Doug King (left), lawyer and executive director of TAPS, addresses the media with Doug Swait (right), a resident of 844 Johnson St. and one of the lead plaintiffs in the case against the Portland Hotel Society restricting the rights of tenants at the building managed by the non-profit housing provider. Kristyn Anthony/VICTORIA NEWS

Supreme Court rules residents in Victoria social housing deserve tenant rights

Tenants trying to stabilize their living situations should not face less legal rights than those paying market rates: Judge

A B.C. Supreme Court decision has ruled in favour of those living in social housing, saying they deserve the same tenant rights as anyone else.

Residents at 844 Johnson St., a property managed by non-profit housing provider Portland Hotel Society (PHS), will no longer be subject to blanket restrictions after a judge found them to be illegal.

“People who move into social housing should not have to leave their rights at the door,” said Doug King, a lawyer and executive director of Together Against Poverty (TAPS), at a press conference Wednesday.

In June 2016, the province announced it had purchased the building to provide 140 units of supportive housing for people who had been living at two encampments, one at Reeson Park and the other on the lawn behind the Victoria courthouse.

King said promises were made to the tenants including that it would be permanent housing, that they would be given all the rights and privileges of other tenants under the Residential Tenancy Act, and that they would have input on the decision making of the management of the building.

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Doug Swait, a resident of 844 Johnson St. and one of the lead plaintiffs in the case, said the decision recognizes the tenants as a part of the neighbourhood.

“This is a really good win for us,” he said. “It’s been a constant battle since moving in there.”

Guests were routinely blocked from visiting residents, Swait said, including children visiting family members on holidays, as well as overnight guests.

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In one case, a resident was unable to access medication being delivered by a friend who did not have proper identification. The building has not been affixed with a buzzer system like most market rentals, and many residents do not have cell phones, Swait said.

“Any restriction on guest privileges must be reasonable,” King said. “Reasonable means it has to be specific to a person.”

Multiple tenants filed a complaint with the residential tenancy board, but King said Portland Hotel Society chose not to listen, taking no action, leading to the case landing in court.

“If PHS is not getting enough resources from the government to do an adequate job of running buildings like this and protecting tenants’ rights, they need to be vocal about that,” he said.

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The precedent setting decision, handed down May 18, lifts the longstanding blanket restrictions for tenants and dismisses an appeal brought by PHS.

In her ruling, Justice Sharma wrote “… the petitioner has not provided any justification of why tenants who are being given a social benefit of below market housing, in an effort to try and stabilize their living situation, ought to be given less legal rights than tenants paying market rates …”

“It’s good for everybody else around to see that these things can be done,” Swait said. “You’ve got to stand up and fight for your rights.”

King called the decision “vindication,” adding the ruling is important for residents in Victoria, but across the province as well.

“This decision sets new ground rules in social housing,” he said.

Portland Hotel Society denied a request for comment for this story.

kristyn.anthony@vicnews.com

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