A champion for B.C. tenants, Tom Durning, dies

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Tom Durning (above) was a champ for B.C. tenants, according to NDP MLA Spencer Chandra Herbert.
  • Tom Durning (above) was a champ for B.C. tenants, according to NDP MLA Spencer Chandra Herbert.

A fierce advocate for British Columbia tenants has passed away.

Tom Durning retired in 2016 after many years working for the Tenant Resource and Advisory Centre (previously known as the Tenants Rights Action Centre). But he continued speaking out on public issues until his death last weekend.

With his encyclopedic knowledge of housing policy, he educated the public about everything from acceptable rent increases to measures that landlords should not take when screening prospective tenants. Along the way, he scored several victories.

One of the politicians he dealt with was Spencer Chandra Herbert, the NDP MLA for Vancouver–West End.

“Tom was a hero, Tom was a champ,” Spencer Herbert told the Straight by phone. “Tom was hilarious. He was gruff. He was rough. He called bullshit as he saw it and didn’t suffer fools.”

Chandra Herbert also said that Durning made a difference.

“I learned a lot from him,” he said.

In an email to friends, one of his former colleages at TRAC, Parveen Khtaria, stated that Durning taught her about previous governments’ policies, as well as what was happening in other countries.

“It was just three weeks ago that I called Tom asking him to find me details I could share about why there are so many stratified purpose-built rental buildings in the lower mainland,” she wrote. “He found me some information, with a reminder to call him if I needed anything else. He wanted to stay connected, and housing was his life’s work.”

In 2004, the B.C. Liberal government under Gordon Campbell changed the formula to allow annual rent increases at two percent over the rate of inflation. It wasn’t until the NDP took power that this two percent surcharge was rolled back.

Over the years, Durning was quoted in several Georgia Straight articles about housing issues.

For instance, in 2008, he told reporter Carlito Pablo that Vancouver council should ask the province to allow the city to take control of, repair, and operate rundown buildings. Two years earlier, he argued that Metro Vancouver’s municipalities should be embracing rental-housing construction to improve the lives of tenants.

In 2011, he stood up for two tenants who were ordered to dig up their vegetable garden and remove a greenhouse and rain barrel. The same year, he made the case for all municipalities having a standards-of-maintenance bylaw to force property owners to keep their buildings in good condition.

A service will be held for Durning at 11 a.m. on Thursday (November 7) at Kearney Funeral Services (450 West 2nd Avenue).