West End tower tenants rally against looming renovictions

Residents of English Bay landmark Berkeley Tower band together to present alternative to eviction and probable rent increases.

'They just need to get rid of us': Residents of Berkeley Tower band together after receiving eviction notices

Berkeley Tower at the corner of Denman and Davie was bought by Reliance Properties in 2016 for $43 million. The company has issued notices of eviction to all tenants stating the building needs major renovations. (Megan Batchelor/CBC)

Residents of a 60-year-old West End landmark are planning a rally in an attempt to stop the renovictions planned for their entire 15-storey building.

Andre Duchene, one of about 60 tenants facing eviction from Berkeley Tower at the corner of Denman and Davie streets, says the group is fighting back because there are no affordable rental alternatives in the city.

Berkeley Tower sits on a prime piece of West End real estate, half a block from English Bay beach. (Google Street View)

"We have affordable rent because we've lived here since before rents started spiking in Vancouver," he said. "And Reliance Properties is saying we want to make more money off this building, so we're going to kick you out."

Reliance Properties bought the distinctive green and yellow tower near English Bay for $43 million in 2016.

On June 22 of this year, the company issued notices informing tenants of staggered evictions beginning in 2019. 

The company also promised to pay evictees twice the compensation required by law — on average, $10,000 per unit. 

"To reduce impacts, we are significantly exceeding what governments require of us ..." wrote Reliance president Jon Stovell in a statement sent to CBC.

He acknowledged the "difficult news for tenants," but said the aging building needs major upgrades to the interior and exterior. 

Tenants proposal

Stovell said some tenants have agreed to the compensation package. However, Duchene says the majority have banded together to present an alternative which would allow tenants to "survive the evictions."

Built in 1958, Berkeley Tower was the first residential highrise built in the West End. (Megan Batchelor/CBC)

Last month, residents told Reliance Properties they were willing to relocate at their own expense during the renovation if allowed back into their units with their current lease rates in tact once the work was finished.

The company rejected the plan.

The residents believe the refusal contradicts provincial guidelines published May 18 which say that the Residential Tenancy Act  "does not allow a landlord to end a tenancy for the purpose of renovations ... if it is possible to carry out the renovations or repairs without ending the tenancy."

"The way I see it, our city government is holding the bully's coat while they evict us, just so they can increase all 56 suites from affordable to luxury rents," said 30-year Berkeley Tower resident Carol Korm. "They just need to get rid of us."

Triple or quadruple rents

 Under the Residential Tenancy Act, a renovicted tenant does have the right of first refusal to enter into a new tenancy agreement once work is complete but at a rent determined by the landlord.

Duchene figures Reliance will likely triple or quadruple rents, once the building is renovated.

"There's a lot of vulnerable people here — on CPP, elderly, without a lot of money. It's going to annihilate them and their way of life. And that [$10,000 eviction package] will make no difference ... if you're currently paying $500 per month and you're looking at moving into something similar at $1,700, the market rate in Vancouver."

A spokesperson for Reliance Properties said post-renovation rents had yet to be determined.

A rally in support of the residents is scheduled for Sept. 26 at 6 p.m. at Morton Park, across the street from Berkeley Tower.

The City of Vancouver says it is carefully reviewing Reliance Properties' tenant relocation plan which was submitted as part of the the development permit applications for Berkeley Tower.

The residents plan to meet with City of Vancouver staff next week.

Read more from CBC British Columbia

Corrections

  • A previous version of this story stated incorrectly that the City of Vancouver rejected the residents' relocation proposal. In fact, the City of Vancouver has no jurisdiction over such decisions.
    Sep 27, 2018 3:19 PM PT