Are "renovictions" new?

Posted in BC Votes 2009 Reality Check Posted by CBC News on April 30, 2009 03:28 PM |

Mostly falseThe NDP claim that "loophole" in the Residential Tenancy Act leading to "renovictions" is the fault of the Campbell government is mostly false. Driving through the West End of Vancouver it’s easy to be a little jealous of the people who live in the high-rise apartments over-looking English Bay. they seem to have it all: a diverse neighbourhood, beach access, and affordable rent.

But the affordable rent part is changing, and according to NDP leader Carole James, it’s because of a “loophole” in the Residential Tenancy Act (RTA.)

Is it true, as the NDP claims, landlords are allowed to toss tenants out and increase the rent for minor renovations?

The politicos have nick-named this process a “renoviction,” and the story goes because there are rules around how much a landlord can raise the rent outright, the landlord will decide to renovate the suite and say the tenant has to move out to get the work done.

Once the apartment is fixed up, the landlord jacks the rent and gets new tenants willing to pay it. The NDP claims some landlords are hiding behind the rules to slap a coat of paint on as an excuse to raise the rent.

James told a crowd in the West End recently “[the loophole] allows landlords to toss people out and increase the rent for very minor renovations, the act is there so if people do major renovations there is a recognition that the rent goes up.” The headline on the press release from the rally? “Failed Campbell policies lead to rent increases, evictions.”

Are “renovictions” new? According to Martha Lewis from the Tenants Resource and Advisory Centre, "landlords have always been able to evict tenants for renovations." She said when real estate prices shoot up, and vacancy rates are low, there's pressure and incentive for landlords to raise the rent. The ability to evict to renovate has been around since before Expo ‘86.

While the Campbell government did make changes to the RTA in 2003, the Liberal campaign argues their amendments to the Act were aimed at “improving protection for landlords and tenants.”

Reality Check looked at the RTA, and when it comes to the section on renovations, or the “landlord’s use of property,” the RTA states a landlord can give two months notice if it plans to “demolish the rental unit or do major repairs or renovations that require the building or rental unit be empty for the work to be done.”

The question then becomes, what’s a “major repair?” During the committee meetings leading to the changes in the RTA, NDP MLA Jenny Kwan wanted to set the threshold for “major renovation” as a reno that needed a permit.

But then Minister of Housing and Social Development Rich Coleman said, “we will not be sitting down and deciding that this renovation is, but that renovation isn't.” His point was that if a tenant felt the eviction was unfair, they could appeal it at the Residential Tenancy Branch, (RTB.)

Two decisions made by arbitrators at the RTB were taken to court for judges to decide on two cases where tenants were evicted from their apartments for renovations. It clarified the parameters of when this rule should be used.

In the first case, Allman v. Amacon Property Management Services Inc., the B.C. Court of Appeal decided just because a landlord finds it more cost-effective to have the suite vacant to do the renovations (because it goes faster and therefore costs less,) it’s not a good enough reason to evict someone if the renovation can be done with them in the suite.

When Sarah Berry and Jeremy Kloet went to B.C. Supreme court to fight their eviction notice, the judge decided if the tenant agrees to move out temporarily, they should not be evicted. As well, the judge decided if the suite only needs to be vacant temporarily, a permanent eviction isn’t necessary.

So what if you are a tenant who gets a notice of “renoviction?” Lewis said it’s worth challenging at the RTB if you want to stay, “I do think it's worth going to the [arbitration] hearings. I do think they are often successful for the tenants when it is just minor renovations"

That can work according to the West End Residents association: 20 renters were handed eviction notices at the Glenmore apartment building in Vancouver last year, ten chose to leave and ten fought the evictions, and won.

The NDP is being applauded by tenants rights activists for a plan to change the Residential Tenancy Act, proposing changes which would force landlords to give longer notice, and give evicted tenants first crack at renovated suites without a huge rent increase.

But their claim that it’s a Campbell loophole at the root of the “renovictions?” We call that mostly false.