Government boosts services to tenants

Monday, October 27th, 2008

Andy Ivens

Faced with a growing crisis in Vancouver‘s rental housing market, the provincial government is opening two offices it says will give tenants easier access to information and services.

The residential tenancy branch will open one office in the Downtown Eastside at 390 Main St. The second will be in a single-room-occupancy hotel owned by the province at 518 Richards St. Both open in January.

A wave of recent “renovation evictions” in the West End is forcing seniors and those on fixed incomes out of their homes.

Spencer Herbert, the NDP candidate in Wednesday’s provincial byelection in Vancouver-Burrard and a renter in the West End, wants the government to close a “loophole” in the Residential Tenancy Act that allows landlords to evict tenants to make cosmetic changes, and then raise the rent.

“Landlords say, ‘We’re going to renovate your suite — you’re evicted,’ then they just slap a coat of paint on, maybe put in some tiles — nothing that actually requires the people to be evicted,” Herbert told The Province yesterday.

Herbert said that when Ontario experienced a surge in renovation evictions two years ago, a law was passed giving tenants the right of first refusal to move back in and pay the higher rent, which must be justified.

“That’s what we’re calling for again — the right of first refusal,” he said.

“Unless [the government] changes the law and brings in right of first refusal, as they have in Ontario, the residential tenancy office is just a toothless tiger.”

Liberal candidate Arthur Griffiths said he has arranged a meeting between Housing Minister Rich Coleman and members of Renters at Risk.

Griffiths vowed to take action on the eviction crisis, but stopped short of trying to close the loophole in the act.

“Anytime you write legislation, you want to make sure that when you amend something, it doesn’t open another problem,” said Griffiths.

“But there’s no question and there’s nobody that I’ve talked to, including the minister, that doesn’t agree that there are some landlords who are playing around the rules.

“I am convinced that the renters of the West End who are being unjustly treated by landlords are going to be heard and there will be action.”

© The Vancouver Province 2008


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