Housing crisis prompts creation of renters union
A new union of Vancouver renters is tapping into the exasperation tenants feel in one of Canada’s hottest rental markets and pushing for change.
The Vancouver Tenants Union, only one month old, started in order to advocate on behalf of the estimated 50 per cent of Vancouverites who rent. They had one of their first forums in the city’s West End Wednesday.
Renters shared their horror stories on everything from rent hikes to housing a family of four in a one-bedroom apartment.
"We want to unite tenants’ voices because as an individual tenant when you're faced with an eviction or an issue with your landlord you're very isolated and it's hard to navigate the resources you need to challenge your landlord,” Neil Vokey, a member of the Vancouver Tenants Union steering committee, told CTV News.
The key demands the union is advocating for are more effective rent controls, eviction protection and more and better affordable housing.
One woman who spoke to the group said her landlord recently tried to raise her rent from $2,041 to $3,000 a month. She said she moved into her apartment with her partner and baby six years ago. Since then, her landlord has been raising the rent by the maximum allowable amount each year.
But this year, she said her property manager called her and said the owner’s daughter was coming back to the city and might want to move into the unit. She could stay, however, if she agreed to increase her rent to $3,000.
She said that her family refused the rent increase, and that the manager asked to meet with them to give them their 60 days’ notice to leave. She hasn’t received notice yet—perhaps because of a letter she sent warning the landlord about bad faith family evictions.
Bad faith evictions are just one problem renters in Vancouver face—renovictions are another common one. Several speakers noted that once evicted or denied a lease renewal, finding new rental housing can be a struggle.
The city’s vacancy rate is hovering around 0.5 per cent.
One woman recounted her difficulty finding a new home. She said she viewed thousands of places on Craigslist, sent out hundreds of emails and viewed dozens of places with her family. On top of that, her family had to get rid of their pets in order to be eligible for the rentals they could find with the space and budget they were looking for.
The May rent report from PadMapper, a site that hosts rental listings across Canada, shows the median rent for a one-bedroom apartment in Vancouver in April was $1,940, up 2.1 per cent from the previous month.
Two bedroom apartments were listed at a median of $3,240 in the city, up 1.3 per cent from March.
David Eby, longtime opposition housing critic and re-elected NDP MLA for Vancouver-Point Grey, says he hopes to follow through on the kinds of rental reform the group is asking for if the NDP forms government.
“Our platform… addresses some of the loopholes in the residential tenancy act,” he told CTV News. “In addition… we really need to build a whole bunch of rental housing so that people aren't quite so desperate to avoid eviction.”
The NDP promised a renter’s rebate as well as to close the fixed term lease loophole during their campaign. A fixed-term lease is a method that landlords sometimes use to circumvent rent control and raise rents above allowable rates while the same tenant occupies the unit.
Eby said it’s also important that the Residential Tenancy Branch have the resources to enforce the judgements it makes in order to deal with problem landlords.
The Vancouver Tenants Union is signing up as many members as possible for the fight for renters’ rights. Since the Tenants Union launched at the end of April, they’ve recruited 450 members and hope to reach 1,000 by the end of the summer.
With a report from CTV's Penny Daflos.