As the city's hot housing market shows no signs of cooling any time soon, 'renovictions' is a term some residents are becoming familiar with.
The term applies to tenants being handed eviction notices so property managers can renovate the building, then rent out suites at a higher price.
But now a few property owners are speaking out about the practice, noting the renovations are necessary in order to keep the buildings up to a certain standard and the increased rent simply reflects what's happening in the market.
Rebecca Haar is the senior property manager for the Vancouver-based Headwater Projects, which bought the 2626 Cook St. apartment complex last year.
Many residents have lived in the 32-unit building for decades, but last month they were given eviction notices to be out by the end of March so the property can be renovated from top to bottom — a move that caught many off guard and sparked tenant legal advocates for Together Against Poverty Society to speak out.
According to Haar, the building was constructed in the 1970s and has become quite derelict. The company has talked with consultants and conducted environmental reports to determine what needs to be done to get it back up to snuff. That includes upgrading the plumbing system, repairing electrical issues, leaks and removing a large amount of asbestos.
Haar expects it'll take at least six months to make the building brand new again.
“It's (asbestos) down in the walls and the suites. It's in everything,” said Haar, adding the asbestos is a major reason why they need to completely vacate the building — a decision that did not come lightly.
“It's never a good feeling having anybody be uprooted, especially without plan or surprise. We definitely have reached out to everybody there and offered them above and beyond the compensation that's required by the residential tenancy act.”
Haar maintains the company has been working to make the transition for residents as smooth as possible. The tenants have been given the first right of refusal for the suites once they are renovated, but their rent will likely be at least $500 more in order to be on par with market value.
They're also being offered one month free rent, plus a $250 bonus for a mutual agreement to end tenancies on a case-by-case basis. Additional compensation is being negotiated as well, depending on the tenant's circumstances, and some are being helped with relocation and sourcing housing.
“I think we would all like to see a better way to go about it, but landlords are expected to keep up their properties and keep them habitable and safe and secure for tenants. That comes at a price as well. The construction we're taking on is expensive so it does need to be paid for,” said Haar, who's had discussions with Victoria-Swan Lake MLA Rob Fleming on the issue.
“I think the government needs to come up with some sort of alternative incentives for landlords or something that would help pay to keep the buildings the way by law you are required to keep them.”
In James Bay, some residents living in the six apartment buildings owned by Starlight Investments claim that instead of giving out 'renovictions' the company is using construction to drive out tenants and remove affordable rental units from the market. Resident Bill Appledorf believes about half of the tenants in the buildings have moved elsewhere due to the deteriorating living conditions caused by the construction, which he called a “physical assault with machinery.”
Starlight spokesperson Danny Roth said there is some renovations being done to the hallways, lobbies, balconies and windows at the properties, but there was never going to be any evictions to do the work. The tenants who are there are protected so their rent isn't going up, he added, and nobody is having renovations done to their suite while they are living in it. Only those that are vacant are being spruced up.
“The tenant has the ultimate power. If they don't want to live through it, they can leave. Nobody is trying to empty a building,” said Roth, noting it can be difficult to live in a place undergoing renovations.
“You want, as a community, landlords who are prepared to reinvest in their buildings. There is some degree of irony in the fact that when you want to put money into these buildings you are criticized, your motives are questioned and you are challenged.”