British Columbia

New Westminster renters rally against renovictions as landlord fine bylaw comes into effect

Dozens of tenants are being evicted from a New Westminster apartment building and hope new city bylaws meant to curb renovictions will work out in their favour.

Tenants hope new laws will help their case; city says landlord already facing fines

New Westminister tenant Shelley Outwaite addresses fellow protesters on Sunday. (Jon Hernandez/CBC)

New Westminster, B.C., renters being forced out of their homes by their landlord in an apparent "renoviction" hope action from the city in the form of fines will allow them to stay.

Dozens of tenants like Shelley Outhwaite marched through the city's streets Sunday to protest the actions of Dinesh Chand, who owns several buildings in New Westminster.

Outhwaite says she has lived in the building at 732 5th Ave. for more than a decade, but learned two days after Christmas that it will be renovated and she must move out by summer.

"I was in shock, really," she said. "It took me three days to come to terms with it, you know. I was with my daughter, and I just didn't want to break down." 

So-called renovictions refer to when a landlord asks tenants to vacate in order for upgrades to be done. Landlords sometimes also raise rates, sometimes to a degree not commensurate with the changes or renovations made.

Outhwaite and others hope that new tough penalties put in place by the city to dissuade landlords from undertaking renovations will help them.

"We always pay our rent on time, we've been good tenants, we've done nothing wrong … we should be allowed to stay," she said.

The landlord of 732 5th Avenue in New Westminster says he has tried to minimize the impact of ending tenancies by offering subsidized rent and alternative affordable housing to the existing tenants. (Jon Hernandez/CBC)

The City of New Westminster approved a bylaw in early February that stops landlords from evicting tenants under the guise of renovations and then increasing the rent.

Landlords who violate the bylaw can be fined up to $1,000 a day and lose their business licences.

According to a statement from the city, the landlord of the 5th Avenue building has already received two fines from a previous complaint. 

As of Sunday, city staff could not confirm if the fines were issued under the new bylaw or for violating maintenance regulations.

But they did say a new investigation was being undertaken based on allegations it received and that staff met with the owner of that property on Friday to "lay out in considerable detail the city's expectations in relation to our new business-licensing restrictions."

Protesters against renovictions on Sunday. Officials with the City of New Westminster say over the past few years up to 300 residents have been forced from their rental units but that vacating wasn't always necessary for the work to be done. (Jon Hernandez/CBC)

A statement from Chand's lawyer, Michael Drouillard, says that protests like the one Saturday inflame tensions and unfairly puts "blame for the shortage of affordable rental housing on small landlords like my client."

He says Chand has chosen to extend the life of the building and maintain its affordability under what is economically possible.

The statement says that ending tenancies was a difficult decision, but that Chand is trying to help tenants by offering subsidized rent and alternative housing, something that many have taken him up on.

The dispute is also currently in arbitration at the Residential Tenancy Branch.

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With files from Jon Hernandez