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Fighting for future renters in the city

Tenants being evicted from their suites for renovation purposes are speaking out

With eviction notices looming, tenants at 322 Seventh St. want the city to put an end to renovictions in New Westminster to spare future renters the same hardship.

Peggy Casey has lived in a first-floor apartment at 322 Seventh St. – formerly known as Westcourt Manor – for nearly eight years. On May 30, tenants on the third floor received two-month eviction notices citing “major renovations.”

A few days later, tenants on the second and first floors were sent a letter informing them the plan was to conduct major renovations to all units and that and application for a building permit had already been sent to the City of New Westminster.

But according to Casey, the apartments don’t need major renovations. While the carpets have seen better days, the rest of the suite is in decent shape, she said. The balconies were even replaced last year and the bathroom has fresh tiles.

“I wouldn’t live in them if they were that crap,” she said.

She and other tenants want to see the city intervene before the rest of the tenants are served their eviction notices. They believe it is the city’s responsibility to protect its residents, and the first step would be to delay approval of building permits needed to start the eviction-for-renovation process.

What can the city do?

But according to Mayor Jonathan Cote, the city has no legal right to delay requests for building permits if the application has all the necessary documents.

“Unfortunately, our abilities are a bit limited with respect to this issue given that it is governed by the Residential Tenancy Act,” he told the Record.

It’s up to the provincial government to make legislated changes to the Residential Tenancy Act to protect renters, he added.

What the city can do – and does – is provide renters with resources to help them when faced with an eviction. It can also provide information on what type of building permits owners have applied for and where along in the process their applications are.

The city has also implemented a number of preventative measures to protect and grow its rental stock, including banning rental-to-strata conversion and providing incentives to developers to build rental housing in the city.

In the meantime, the city will continue to push for changes to the Residential Tenancy Act, Cote said.

A provincial responsibility

Protecting renters is one of the top priorities for the B.C. NDP, according to New Westminster NDP MLA Judy Darcy.

“This is an enormous crisis,” Darcy said, adding the first step is to get her party in power. “We’ve spoken to people just literally today who said, ‘I don’t know what I am going to do. What’s my option? To become homeless? To be couch surfing?”

If the B.C. Liberals’ minority government is defeated in a confidence vote next week – which Darcy is certain will happen – the NDP, with the support of the B.C. Green Party, will become the governing party.

Once in power, Darcy said changes to the Residential Tenancy Act could come as early as August. This would include closing loopholes that allow landlords to increase rents more than the inflation rate, extending the notice period for an eviction from two months to four months and introducing a first-right-of-refusal clause
that would give renters evicted for renovation purposes, the option of returning to their suite after the work is complete and for the same rent they were paying before they were evicted.

Too late for some

For the tenants at 322 Seventh St., any changes to the Residential Tenancy Act will likely come too late.

A quick Craigslist search reveals the challenge of finding an affordable place to live in the Royal City. Many one-bedroom apartments are renting for $1,000 to $1,200 a month. (We even found one 660-square-foot unit listed for $2,600.)

In Brow of the Hill, where a large percentage of the rental stock is situated, even the older, more run-down apartments are renting in the thousands, and most have wait-lists, Casey said.

Casey was born and raised in New Westminster. She chose to stay here because she loves this city, she said, but whether she’ll be able to live here for much longer remains to be seen.

322 Seventh St.: A renoviction timeline

March 20: The M1 Group – listed only as a numbered company (1113333 BC LTD) – applies for a permit with the City of New Westminster to renovate all 18 units on the third floor of the apartment building at 322 Seventh St.

April 3: Belmont Holdings informs its tenants it has sold the property at 322 Seventh St. to the M1 Group and that the new owners will take possession on May 2.

April 18: The M1 Group – now listed as 322 Apartments Inc. – sends a letter to tenants introducing itself. There is no mention of renovations or evictions but it says: “Over the coming months there will be some activity on the property as some assessments and tests are done on the building regarding the structural and engineering feasibility. We will make sure there is as little disruption to you as possible. Thank you for your cooperation in this regard.”

May 2: West Vancouver-based M1 Group takes possession. According to its website, the company builds and renovates rental properties. They have properties in North Vancouver, Vancouver and Nanaimo.

May 30/31: Tenants on the third floor of the building are served two-month eviction notices.

June 2: Tenants on the first and second floors are sent a letter regarding renovation plans. The letter says applications for permits have been submitted to the city for the second floor and warns that the process could be quick. “We encourage all tenants on the second and first to start the process in making preparations for the coming approval,” the letter says.