Vancouver City Councillor

Category — Housing

Multi-unit apartment renos getting “ramped up scrutiny” in wake of 1168 Pendrell eviction battle

City of Vancouver staff will “ramp up scrutiny” of building renovation applications for multi-unit apartment buildings, says City Manager Penny Ballem, to ensure the changes are not “under-the-radar attempts to displace long-term tenants.”

Ballem was responding to questions I put to her in council today in the wake of the apparent attempted eviction of long-standing tenants at 1168 Pendrell, where a new owner has issued a blizzard of tenant notices, including eviction notices while seeking to make further renovations at a building just recently upgraded.

Although the city welcomes landlord upgrades and improved maintenance, there is increasing evidence some upgrades are a cover for conversion to short-term rental or eviction.

In the face of this risk, Ballem said the city has established a cross-department team to monitor large building renovations to “oversee what has been submitted and what is actually happening.”

Where a landlord has plans that could result in dislocation, the city team will “vet the plans and encourage the applicant to provide a tenant relocation plan,” Ballem said.

The goal, she said, is to “avoid unnecessary dislocation.” (In some cases, tenants must relocate during renovation for health and safety reasons.)

These measures are in addition to a range of initiatives to support tenants, including a new advisory position to assist tenants in making submissions to the province’s Residential Tenancy Branch, which regulates rental properties.


September 16, 2014

Plan A achieves new low with intensive “greed eviction” campaign against Pendrell tenants

When residents at 1168 Pendrell learned their modest but clean and updated West End apartment building had changed ownership last month, they had no idea what the new landlord had in store.

Plan A Real Estate Services Ltd., the oddly-named new ownership group, waited barely 24 hours before achieving a new low in abusive treatment of tenants. In the 22 business days that followed, residents received 16 separate tenant notices posted on each resident’s door, with some experiencing serial eviction notices.

That’s why I was glad to join NDP MLA Spencer Chandra-Herbert at today’s news conference to protest Plan A’s actions.

When tenants approached me last month about Plan A’s apparent plan to convert the entire building to Air BnB-type short term rentals, I was able to ensure city staff warned the new owners that their plans were illegal under city bylaws regulating short-term rentals.  (Many American cities are confronting the same problem.)

The threat of short-term rental has eased, but Plan B continues to press tenants to hit the road, with measures ranging from threatened eviction to higher laundry fees.

It seems, says Chandra-Herbert, like a simple “greed eviction,” based on some scheme to extract superprofits from this building. But the Pendrell tenants are standing strong.

Plan A should be thinking about Plan B: respectful operation of a clean, affordable building with long-term tenants remaining in place.


September 10, 2014

Housing agency will gather facts on housing stock, also clarify what can be done

It’s welcome news that Vancouver council has ensured the city’s new housing agency try to fill in the information gaps about the housing crisis, says Vancouver Sun columnist Doug Todd, who has rung alarm bells about vacant homes and the impact of offshore investment.

What’s equally important, in my opinion, is clarifying what can be done and which level of government can do it.

In Canada, as far as I can tell, only the federal and provincial governments have the ability to regulate offshore ownership of land, and only a few — like Saskatchewan, where local control of farm land is a priority — have done so.

If foreign investment is the problem many believe it is, what can be done about it? Is the city the right level of government?

Even more critical, in my view, is research on the state of affordable housing stock, including co-ops, non-profits and low-cost rental housing in older neighbourhoods. Protecting that stock — or ensuring it is renewed and expanded — may prove more important in coming years than trying to manage the impact of investment patterns in the global economy.

July 15, 2014

US cities try to untangle Air BnB issue from housing affordability problem

Recent reports that short-term online rentals may be driving down vacancy rates have triggered a wave of inquiries about Vancouver’s intentions: will the city regulate vacation rentals?

My answer: I’m not aware of any initiative in Vancouver for additional regulation of short-term rentals, nor any complaints from rental advocates pointing to evictions or displacement because of them. (Many landlords would consider vacation rentals by tenants as an illegal sublet.)

Nor is it clear that the obvious activity on the vacation rental front is a major contributor to low vacancy rates or higher rents.

But the city did act during the Olympics to require business licences of residents seeking to profit from the Games by renting a room. It was a common sense tool to ensure public safety, an element of consumer protection and some certainty for renters.

(And I’m sure the hospitality sector would like some assurance that vacation stay operators have to meet some of the minimum standards any hotel or bed and breakfast must achieve before they open their doors.)

Recently Portland decided to permit short-term rentals in single family homes, but stopped short of permitting the business in multi-family buildings. (There are good reasons for this and many strata councils, including my own, prohibit the practice in their bylaws.)

San Francisco is wrestling with the issue too, and a recent analysis by the San Francisco Chronicle has concluded, as did a similar review here, that short-term rentals may be taking a bite out of the housing that would normally be available for regular tenants.

Once again, as in so many housing debates, we don’t have much raw data. That’s why I’ll be making sure that Vancouver’s new housing agency, which is on the council agenda next week, has the mandate to collect data and issue reports on a host of housing issues, from ownership through to vacancies and hard numbers on accessible housing.

July 4, 2014