East Vancouver tenants claim they're targets of 'renoviction,' refuse to leave homes

There used to be around two dozen residents at Woodland Apartments in Strathcona. Now there are just seven.

Residents who have lived at the Woodland Apartments for years say they're being unfairly forced out

Liam McClure of the Vancouver Tenants Union says despite new rules announced by the province, renters can't expect to move back into renovated suites at the price they paid per month when they left. (CBC)

The few remaining residents of Vancouver's Woodlands Apartments say new rules from the province to protect renters won't help in the fight against their landlord, who wants them to move out so extensive renovations can be done.

Sue Robinet, who has lived in the aging two-building complex in the Strathcona neighbourhood for the past 17 years, has faced multiple eviction notices over the past six months. The latest asks her to vacate her unit by May 31.

"I'm preparing for the worst and hoping for the best," she said. "So I'm packing some things, putting them in storage, but ultimately I'm planning on staying."

There used to be around two dozen residents at the apartments on East Pender Street and Woodland Drive. Now there are just seven. Some had lived there for nearly 40 years because of the community there, along with the affordable rent.

In the summer of 2017, the apartments were bought by a new owner, Dino Chand.

He wants to do extensive renovations to upgrade the property, requiring current tenants to leave.

Sue Robinet has lived at the Woodland Apartments for 17 years. (CBC)

'Renoviction' threat

Residents call what they are going through a "renoviction," in which a landlord kicks out tenants under the guise of doing repairs, only to dramatically raise rents that may or may not relate to any upgrades.

"It's just indicative of what's going on in Vancouver," said Eron Calderbank, who has lived at Woodland Apartments with his wife and child for 10 years.

"I feel terrible about it. People are being asked to move so that a landlord can do what he claims is a luxury renovation into an old building so that he can make more profit."

Residents say they have banded together to fight the evictions and say they have won arbitration for each resident at the Residential Tenancy Branch, which settles disputes between tenants and landlords in B.C.

They say they're not against the renovations, but want their landlord to upgrade one building at a time, so they can stay in one while the other is being worked on.

The current owner of the Woodland Apartments in Strathcona say the two buildings are in need of a major upgrade. (CBC)

Landlord offering support

Chand's lawyer Michael Drouillard says his client wants to do major repairs at the site, which he says could "take a very long time."

He has offered tenants support to relocate by subsidizing their rent.

Drouillard says Chand is also willing to allow them to come back to their suites once they are upgraded at 20 per cent below market rent.

"It's something that's better than what the law requires currently and better [than] what the ... government is currently proposing," he said.

On Thursday the province announced more rights and compensation to renovicted tenants.

For most tenants, the changes include: 

  • Four months notice, up from two, if a landlord evicts them to demolish, renovate, or convert the unit to a non-rental, non-housing or caretaker unit.
  • Thirty days notice, up from 15, to apply for dispute resolution in those cases.
  • A year's worth of rental compensation if an eviction is enacted in bad faith in those circumstances.
  • A first right of refusal in multi-unit buildings, at the market rate, when evictions happen because of renovation or repair. 

Liam McClure of the Vancouver Tenants Union say the new rules don't go far enough and won't help tenants at the Woodland Apartments.

"The financial incentive to evict tenants is not removed by that legislative action," he said.

McClure hopes that the experience of tenants at the Woodland Apartments will spur the province on to further protect renters.

In the meantime, those residents who are left will wait on a decision if they can remain from an arbitrator at the tenancy branch.

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