British Columbia

Big win for tenants' rights in U.S. fuels push for renters' representation in B.C.

A recent victory for tenants in San Francisco is bolstering the organizers of a would-be union for tenants in B.C. seeking to mobilize renters looking for protection from unreasonable rates and conditions.

Vancouver Tenants Union lobbies government for right to represent renters

The Rent Strike Bargain campaign aims to organize tenants' groups in B.C. cities with large corporate landlords. (Rent Strike Bargain Collective)

A recent victory for tenants in San Francisco is bolstering the organizers of a would-be union for tenants in B.C. seeking to mobilize renters looking for protection from unreasonable rates and conditions.

In the first law of its kind in the U.S., San Francisco passed a right-to-organize ordinance in March, requiring large corporate landlords to recognize tenant associations on their properties, attend at least four tenant meetings a year and bargain with tenant unions "in good faith."

If landlords fail to comply with the ordinance, renters can apply for a rent reduction as a penalty.

The ordinance stemmed from a dispute between Veritas Investments, the largest landlord in the city, and the Veritas Tenants' Association, created in response to ongoing rent disputes and claims of tenant harassment. 

The win by the Veritas Tenants' Association in San Francisco is getting the attention of tenants rights activists in B.C. 

Ben Ger with the Vancouver Tenants Union says they have been lobbying government for the past two years for the right to represent tenants.

Vancouver Tenants Union's Ben Ger speaks with Stephen Quinn about how a big court battle win for American renters could spark new negotiation rules for landlords and tenants here in Vancouver.

"And to see a big win out in San Francisco really gives us a lot of hope for what can be done here." 

Ger's organization is one of the tenant groups behind the Rent Strike Bargain campaign and is working with other tenant groups across the province to lobby B.C. Attorney General David Eby to grant tenants the same rights as they have in San Francisco.

The BCGEU's provincial executive and Unite Here Local 40, have joined the campaign in support of renters.  (Rent Strike Bargain Collective)

Currently, only labour unions have the right to be certified as collective bargaining entities under the Labour Relations Code. 

Labour unions, such as the B.C. General Employees' Union and Unite Here Local 40, have joined the campaign, as their workers are facing similar struggles with finding affordable housing. 

Ger said that Rent Strike Bargain petitioned Eby in May 2021 to be recognized as a collective bargaining unit with the right to represent tenants but were not happy with the conversation's focus on increasing affordable housing supply as a solution to the rental crisis

"We've been back and forth with Eby," Ger said. "Unfortunately, he continues to hammer home this idea that the only way for us to fix the housing crisis is by giving more and more money to these rich developers to build unaffordable housing in all of our cities."

Simon Fraser University Geography professor Nicholas Blomley agreed with the approach that the campaign was taking. His research interest is in legal geography and he says rental housing is increasingly being snapped up by large corporate investors.

"And so in that context, tenant organizing seems to be imperative, because otherwise, it's a very unfair relationship as a global corporation and an individual tenant." 

"I mean it's never been a close horizontal relationship, it's always been one of inequality, but it's become so much more unequal right now given the financialization and the kind of corporatization of rental housing. 

The win by a tenants' association in San Francisco has gained the attention of tenants rights activists in B.C.  (Rent Strike Bargain Collective)

CBC News reached out to one of B.C.'s largest landlords, Starlight Investments, to comment on Rent Strike Bargain's campaign but did not receive a response by deadline.

Ger says the Rent Strike Bargain campaign is seeing success organizing and creating tenants' groups in Metro Vancouver, Victoria, Nanaimo, Kelowna and other B.C. cities.

"We're really focused on building grassroots power, building militancy, helping tenants take some control of their lives and addressing those bread and butter issues, the material issues in their lives, the rent increases or eviction notices," he said.

"And through that, we hope that the province and city, as well, will fall in line and understand how important this is for renters."

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