The province is investigating a Vancouver company that offers furnished short-term travel accommodation for allegedly issuing tenancy agreements that contravene B.C.'s rental laws.
Anoop Majithia, director of Plan A Real Estate Services, says his company mainly rents furnished suites in downtown Vancouver for travellers staying in the city for two to four months at a time.
But the Residential Tenancy Branch, which governs rental laws in B.C., says the company's custom "travel accommodation and tenancy agreement" doesn't abide by the province's tenancy laws.
The dispute highlights the province's attempts to alleviate an overheated rental market by dealing with loopholes that can lead to fewer rights and higher rates for renters, but Majithia says his comapny is a "very positive force" in the downtown rental market.
"We make every effort to create positive tenant experiences and to ensure that we're following the law."
Tenancy Act applies to some vacation rentals
Majithia says Plan A offers about 300 furnished rentals.
Because the suites are rented for 30 days or longer, he says, they don't need to abide by the province and the city's short-term accommodation laws. And because they're travel accommodations, he says, they are also exempt from B.C.'s Residential Tenancy Act.
The Residential Tenancy Branch, which governs rental laws in the province, disagrees.
Although vacation rentals are exempt from the Residential Tenancy Act, a policy guideline on the topic says rental tenancy laws may apply to some vacation properties if they are for a specific length of time, if the tenant has exclusive possession of the property, or if the property is the renter's primary residence.
Plan A took branch to court
The investigation against the company, which began in 2018, recently suffered a setback in B.C. Supreme Court.
Plan A took the branch to court after the branch's director, Scott McGregor, issued a letter last fall that suggested he had already decided the outcome of the investigation against the company.
The letter should have been an opportunity for the company to defend itself in light of the allegations, but the judge agreed it was "problematic."
"An informed person ... would conclude that Director McGregor had predetermined several of the issues he was to decide," B.C. Supreme Court Justice Peter Edelmann wrote in the decision.
McGregor is the director of the Residential Tenancy Branch's relatively new enforcement and compliance department, which can issue fines to landlords of up to $5,000 per day.
The court granted the company's request to remove McGregor from the branch's final decision on whether to issue a penalty.
The Ministry of the Attorney General and Minister Responsible for Housing said it couldn't comment on the matter in order to ensure a fair review of the case.
'Facade of legitimacy'
Excerpts of McGregor's letter included in the court decision mention the company's "travel accommodation and tenancy agreement."
"[T]he evidence clearly demonstrates that you changed or omitted the tenancy agreement terms and tenancy agreement addendum terms in such a manner as to create a facade of legitimacy intended to confuse an uninformed tenant," McGregor is quoted as writing.
"I consider this flagrant disregard of the act and regulation to represent a clear and deliberate intention to avoid the tenancy laws of B.C."
According to the decision, McGregor accuses the company of charging fees, such as GST, and imposing a move-out date, neither of which the Residential Tenancy Act allows.
But Majithia says his rental agreements make it clear that renters should not use his properties as their primary residence. For those who say they intend to, he says, the company gets them to sign an official Residential Tenancy Act lease.
Plan A Real Estate Services has been the subject of critical media reports that include accusations of misrepresenting the condition of suites, increasing the cost of doing a load of laundry from $3.25 to $13.50 in one building and installing signs in support of deceased basketball player Kobe Bryant instead of fixing damaged suites.
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