest groups on renovations and other issues are striking fear into the hearts of many landlords.”

Big changes are on the horizon for the world of rental housing in B.C.

That’s giving hope to some tenants and their advocates, who call for a shift in the balance of power which, they say, has historically favoured landlords over renters. But businesses don’t like uncertainty, and one industry professional said the current environment is “striking fear into the hearts of landlords.”

Within weeks, the provincial government’s rental housing task force is expected to deliver its final report, which could lead to major changes to B.C.’s residential tenancy legislation. And first, Vancouver city council is considering a motion this week intended to strengthen protections for tenants.

Late into Tuesday night, Vancouver councillors heard from some of the 93 people registered to speak on the motion, put forward by Coun. Jean Swanson, seeking to protect tenants from “renovictions,” a term referring to landlords using proposed renovations or repairs to evict long-term tenants and bring in new tenants at higher rents. Among other things, Swanson’s motion seeks policy changes to allow tenants to temporarily vacate their units during renovations, and return without their leases ending or rent increasing.

Many of the 93 speakers addressing council Tuesday night had received eviction notices themselves. But the case of one of them in particular — Vivian Baumann, or number 18 on Tuesday’s speakers’ list — has everyone from landlords to renters’ advocates watching closely.

Baumann had lived in her West End apartment for 16 years when, in July of last year, she received an eviction notice telling her she needed to move out so the landlords could carry out renovations. Baumann fought the eviction and the case went to a Residential Tenancy Branch arbitration, which she lost in January. But in April, Baumann won a B.C. Supreme Court decision, where a judge set aside her eviction, finding the RTB arbitrator had failed to consider a compromise offered by Baumann, who had offered to temporarily vacate the suite during the renovations and return afterwards.

Baumann’s landlord appealed, and the B.C. Court of Appeal heard arguments on the case earlier this month. While Baumann awaits the Appeal Court’s decision, her case has been highlighted by industry professionals and advocates alike as a major one.

In May of this year, the Residential Tenancy Branch issued a policy guideline, updating its staff about the Supreme Court decision in Baumann’s case.

“A landlord cannot end a tenancy for renovations or repairs simply because it would be easier or more economical to complete the work,” the RTB’s policy guideline said. “If repairs or renovations require the unit to be empty and the tenant is willing to vacate the suite temporarily and remove belongings if necessary, ending the tenancy may not be required.”

Baumann’s case was also cited, in July, in the Goodman Report’s Greater Vancouver 2018 Rental Apartment Review, billed as “the newsletter for apartment owners since 1983.” In the newsletter, Vancouver lawyer Claire Immega wrote that while the April court decision on Baumann’s case was under appeal and the outcome uncertain, “this potential change in the law could detract dramatically from the financial feasibility of significant renovations. ”

Reached Tuesday, Immega said she’s heard concerns, from some of the real estate companies and landlords with whom she works, that if the province makes the wrong changes to the Residential Tenancy Act, the results could be bad not only for landlords, but their tenants.

“‘Rental housing apocalypse’ is a term that’s been used to me,” Immega said.

“Most of B.C.’s rental housing stock is old, and requires or will shortly require significant and very expensive repairs to keep it habitable. Buildings that don’t get repaired eventually fall down or get condemned,” she said. “If legal changes have the effect of making it impossible to run a rental building in the black while also keeping it standing and in good condition, then yes, those legal changes are, in my opinion, likely to have the effect of reducing the availability of rental stock over time.”

In the July newsletter, Immega wrote: “Recommendations to the task force by tenant unions and other interest groups on renovations and other issues are striking fear into the hearts of many landlords, and some changes, if implemented, may seriously erode the availability of rental housing in B.C.”

Swanson’s motion before Vancouver council this week, Immega said Tuesday, is an example of one such proposal that could have such an effect.

Immega also noted that Swanson’s motion could suffer from “jurisdictional and other legal issues.”

Indeed, earlier this month, city staff wrote a memo outlining which parts of Swanson’s motion appeared to be outside the authority of the City of Vancouver. In response to that staff memo, Swanson introduced a revised version of her motion Tuesday night, with changes she said were “made with legal input.”

Council was expected to continue hearing from speakers on Swanson’s motion into Wednesday.

In Immega’s July newsletter, she wrote that in “today’s shifting legal sands” for rental housing, “What’s going to happen is anybody’s guess.”