Subordination of tenancy
// Harrison Pratt

Vancouver is listed as the second most expensive city to live in according to the eighth annual Demographia International Housing Affordability Survey. With such high rental rates, it comes with no surprise that our mayor Gregor Robertson’s vision of Vancouver is that of condo profits and development projects.

With a campaign largely funded by developers, Robertson and his crew are giving massive tax breaks to many private enterprises under the guise of creating more rental housing. Are they affordable? No, they are limited and luxurious, well out of the price range of your average Vancouverite.

With 52 per cent of the population being renters and vacancy rates under one per cent, the majority of people are fighting for a minority of space.

Within this housing crisis of low supply and high demand, it’s an ideal market for landlords. Tenants are often subordinated by the inequality within this relationship. Often I ask myself: why do I need to supply references when the landlord is not expected to do the same? After all, I am paying more than half my income into their pocket and having to live under their power.

With rent increasing with inflation, as wages and other social securities remain the same, the percentage of our total income being allocated to rent is increasingly unaffordable. Rent increases in Vancouver have often exceeded inflation, which is two per cent, with a sharp 5.5 per cent increase in 2007, and a 3.8 per cent increase in 2008.

In Vancouver, 27 per cent of renters have an “affordability problem,” defined as paying more than 30 per cent of one’s income towards their housing, according to a report by economic research company Will Dunning Inc. to the City of Vancouver in 2009.

There are some policies in place that seem to protect tenants. The Residential Tenancy Act includes a limit on rent increases annually of two per cent plus inflation. However, also included within the act are ways around this, which landlords often use to victimize renters.

Within the last month, a 45 per cent rent increase was issued to the senior residents living in the Lions Manor by the Mount Pleasant Housing Society, a non-profit seniors housing project. The clause within the B.C. Residential Tenancy Act allows a landlord to raise their property’s rent to match the general market value of the surrounding area. In other words, if your neighborhood is being gentrified, then rents may increase way beyond the standard two per cent via a bylaw loophole.

The laws in place to restrict the increase of rent in B.C. are feeble, and with city-sanctioned gentrification, the threat of displacement is, for many, a real fear, the only option being to move somewhere cheaper (if you can afford the plane ticket).

Since we can’t rely on our governments to protect the general public, we must – and can – collectively take action. As of recently, a new organization called the Vancouver Renters’ Union has formed. They describe themselves as a “vehicle for renters to collectively determine housing rights, rents, and stability through collective bargaining and political action.” This organization takes after the labour union model to better the conditions of tenancy.

Another organization that gives support for tenants is the Tenant Resource Advisory Centre (TRAC). They provide tenants with resources for legal education and information about residential tenancy laws in B.C. They keep tabs on issues faced by tenants and some of their key issues include assisted living, human rights, and evictions for renovations.

Renovictions are another form of legislative trickery – landlords are allowed to evict tenants for renovations, which allows them to raise rents to whatever pleases them financially – yet another clause in the Residential Tenancy Act that allows landlords to bypass the two per cent increases.

One example is the case of Allman v. Amacon in 2007, in which Amacon Property Management Service tried to evict over 100 tenants in the Richmond Gardens complex for renovations. The court ruled against Amacon and in the favor of the tenants rights.

Even though the tenants won the case, winning in Supreme Court is a huge investment in time and energy. TRAC believes that the Residential Tenancy Act should be amended to protect tenants from evictions based on renovations.

The majority of people in Vancouver are vulnerable in terms of security for housing. With the many loopholes in the B.C. Residential Tenancy Act, which favor landlord capital gain, tenants are regularly being taken advantaged of. The relationship between tenant and landlord needs to change.

Many groups within Vancouver are addressing these issues on a one-to-one basis, and there is support out there for tenants in distress. Getting involved in social organizations like the Vancouver Renters’ Union, the Tenant Resource Advisory Centre and other grass roots organizations like Renters at Risk are important for your participation in democracy and social change.

TRAC has a resource online in PDF format called “The Tenant Survival Guide” that outlines many things you should know as a renter in B.C. Personally, my advice to you in any transaction with landlords is to be well informed with your rights and get everything in writing.

Harrison Pratt is a musician, formerCapilano film student, and resident of East Vancouver. His experiences working minimum wage and handing over most of his income to pay for his previous education have led him to write about issues affecting the low-income population of Vancouver.

//Harrison Pratt, columnist

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© 2011 The Capilano Courier. phone: 604.984.4949 fax: 604.984.1787 email: editor@capilanocourier.com