If you rent an apartment in Vancouver at a reasonable price, you might feel lucky.
The average monthly price for a one-bedroom, unfurnished newly-listed rental unit in the City of Vancouver climbed to $2,541 this May, while a two-bedroom space will set renters back an average of $3,382, according to a liv.rent report.
And while many renters fear unexpected evictions, a local advocacy group warns that the unwelcome news may only be one of the issues they face.
The Vancouver Tenants Union (VTU) says most landlords don't tell their tenants when a building has been put up for sale, which means many people are unaware that they may be issued a notice.
Once the building is sold, many landlords use scare tactics to try to make tenants leave, or they make unlawful changes to their rental agreement, according to the advocacy group. For instance, they might remove the laundry services or increase parking fees.
VTU steering committee member Neil Vokey told V.I.A. that the group's volunteers monitor real estate companies to see what buildings they've recently acquired or sold. Some of the biggest companies include Goodman Report, CBRE Limited, and NAI Commercial.
When an apartment building goes up for sale, volunteers will visit the renters to ask them if they are aware that the building has been listed for sale.
"We go and talk to tenants to see if they know their rights," Vokey explained, noting that most people are unaware they are living in a possibly precarious situation. They'll let them know what rules their landlords must follow and how much notice they must give tenants.
Under B.C.'s Residential Tenancy Act, landlords must give renters four months' notice if they plan to demolish the building. They must also provide the equivalent of one month's rent or the final month for free. And, as with most changes and updates to a tenancy agreement, landlords must serve the notice on the appropriate government form.
In the VTU's experience, most renters are unaware that their building has gone up for sale and many of them do not know their rights.
Broadway Subway Project puts Fairview renters in a precarious housing situation
On Monday, May 8, the VTU put 200 posters up in Vancouver's Fairview neighbourhood, where many renters face an uncertain future due to redevelopment in the area spurred by the Broadway Subway Project.
"Even though renters along the Broadway corridor have stronger tenant protections on paper, enforcing our right to stay means knowing our rights, being aware of what's going on and getting organized with our neighbours to respond," the group wrote in an Instagram post.
But renters along the Broadway corridor aren't the only ones who face an uncertain future.
Vokey says all renters should monitor their building in case it goes up for sale. The VTU has created a resource for renters that shows them how to monitor their home addresses by setting up a Google Alert. If the building in which they live gets listed for sale, they will get an alert immediately.
The VTU believes the city should inform renters that the building they live in has been put on the market. In 2018, former Green Party Coun. Jean Swanson brought the union's motion before city council, which called for greater protection for tenants facing "renovictions and aggressive buyouts," including for the city to monitor all apartment buildings sold and "immediately provide affected tenants with information as to their tenancy rights by mail."
This part of the motion passed, and the city outlined plans to roll out a “Notification pilot for renters in recently sold buildings”.
But a 2019 email from the city manager stated that the "staff didn’t want to 'create unnecessary stress' for renters by informing them of their rights if there are actually no plans for renovations or redevelopment. So it seems like this possibly never happened, or if it did, it wasn’t continued," according to the VTU.
Resources for Vancouver renters
The VTU also highlights some common tactics landlords may use to undermine renters when a building sells to a new owner, including one called "cash for keys" where a landlord will tempt them to move by offering them money. In some cases, they might offer renters a significant amount of money, but the VTU stresses that "it’s likely a better deal for them than it is for you" and that renters are under no obligation to accept the offer.
Other "scare tactics" include removing services or increasing their price, such as laundry service or the price of parking, changing rent or utility delivery systems, and using the "landlord's use of property" eviction notice. While landlords may lawfully move into a unit for their use, many of them may use this eviction notice as an excuse to oust a tenant with no intention of using it for themselves.
Renters who believe their landlord has no intention of moving in can challenge the notice by filing a dispute at the Residential Tenancy Branch.
Ultimately, renters need to stay informed about their rights so that they aren't taken advantage of by landlords. They can also help out other renters by letting them know if their building goes up for sale.
"Talk to your neighbours! Sharing information with each other increases everyone’s chances of not being tricked, harassed or pressured to leave," says the VTU.