Naoibh O’Connor, Vancouver Courier
November 29, 2018
Vancouver city council spent two evenings hearing renters’ challenges dealing with the tight rental market
It will be several more days before the fate of COPE Coun. Jean’s Swanson’s motion aimed at “protecting tenants from renovictions and aggressive buy-outs” is known.
After listening to speakers over two evening sessions, council decided on Nov. 28 to refer the debate and vote to Dec. 4 beginning at 5 p.m.
That gives councillors time to submit questions to city staff before the discussion begins.
A decision likely can’t come soon enough for Ezra Bloom who told council what it’s like to be precariously housed in Vancouver.
Bloom estimates he’s been renovicted almost a half dozen times in his more than 10 years in the city, a situation he called common among his friends. Now he lives on the main floor of a house but he said realtors show up every month asking to see the landlord.
Houses on either side of his rental are empty and are being renovated. The home across the street is also vacant. He said all the tenants were forced out and they have few protections because rental properties with fewer than six units aren’t covered by the city’s Tenant Relocation and Protection Policy (TRPP).
Swanson’s motion aims to address that and other issues.
Among its proposals are for the City to amend the TRPP, to the extent of its authority under the Vancouver Charter, so that it applies to all forms of accommodation, in all areas of the city, and to all permits that will result in the temporary or permanent displacement of tenants. Swanson also wants the City to require landlords to offer displaced tenants the opportunity to temporarily move out during renovations without their leases ending or rent increasing.
The motion further proposes:
- that the City comes up with methods to keep track of all apartment buildings sold in Vancouver and provide affected tenants with information about their tenancy rights by mail;
- that the City explore measures, including changes to the Vancouver Charter, if necessary, to regulate and publicly register all tenant buyouts; and
- that the City call on the province to implement vacancy controls for B.C. or give Vancouver the power to regulate maximum rent increases during and between tenancies.
Bloom implored council to adopt the motion as presented.
“This is a crisis and the status quo is not sufficient. The status quo created the problem,” he said, while comparing the situation to a natural disaster where you “don’t stop to ask your jurisdiction, you take action.”
“…This is a flood. This is a fire. This is a flood that’s sweeping through these communities.”
On the jurisdiction point, Bloom also argued council doesn’t get its power from the Vancouver Charter.
“You get your power bestowed by the electorate — by us,” he said.
That was a recurring theme Wednesday evening — several speakers pointed out councillors were elected by the people and would be expected to honour their election promises to deal with the city’s affordability problem.
Ishmam Bhuiyan, a UBC student and organizer with the Vancouver Tenants Union (VTU), promised he would “personally deliver a copy of the vote to every single renters’ doorstep.”
He insisted councillors’ vote should be informed by how it will affect the most vulnerable in the city.
Landlords didn’t show up to speak to the motion in council chambers, which Swanson highlighted several times, but during a two-hour period Nov. 28, councillors received 32 emails from landlords asking that it be rejected. LandlordBC and the Urban Development Institute sent similar messages.
When contacted by the Courier, LandlordBC executive director David Hutniak shared the organization’s submission.
Hutniak maintains a socio-economic impact analysis is needed so councillors fully understand the issues and consequences.
“Today we encouraged our members to participate directly in this debate and ask the Mayor & Council to please hit “pause” and take the necessary time to undertake a thorough and objective analysis of the unintended consequences of the measures proposed therein,” he wrote in an email.
“Our members believe that the Mayor & Council should share [the] very real concern about the impact these proposed measures will have on the quality of existing rental stock and, perhaps more critically, the building of new rental housing (especially purpose-built rental housing) that we so desperately need for our social and economic well-being.”
Hutniak said members are particularly concerned about the prospect of vacancy control, which would tie rent controls to the rental unit.
He said it would hurt the financial viability of a landlord’s rental business and “spell the end of new purpose-built rental construction in B.C. at a time when we’re finally starting to see some new rental housing being built…”
Renters dismissed landlords’ concerns, calling them “scare tactics.” They also argued good landlords won’t be affected by the motion because they don’t renovict.
Liam McClure, a VTU tenant advocate who’s training to become a lawyer in the labour movement, said there’s no evidence to prove landlords’ claims and they shouldn’t be accepted at face value.
McClure pointed to language in the Goodman real estate report, which reveals that many properties are “explicitly marketed to investors based on the potential for renovicting tenants.”
Wording for properties listed for sale included such phrases as, “outstanding potential to renovate units and further increase existing rental income which is below market” and “rents are significantly below market representing a tremendous value-add opportunity.”
McClure said many listings advertise the existing net operating income of the building, demonstrating that they’re “highly profitable even at below-market rents – necessary maintenance can be budgeted for within these margins.”
“These sales are not about putting aging properties into the hands of people who are prepared to revitalize aging buildings, they are about making predatory investors rich off of the destruction of Vancouver’s remaining affordable rental housing stock, at the expense of working tenants and the public at large,” he said.
Ben Ger who, aside from Vancouver, has lived in Toronto and Montreal, said while landlords didn’t appear before council they are represented.
“They are represented in the walls of power. They are represented in the amount of motion and action we need… to move these stagnant institutions. And they are represented in money.”
Ger, a VTU organizer and member of its outreach and advocacy team, called the idea of a good landlord being threatened by the motion “fake” and he questioned the notion that their investments are at risk.
“We have good landlords in Montreal and rent control,” he said.
“… This [number] of tenants coming out here is not something that all of us want or have the time to do. This is your sign. Your city is screaming at you. I have lived in other places and I know that this is not normal.”d I know that this is not normal.”