British Columbia

Vancouver Tenants Union wants to build an eviction database

The Vancouver Tenants Union is looking for a way to gather data about and track evictions in the city.

Group says there's a 'big gap' because most eviction data isn't currently recorded anywhere

The average cost for a one-bedroom apartment in Vancouver is $1,307, according to a 2018 rental market report from the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation. (Darryl Dyck/Canadian Press)

A tenants advocacy group is soliciting help from Vancouver's brightest computer scientists, students, professors, and mappers to help build an eviction database for the city.

Bryan Jacobs, a representative for Vancouver Tenants Union's data team, says the group is looking for help to gather and process data about the frequency and distribution of evictions in the city.

"There's a big gap right now because evictions aren't actually recorded anywhere," Jacobs told host Gloria Macarenko on CBC's On The Coast

Many evictions simply require a landlord serving notice to a tenant. It's only when eviction cases proceed to the dispute resolution stage that the residential tenancy branch starts tracking information. 

The Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing says the residential tenancy branch does post arbitrators' decisions about eviction cases online. However, information about individual renters or landlords — unless they are large companies — is withheld for privacy reasons.

Crowdsourced information 

Jacobs says the union is asking the community to submit their own eviction experiences to get around this gap. 

Bryan Jacobs, a representative for Vancouver Tenants Union's data team, makes a presentation about the eviction database on August 21, 2019. (Submitted by the Vancouver Tenants Union)

He says, for one, the group will be partnering with legal advocacy groups that already work on the front lines. When tenants get evicted, they would be referred to a tracking portal that would get reported to the database. 

Jacobs says once all the information is compiled, the union will process and analyze the data.

He says the database can then be used to help tenants by identifying specific risk factors, such as whether a landlord has applied for a development permit or building permit recently or whether rents are substantially below market rate. 

Residents and housing advocates held a rally at the Woodland Apartments in Vancouver on April 14, 2018 to advocate for better protections for renters. (CBC)

"If we can categorize the types of risk factors that precipitate an eviction before it happens, we can reach out to folks in high risk areas and educate them of their rights and that the [residential tenancy branch] exists," he said. 

Privacy concerns

Jacobs says he understands there might be concerns around the creation of an eviction database — particularly because this data is "very, very sensitive and private." 

"It's very, very important that this data doesn't get into the wrong hands."

Ultimately, he says, the group is simply trying to increase tenures and help people stay put and prevent displacement.

"People deserve to set roots down and have a home."

A statement from the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing says it is also working toward a more equitable housing environment, pointing to its newly formed Compliance and Enforcement Unit. 

"The [unit] is making sure both landlords and renters understand and follow the rules and is taking strong action against serious offenders, including proactively initiating investigations."

Listen to the segment on CBC's On the Coast:

With files from On the Coast, Rohit Joseph

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