'Renoviction' ruling in tenant vs. landlord case could set precedent
A Vancouver tenant is celebrating after a B.C. Supreme Court ruling in her favour that could set a precedent for others facing "renoviction" in the city's overheated rental housing market.
Court documents show the West End apartment building Vivian Baumann has been living in for 17 years was sold to a new owner in 2014.
Soon after AARTI Investments Ltd. took ownership of the property on Burnaby Street, Baumann said she and other tenants were asked to agree to "huge" rent increases which, in her case, amounted to 64 per cent of her rent at the time.
"We all could feel that we were vulnerable to being evicted," she told CTV News Tuesday.
After applying for the rent increase, she said the landlord had offered to pay long-term tenants of the building four times their monthly rent if they agreed to move out.
According to the documents, a representative for the new landlord spoke to a group of tenants in October of 2015, trying to convince them to either agree to the rent increases or take they buyout and leave.
The following year, a long-term tenant was evicted on the grounds that a new caretaker for the building would occupy their suite, but Baumann says such a person never moved into the unit.
Baumann agreed to neither the rent increase nor the buyout. And after receiving an eviction notice in late July 2017, she took her case to the Residential Tenancy Branch, claiming the eviction process was carried out in bad faith and that the landlord wanted to force her out to raise the rent, not renovate her unit.
Baumann also said AARTI did not have the necessary permits for the renovation work it claimed it would perform after emptying the unit.
Despite offering evidence such as an audio recording of the meeting with the landlord's representative and transcripts of her conversations with technicians who said the renovations in question could be done with tenants still living in the unit, the RTB dismissed her case early in the new year.
"I find it more likely than not that the Landlord truly intends to do what was indication on the Two Month (eviction) Notice," an arbitrator wrote in the decision.
After the branch ruled against her, Baumann was given two days to move out of her unit.
"They did not feel that I proved bad faith for the landlord," she said. "Of course, I was just panicking."
Baumann then got in touch with a housing advocate who connected her with lawyer Jonathan Blair, who helped her take her case to the B.C. Supreme Court for judicial review.
"It was quite daunting, and I knew that I may be subject to costs if I lost, so it was a big risk," she said, "but I just felt like it was so wrong and a lot of the people I had been talking to were like, 'This is so wrong. This is part of what this housing issue is about.'"
In a potentially precedent-setting ruling last week, the court sided with Baumann. A written decision has not yet been made available, but her case is now set to return to the RTB.
"In this case, the judge saw this was a situation where the arbitrator just made a really bad decision in this case—on this renoviction situation—and this couldn't stand," Blair said. "It's a very good conclusion…Some landlords are trying to get around the law by using renovictions as a means to raise rent and that's not what they're there for."
Blair said his office sees many cases where tenants are left scrambling, and with a lack of laws to protect them, few cases make it as far up the ladder as Baumann's.
"If there's not a legal error or some sort of a real factual error then we don't have much of a case going to the Supreme Court. As a result, not many make it this far, so it's great that this one did," he said. "Hopefully, it's a message to say that things need to be beefed up to protect those who are most vulnerable."
The B.C. government announced Tuesday it intends to do just that with a new rental housing task force led by Vancouver-West End MLA Spencer Chandra Herbert.
"They're going to be exploring what else we need to do in order to provide security for renters and also for landlords who are putting their asset on the market," Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing Selina Robinson told CTV Tuesday.
Robinson expects the task force will make an initial round of recommendations next fall.
As for Baumann, she's hoping a victory will set a precedent for other tenants fighting their own battles.
"I'm not the only one, for sure," she said.
A lawyer for her landlord said they are disappointed by the ruling and are considering an appeal.
In the meantime, Baumann said she's excited her life is back to normal, if only for the time being.
"I can focus on work and get back to my life," she said
With files from CTV Vancouver's Maria Weisgarber