Tenants facing 'renoviction' went up against a powerful Vancouver developer and lost
For tenants of the Alderwood Apartments in Mount Pleasant, the experience of being evicted from their homes was stressful and frustrating
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For the Wall Financial Corporation, one of Vancouver's largest and most politically-connected real estate companies, it was simply good business.
“The renovated units at the Ambleside property are re-rented once complete and are achieving on average 24 per cent higher re-rental rates,” reads the public company's annual report to shareholders for 2016. “At the Seafair property, one of the two buildings has completed upgrades to all 39 units and a major overhaul of the plumbing system; all of these units have now been re-rented at an average increase of $500 per month.”
But for the tenants of the Alderwood Apartments in Vancouver's Mount Pleasant neighbourhood, the experience of being evicted from their homes of many years was stressful and frustrating. Although many of them attempted to fight to stay in their home and some initially won the right to do so, they say they were ultimately unsuccessful. They feel they were pushed out to make way for tenants who could afford to pay much higher rents.
Renters across Metro Vancouver are facing a very low vacancy rate, and are under pressure in a period of rapid rent rate growth, which has mirrored the steep increase in home prices that started in 2015.
“People are working, making a decent wage, but they can't afford to live here,” said Ron Jordens, a 72-year-old retired engineer and former Alderwood tenant. “The way the rules are now, the free market enterprise, just let it run wild — and who cares about people?”
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Land title documents show that real estate developer Peter Wall has owned the Alderwood since 1990. His nephew, Bruno Wall, president of Wall Financial, did not respond to Metro's request for comment. The company is best known in Vancouver for the construction of the Sheraton Wall Centre hotel on Burrard Street. The Walls have donated substantial sums to the B.C. Liberals and Vision Vancouver, and have been supporters of both Premier Christy Clark and Mayor Gregor Robertson.
The tenants say they were offered a chance to move into one of the renovated suites — but at an increase of around $500 per month.
One of Jordens' neighbours was initially successful in fighting the eviction notice she recieved in December 2015. According to a Residential Tenancy Board hearing judgement, the property owner had failed to receive the necessary building permits from the City of Vancouver before issuing the two-month eviction notice. The property manager gave contradictory answers about the type of work the company wanted to do in the unit and whether or not building permits were needed. The board ruled that Jordens' neighbours' existing tenancy would continue.
But the neighbour received another eviction notice six months later, this time because the company said it needed to use the unit for their own use or for a family member. In the tight rental market, the tenant has been unable to find another rental and will likely have to stay with her ex-husband after she moves out. She would now like to move into one of the renovated suites, but has been told there are none available; furthermore, she claims, the building's management is questioning her ability to pay the new higher rent.
Below: a for-sale brochure describes the building's new renovations and proximity to trendy Main Street
Others, like Jordens, Kevin Powell and Chris Bell, decided to find new apartments. Jordens has retroactively filed a grievance with the RTB after he and other tenants saw a stop work order from the City of Vancouver posted on the front door of the building. He believes Wall Financial did not have permits in place at the time he received his eviction notice, and hopes to get a financial settlement from the company.
Powell, a house painter and the single father of two sons, and Bell, a cook at popular food truck Tacofino, both found it very difficult to find new apartments. They were eventually able to find places through personal connections, although Powell is now living in Port Coquitlam, meaning he faces a long commute to get himself to work and his son to high school.
Powell added that his ex-wife, who still lives in Mount Pleasant and with whom he shares custody, is also fighting an eviction.
NDP MLA Spencer Herbert has advocated for tenants who have fought renovictions in the past. He said the tactic in general of issuing eviction notices before building permits are in place is common, and tenants should always check the validity of the eviction notice.
Tenants should also question whether they can stay in their homes while the work is being done, while other tenant advocates say offering to move out for a few weeks may also be an option. Tenants who work together as a community tend to have a better chance of avoiding eviction, Chandra Herbert said.
“Many tenants we've worked with have written to the landlord saying you don't need to evict me, I'm willing to work with you while you do your renovation,” Chandra Herbert said.
“But most use the law to say you should be mass-evicted, and then I can jack up rents and people believe that's the case — but that's not how the law is supposed to be used.”