New Westminster to fine or revoke licences of buildings that renovict tenants

New Westminster Record

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Tenants are praising the City of New Westminster’s “trail blazing” efforts to prevent renovictions.

On Monday, council approved amendments to the business regulations and licensing (rental units) bylaw that would add a new regulations to restrict evictions, such as when they can be considered, provisions for temporary accommodations for tenants in cases when evictions are deemed necessary, provisions to prohibit increases in rents after renovations are done, punishments for contravening the bylaw, and when exemptions would be considered.

A May 2018 rally in New Westminster focused on renovictions and tenants’ rights. File photo, New Westminster Record

In addition to revoking the business licence of multi-family rental property owners who don’t comply with the bylaw, the city has established fines of $500 and $1,000 for evicting tenants without permits, evicting without relocating tenants, failing to provide a relocation agreement or providing relocation documentation and implementing an excessive rent increase.

“Nobody is safe anymore. Everybody is being affected. I really think that this bylaw could be a really good start to having some consequences for these people that are doing this because they cannot be allowed to keep doing what they are doing,” said Katie Marshall, whose apartment building was recently sold to an owner known for doing renovictions. “This is insanity. It feels almost like the Twilight Zone to me sometimes. It’s hard to believe this is real, this is happening to my friends and family and possibly to me, but it’s happening and it needs to stop.”

More than 30 tenants and housing advocates appeared before council to support the bylaw amendment. In addition to filling council chambers, about 75 people filled city hall’s foyer.

“We need to figure out a way to secure our homes. It should be a basic human right to have stable housing and to not be afraid of losing your housing,” Marshall said. “That’s where we are at and it’s all in the name of money. Money has become more important that our humanity. That is a really scary place to be.”

David Hendry, an organizer with the New Westminster Tenants Union, said the bylaw won’t be the “magic bullet” that protects all tenants, but it will put the burden of proof on landlords, not the tenants.

“They must prove that these suites need to be vacant, and they will ensure that people who do have to leave will not lose their housing security or become homeless,” he said. “In this sense it’s a huge victory, and I commend New Westminster city council for having the political courage to do this.”

John Rethmetakis said it’s “alarming” to see what’s happening in New West and other communities.

“A war is being fought over affordable housing, and the city should be concerned about losing these units because once they disappear, and affordable housing inventory shrinks, the process is irreversible,” he said. “The lives of seniors on fixed pension, low income and marginalized tenants are permanently affected.”

Masoud Amin, a housing advocate in Vancouver, said bylaws like the one put forward by the City of New Westminster will help protect vulnerable people.

“Bylaw 8085 will save lives, will keep families together and will keep communities together. It will make our community strong,” he said. “Having shelter is a human right. … I am hoping that every other jurisdiction in the province will copy what you are doing.”

Sandy Windover and Adam Tutt told council that if the bylaw had been in place three months ago, they may not have had to go through the “stress and heartache” they’ve endured with being renovicted. The couple, who owns four cats including BenBen – a cat who has become an internet sensation and has hundreds of thousands of followers on Instagram and Facebook – said it’s challenging for tenants to find affordable accommodations, and it’s even more difficult for pet owners.

“We took to our social media to help spread the word. With over 335,000 followers on Instagram and over 43,000 followers on Facebook, news of your change has gone global,” Windover said. “The number of people who have gone through similar evictions would shock you.”

Stephanie Diamond, a 79-year-old Coquitlam resident with a disability, said she and her son have been has been renovicted because the owner wants to renovate the suite and put a washer, dryer and dishwasher in every suite and double the rent. She said she’s has had little success when approaching City of Coquitlam with her concerns, and will urge Coquitlam’s councillors and mayor to look at “the creative way” New Westminster is approaching a similar problem.

After the October 2018 election, Mayor Jonathan Cote said he reflected on his first term as mayor and was proud of some of the steps taken by the city to address the housing crisis, but felt the city’s inability to stop renovictions in the past was the “biggest failure” of city council – not because the city didn’t want to stop them, but because it didn’t know how to do that. While the issue of renovictions is best regulated by the Residential Tenancy Act, he said it’s not good enough for cities to point fingers at senior governments, and he commended city staff for finding ways to address the issue.

“There wasn’t another community they could look at and say, well the City of Coquitlam or the City of Burnaby or the City of Vancouver has X bylaw – if you do this, you will be able to address this issue. We really didn’t have any other examples we could look at in the province or the country,” he said. “I have to give a lot of credit to the folks in our planning department and our city staff who had to work really hard to find what I would call out-of-the-box solutions to the most pressing issue facing our community.”

Emilie Adin, the city’s director of development services, said the city will implement a broad communication strategy to inform renters of the changes to the bylaw and will send letters to owners of all rental buildings to notify them of the changes to the business licensing bylaw and the requirements.