Renoviction 101: Options for Tenants

 

Renoviction-musical2

July 2015

In Vancouver British Columbia, many renters are evicted from their homes due to intended renovations by the landlord (aka “Renovictions”).

On Feb.3, 2015, our entire building  got the notice to end tenancy from our new landlord who took possession just 1 week before.

Our previous landlord offered well-maintained suites at low rent so most tenants (including seniors and people with fixed incomes) could live here for the long-run.

After 100+ hours of paperwork, meetings, research and advocacy efforts, here is a basic summary of what I’ve learned in case you need this knowledge one day!

It was an honor to represent my building and gather our solidarity in this group action. With help from our awesome MLA Jenny Kwan (you rock!), a more humane exit strategy was negotiated with the landlord.

Tenancy laws vary from region to region and I am not a lawyer or professional advocate so this is just a general map of what can be done.  (Or in this case, a musical!)

Disclaimer: This blog is a resource guide for educational and informational purposes. I cannot guarantee any particular results and you must use all suggestions on this website at your own risk. If you need professional help with your housing situation, consider hiring a legal consultant or advocate.

What You Can Do About Renovictions in Vancouver, BC and beyond:

1) I wrote a playful guide below but here is my no-frills Renoviction Guide, based on laws/rights as they are in 2015.   (Download the guide here)

2) Write a letter to the Minister of Housing and to your premier (or your state’s governor) to request changes to the BC tenancy act.  (Ask for 4 to 6 months notice of eviction, financial compensation and right of first refusal.)

NEWS UPDATE: Some changes on a municipal level (affecting Vancouver only) occurred in 2016:

http://www.vancitybuzz.com/2015/12/vancouver-approves-new-protections-for-rental-tenants/

http://vancouver.ca/people-programs/tenant-rights-and-relocation-assistance-due-to-redevelopment.aspx

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Renoviction! The Musical
Act 1:  Due Diligence

Scene 1. Keep ALL The Papers

Stage Directions: Keep all documents sent and received between you and your landlord.

Keep a copy of every letter you send
Keep every notice you get, my friend!
Even a postmarked envelope
Might later give you needed hope

Chorus:
Keep ALL the papers!
Keep ALL the papers!

Director’s Commentary:  According to the BC Residential Tenancy Branch, a notice to end tenancy is considered “legally served” five days from the postmarked date on your envelope, even if you don’t pick up your mail for weeks!
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Scene 2. Google It!

Stage Directions: Research your rights and options as a tenant.

Get online and find out
Know your rights so you can shout
Before your deadline for dispute runs out

Oh Canada! Each province gives different rights
Oh America! Each state gives different rights

Chorus: Don’t just sit there dammit – google it!
Cover your back and know your tenancy shit!

Director’s Commentary:  Keep research notes and links in a google document so other tenants can contribute or at least keep up with the facts.

Fact Sheets for All Provincial Tenancy Acts
Fact Sheet for BC Residential Tenancy Act
Fact sheet for USA Tenancy Laws 

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Scene 3. Tenants Unite!

Stage Directions:  When an entire building is being renovicted, unite your fellow tenants.

Don’t do it alone
Knock, email and phone
Get together, right away
Stormy weather, meet today
You must organize rather quickly
As the deadlines gather swiftly

Chorus: Tenants Unite!
If things don’t seem right
Tenants Unite!

Director’s Commentary:  Together, you will have more power but you must act quickly due to the legal deadlines involved with a renoviction.  Once you have the contact info of those who want to be informed, organize a Tenant meeting to discuss options and assign tasks.
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Scene 4. Track ALL The Events

Stage Directions: Write down dates & details for all events related to the renoviction.

Whenever you deal with the landlord
Experience things that seem untoward
Like loss of garbage, laundry room and basic cleaning
Like stoppage of repairs and landscaping

Chorus:
Track the date and details!
Write it down or you’ll forget!

Whenever you take an action
Whenever you reach a politician
Interview with media and agencies
Or meet with advocates and attorneys

Chorus:
Track the date and details!
Write it down or you’ll forget!

Director’s Commentary:  Use google documents to track all events. Invite the other tenants to update/add to the document whenever they notice things too.
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Scene 5. Preserve Your Right To Dispute

Stage Directions:  Apply for dispute resolution with your Residential Tenancy Branch.  You can always cancel it later but preserve your right to dispute!

Once you get your notice to end tenancy (that bites!)
You’ll only have a short time to preserve your rights
Get your application in
Let the RTB know your chagrin

Chorus:
Ask the landlord to prove you must go
Don’t leave without making them show
Just how far their renovations will throw
Your life and home out of status quo!

Director’s Commentary:  In BC, you only have 15 consecutive days from the time you’ve legally been served the “notice to end tenancy” to file a dispute resolution application with the BC Residential Tenancy Branch (RTB).

A group can file together (lead applicant pays $50 and all others pay $25) if they are disputing the same “notice to end tenancy”.
~ All applications must be handed in together to the RTB.
~ Within a few business days, you will receive your hearing date (usually 3 to 4 weeks later).
~ Then you must submit all your evidence (all notices of eviction + personal statements of hardship + other documents) more than 15 days before the hearing date.
~ One copy of all evidence must be served to the landlord and the other copy served to RTB.
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Renoviction! The Musical
Act 2:  Get Help

Scene 1. Show Me The Permit

Stage Directions:  If the landlord doesn’t even have a proper permit to renovate, you can report this as a first step.

If they want to renovate
The landlord needs a permit
Call your city’s building permit office
If they don’t have one, tsk tsk!

Chorus: Dammit, show me the Permit
You can’t start it, unless you have a permit!
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Scene 2. Oh Advocate, Where Art Thou?

Stage Directions: Contact housing advocacy groups in your area.

If you need help
Get yourself an advocate
Important help
so you don’t have to wing it

Chorus: Oh Advocate, where art thou?
Oh advocate, I need some help now…

Director’s Commentary:  Google “housing advocates + your city name”. e.g. Search terms like “housing advocate vancouver” brought:  http://www.povnet.org/find-an-advocate/bc/lower-mainland/greater-vancouver/vancouver-east

In Vancouver, First United Church at 320 East Hastings Street has advocates available 2 hours per weekday.
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Scene 3. Let’s Get Political

Stage Directions: Contact the municipal and provincial (state) representative in your area and ask for help.  They can do finer research around your options and can possibly negotiate a better agreement with the landlord.

Reach out!
To city hall councillors
Reach out!
To provincial legislators
Reach out!
They can be negotiators

Chorus: Don’t get physical, physical
I wanna get political, political!
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Scene 4. Call The Media!

Stage Directions:  Getting some press can bring public attention to this matter and possibly inspire politicians and your landlord to work on a kinder, gentler resolution.

Share your story – find a journalist
Send a press release – to a media list
Hold an event for them to meet
all the tenants who can handle the hot seat

Chorus: Call the Media! (Don’t just quietly go!)
Call the Media! (Let the people know!)
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About British Columbia Renovictions:

1) The word renoviction was coined by Vancouverite and Seafield Apartment tenant Heather Pawsey who fused the words “renovation” and “eviction” together.

2) Landlords and developers may use section 49. 6.(b) of the BC Residential Tenancy Act to terminate your tenancy with 2 months notice in order to do some “renovations or repairs”.

3) Once you’re out, BC landlords can set a much higher rental rate since there is no rent control laws once a suite is vacant. As a result, some unethical landlords are doing cosmetic renovations in order to terminate tenancies and raise rents.

4) As tenants have discovered this legal scam, some have been able to overturn the eviction notice by filing a dispute with the Residential Tenancy Branch and proving that it is feasible to stay during the renovations and retain tenancy. (i.e. the work is not extensive enough to require vacancy.)

5) In BC, the landlord is legally obligated to give 2 months Notice to End Tenancy for renovation/repair PLUS 1 month free rent. But there are cases where the landlord also gave financial compensation to tenants. ($500/unit being a common starting point and compensation up to $5000 have been reported.)

6) Vancouver was listed as the 2nd most unaffordable city in the world to live in by Demographia International Housing Affordability Survey 2015.

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Download: Guide to Renoviction Activism

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