Downtown Eastside hotel tenants fight eviction after New Year's rent increase

Residents of a single-room occupancy hotel in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside fear they will be evicted if they can't come up with an additional $210 per room, per month in rent.

'It's especially tough to find a new place to live,' says tenant of Vancouver hotel

Residents who signed fixed-term leases that expired Jan. 1 now face eviction from their rooms at Ross House. (Belle Puri/CBC)

Residents of a single-room occupancy hotel in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside fear they will be evicted if they can't come up with an additional $210 per room, per month in rent.

At least one tenant at the hotel at 313 Alexander St. said she has already been told to move out. 

"I just got evicted and now I have to have all my stuff out and they locked the door on me," said Aurora Dunkley-Johnson, 23, who has a small room on the third floor of the building.  

Aurora Dunkley-Johnson, 23, has lived in the rooming house two-and-a-half years. (Belle Puri/CBC )

The tenants' fixed term leases expired Jan. 1 and they must move out unless each signs a new lease at the higher rental rates.

Michael Desbiens said his monthly rent rose to $660 from $450, effective Jan. 1.

"I paid the $610 and I owe $50," Desbiens said. "It's especially tough to find a new place to live."

"In Christmas nobody moves. In New Year's nobody moves. I was stuck to pay it. And, I'm stuck owing $50 and no food in the fridge." 

Rent increase notices were delivered to tenants on Nov. 21, 2016. 

Fixed term leases 

"The landlord is using fixed-term leases to either evict people or raise their rents, for some, by more that $200 a month," said housing activist Jean Swanson.

Swanson said some tenants didn't fully understand their leases. 

"In this building, many tenants signed fixed-term leases without understanding what they meant because they wanted to stay on good terms with the landlord," she said.

Many of the residents of the building are on welfare, which pays them $610 a month and they can't afford $660 in rent, said Swanson, who is with the Carnegie Community Action Project, an advocacy agency for the poor. 

"In this building, the landlord was particularly devious because he gave tenants a note saying that they could get a rent subsidy from Carnegie Outreach so tenants felt it might be okay," she said.

But that might not be the case, it turns out. 

"Carnegie Outreach isn't giving out subsidies to everybody, Swanson said. "It has — to a few but not to everyone." 

Situation not unique

Wendy Pederson of DTES SRO Collaborative, an advocacy group for tenants in single-room-occupancy hotels, said tenants are routinely intimidated when signing leases.

"Tenants are feeling this all over this neighbourhood and we're tired of it. We're sick of this." 

The housing advocates plan to fight the evictions under the Residential Tenancy Act but that process could take months to resolve. 

"I can hardly see," said Humberto Macios Carrasco who has lived in the building for five years. "I don't know what I'm signing and I've got nowhere to go."

The 24-unit rooming house was bought by retired West Vancouver architect Charles Haynes in 2006 as a tribute to his 19-year-old son, Ross, who died of a drug overdose in their British Properties home. 

Haynes wanted to channel his grief into something that might do some good for addicts in recovery.

Landlord Ashley Haynes says the cost of running Ross House has gone up, so rents must rise too. (Belle Puri/CBC )

"My brother died of a heroin overdose back in the time when there wasn't really any clean, sober houses," said Ashley Haynes — daughter of Charles Haynes. She manages the rooming house. 

"We did all the work and built everything in here to provide a place for people to have clean sober living.

"People are upset the rents are getting increased but we don't get any subsidies from the city. 

"People throw televisions out the window. We have tens of thousands of dollars of damages. That comes out of our pocket. We don't make any money here." 

The hotel, known as Ross House, is one of last remnants of Vancouver's historic Japantown. 

The house first appears in the city directories in 1907 and was built for Yonekichi Aoki, a contractor for the Canadian Pacific Railway, according to a blog by Vancouver writer Eve Lazarus

It's listed as a Japanese boarding house.