For the last two years, Richard Gillett has called the apartment building at 2626 Cook St. his home.
It’s a building many of his neighbours have lived in for decades, but now that will soon change.
Gillett is among 32 residents who were surprised to come home last week and find eviction notices on their doors so the apartment building can be renovated.
With a 0.5 vacancy rate in the city, Gillett can’t help but feel stressed about joining the masses of people already searching for affordable places to live.
“The stress of this unexpected upheaving is going to be massive for myself and my neighbours,” said Gillett. “This is yet another example of property owners in Victoria taking advantage of the current market phenomenon at the expense of local residents.”
The tenants will need to leave their apartments at the end of March, but the landlords have followed the law as it stands. Residents have been offered the option of moving back in when renovations are complete, but will likely fac esignificantly higher rents, which has been the case of other “renovictions” in the city.
Tenant Legal Advocates from Together Against Poverty Society (TAPS) recognize landlords need to do renovations, and with that, comes an increased cost to the operator of the building. But the society believes rent increases for such tenants should be decided by the Residential Tenancy Branch (RTB) on a case by case basis, not the whims of the market.
Victoria Coun. Jeremy Loveday has noticed renovictions are becoming a trend as the city’s hot housing market shows no signs of cooling any time soon. He hears all the time from people who are facing eviction through renovations, both in apartment buildings and single family homes.
The issue was brought to the forefront more than a year ago when a handful of tenants living in one of six James Bay apartment buildings, owned by Starlight Investments, were given eviction notices in order to renovate the building. The move sparked fears among several tenants — many of whom are seniors, that they would be next, but then city councillors got involved.
Council has since made an advocacy motion, calling on the province to take action, and the NDP has unsuccessfully introduced a private members bill several times. The bill would give tenants the right to return when the renovation is complete at the same rent they were paying before, and landlords would be able to apply to the RTB to increase the rent based on the renovations that were done.
Loveday hopes the matter will become a provincial election issue.
“It reminds me how desperate the housing situation is for many of our residents and that this needs to be the top priority of all levels of government. We have people at all income levels, except for the highest earners, struggling to find adequate housing,” said Loveday. “I think we need strong regulations that allow people to have the security to know that their home will remain their home, even if renovations are needed to be done.”
In the meantime, residents in the James Bay apartment buildings have formed a citizens group, even though Starlight never did follow through with any evictions. Instead, resident Bill Appledorf said the company is using construction to drive tenants out and remove affordable rental units from the housing market. So far he believes about half of the 700 tenants in the five buildings have moved elsewhere due to the deteriorating living conditions.
“It’s not renoviction in the sense they come to you and say go away. They just ignore you and make the environment as unlivable as possible,” said Appledorf, who doesn’t believe the suites need renovations and noted residents have been filing claims to the RTB.
“There’s no consideration whatsoever for the people who live in the building…It’s just pure plunder and it’s physical assault with machinery that makes noises so loud that it threatens your health.”