News / Vancouver

Vancouver toughens penalties for landlords who renovict poor tenants

The City of Vancouver hardened the penalties for landlords who use renovations as an excuse to evict tenants from single room accommodations, many of which are a last resort before homelessness.

Council approved changes on Wednesday to the single room accommodation bylaw to increase the fee to $125,000 from $15,000 for a permit to convert a room outside of the SRA bylaw and clarified that “conversion” means any repair that forces a tenant to relocate.

The intent of the bylaw is to stop landlords from doing minor repairs to rooms – many of which are dilapidated, pest infested and badly in need of major TLC – in order to increase the rents from the $375 welfare rate to prices low-income tenants can’t afford and attract students or service industry workers instead.

This loss of single-room occupancy hotels is contributing to homelessness, according to city staff.

Coun. Kerry Jang called it a “gutsy” move that balances private property rights and the need to maintain housing in the Downtown Eastside where many of these hotels are located.

“It also says to the bad landlords, ‘Look out, we’re coming to get you,’” he said. “If you’re thinking about flipping those properties, think again, because it isn’t really going to happen we’ll make it so bloody difficult for you.”

Just the threat of the bylaw already inspired one building to save eight social housing units because the owner couldn’t afford the fee to convert the rooms, Jang said.

While the attempt to save SROs was met with tepid support from community activists, many speakers at council felt the bylaw didn’t go far enough to protect the cheap rental stock.

“Thank you for finally admitting that SROs are being gentrified and it’s contributing to homelessness,” said Jean Swanson of the Carnegie Community Action Project. “My big fear is that homelessness is really on the upswing.”

Swanson warned the city that landlords get rid of people before they start renovations, be it through payoffs of up to $2,000 or by threatening eviction for other factors, effectively bullying tenants to leave.

“We’re afraid that your change to the definition of conversion won’t stop evictions,” she said.

Council instructed staff to report back annually on the status of SROs, to ask the province for more low-income housing and to push the feds for a national housing strategy.

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