For some decade-long tenants, a legal loophole they’d never heard of means they could have to pay hundreds more every month — or move out.
As a group of children chalked the sidewalk with colourful drawings of houses in Vancouver’s West End on Sunday, nearby their parents and neighbours denounced massive rent increases requested by their landlord — increases that for some amounted to more than 43 per cent a month.
The tenants, some living for a decade in the two-storey apartment building at 1565 Harwood St., vowed to fight the application to ratchet up rents by hundreds of dollars a month.
The proposed increase is thanks to a loophole in B.C.’s rent control laws which prevent landlords raising rents any more than 3.7 per cent in 2017 — two per cent plus inflation — once per year.
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But the province’s laws also allow an additional increase if “the rent for the rental unit is significantly lower than the rent payable for other rental units that are similar to, and in the same geographic area as, the rental unit.”
With property values skyrocketing throughout Vancouver, so have corresponding market rents for long-time tenants the rent controls are intended to protect.
One of them told Metro he received notice his rent would increase by $365 if the landlord’s request is approved by the Residential Tenancy Branch, above his current $1,310 a month. That’s a 22 per cent increase, which was not even the highest requested lift according to the application viewed by Metro.
“I find it shocking and outrageous,” said Jimmy Sigmund, who’s lived in the building since 2003. “When does this stop? If it’s 27 per cent — what’s it next year and the year after?
“How can I live here and continue to work here, in a community I love? I’ve been in the West End for all my adult life, this is where I live. If I have to move out of the community, I can’t work in the community.”
According to the notice provided to the tenants, the application is for a “total increase (of) 16.28-43.48” per cent.
If the request is approved, fellow tenant Amanda Burke and her partner would have to pay an extra $430 every month above their current $1,750 rent with parking. When she moved in, the apartment was only $1,525.
“At the time that was sort of normal for the area, but still expensive,” she told Metro. “It was a big decision … We will either stay here and bite it, or we’d move cities, frankly. Why would we move within the city? We’d pay that much more within the city.”
Vancouver-West End MLA Spencer Chandra Herbert attended their press conference Sunday and said he’s heard of other buildings facing rent increases above the allowable rates.
“It’s all just a financial game,” he said. “… They flip them, they sell them, they trade them — always trying to seek more money.
“And tenants get caught in the middle, people who are not making more money, people who are just trying to live a good life.”
The building’s management company, Martello Property Services, did not respond to requests for comment Sunday, and Metro was not able to contact its owners, Immobiliere Canada Investment Ltd., by time of publication.
According to BC Assessment, the property, which was built in the 1930s, saw its value rose by $1 million in just the last year — from $3.9 million to $4.9 million as of July 1, 2016, a 26 per cent increase.
“Landlords can only increase the rent once a year by an amount permitted by law,” the RTB states on its website, “or an an additional amount approved in advance by an arbitrator — they need to use the right form and give the tenant three full months’ notice of the rent increase.”
Chandra Herbert said the West End’s already become unaffordable for many long-time residents, who now have few other places to go as rents rise across the region.
“Rents are already high,” he said. “We already know many West Enders are one paycheque away from losing their homes.”