More Vancouver renters decry loophole used to sharply raise rents

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More Vancouver renters decry loophole used to sharply raise rents

Residents of a building in Vancouver's Fairview Slopes neighbourhood are adding their voices to demands that the province close a legal loophole that allows landlords to sharply increase rent. 

The renters of the 11 suites at 1016 West 13th Avenue say their landlord is petitioning the province to raise their rents by 35 per cent.

Under the province's Residential Tenancy Act, a landlord is allowed to raise a tenant's rent by no more than the inflation rate plus two per cent. Currently that rate is 3.7 per cent.

But a loophole allows landlords to use a geographic increase clause to increase the rent by much more if they can successfully argue that similar units in the area rent for more.

"When we talk about affordable housing, this is one of the things — it's a problem," said Joanna Reid, a tenant who has lived in the building for six years. 

"It's really stressful more so than anything else."

The building was purchased by Nicolaou Properties in 2013 for $3,200,000, according to a local realtor. The owners did not respond to requests for comment. 

Neighbours band together

Reid currently pays $1,059 for her suite. A 35 per cent increase would raise her rent by $371 per month.

According to the CMHC 2016 rental housing report, the average rent for a one-bedroom in that area is $1,295. 

Reid claims the ordeal began with the building manager approaching each tenant individually to negotiate a rent increase above the legal limit.

But she said she started talking to others in the building to determine what was going on and to discuss their rights. 

"I didn't know any of my neighbours by name before this happened," she said. 

"The more people you speak to, the more you realize you're not alone. Everyone's going through it but people aren't talking about it because they don't have the resources or the support."

Last week, renters in the West End similarly complained of a shocking rent increase under the guise of the same loophole.

'No one is safe'

Reid said some of the tenants have lived in her building for up to 25 years. Fed up with the stress of of the ordeal, two of them agreed to sign fixed-term leases — another loophole that would permit the landlord to raise the rent above the legal limit by the end of the term.

"I'm hoping our MLAs will get together and fight for us in the legislature, holding the housing minister responsible not after the election but right now, and taking that geographical clause off the table, because no one is safe," Reid said.

Over the weekend, the tenants met with their MLA, George Heyman (Vancouver-Fairview) to gather support.

Heyman said he'd heard of the issue in the West End, but it was the first time he had heard of tenants complaining about the geographic increase clause in his riding.

"The real problem is the province of British Columbia needs to close both these loopholes so people like the renters in this building can have an affordable place to live," he said.

Last week, Housing Minister Rich Coleman told reporters that closing the loopholes would be too complicated, but he petitioned his government for a discussion paper on the matter. 

"It's not complicated at all. It's a loophole, and it should be closed so that people aren't gouged by the few landlords who are seeing an opportunity to jack up rents."

The tenants have appealed the rent increase with the Residential Tenancy Branch and have a meeting set for May 12.