West End renter accuses developer of dirty tricks over relocation agreement

A former resident of a three storey walk-up in the West End is accusing a developer of dirty tricks that will result in a monthly rent increase of $1,000, far beyond what he can afford or what is allowed under provincial legislation.

"We are about to be forced out of Vancouver at the hands of a real estate developer that is violating B.C. law and an agreement we have with them," said Kian Gray.

In 2016 Gray and his husband signed a tenant relocation contract with Reliance Properties when they agreed to moved out of their home of 17 years to make way for a recently completed 22-storey highrise at 1188 Bidwell.

Part of the deal stipulated that the couple could rent in the new building at the same rate they were being charged in the old one for two years — approximately $1,400 per month.

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But Gray says the tenancy agreement they've been handed by Reliance for the new building quotes the market rate of $2,400 per month, which they will have to pay. The company will then give out $1,000 monthly rebates for the first two years to comply with the relocation contract.

"They provide you with 24 months worth of post-dated cheques to cover the difference and ... at the end of the term you'll start paying $2,400," he said. "We are not going to agree to these terms or sign a new lease that will allow them to do these things."

Gray says the structure of the agreement allows Reliance to effectively skirt the Residential Tenancy Act's maximum annual allowable rent increase by locking in the higher value.

This year B.C.'s maximum annual allowable rent increase was set at 2.6 per cent. That's compared to the 58.3 per cent spike Gray faces when his rent goes from $1,400 to $2,400.

"Unfortunately we've spoken to our lawyers and apparently [Reliance] found a grey area in the way they worded [the contract]," he said. 

In a statement, Reliance Properties President and CEO Jon Stovell said the relocation agreement exceeded tenant entitlement and obligations under the City of Vancouver's tenant relocation policies. 

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"If they choose to move to the new 1188 Bidwell, they will be in a new unit in a new building with amenities, yet continue to pay their old rent for another two years," said Stovell. "That means for almost five years, Reliance Properties is providing significant monetary value by charging an old rent rate in a market where rents have doubled."

As per the tenant relocation agreement, Gray and his husband have been renting in a different Reliance property while awaiting the completion of the new building.

'The city failed us'

Gray said back in 2016 a City of Vancouver lawyer assured them that Reliance could only increase rents by the provincially mandated amount because it was law.

"The City of Vancouver really failed us," he said. "The City of Vancouver really did not do its research and placed far too much faith in what the developers would do."

He said because of the assurances, he even agreed to speak at city hall on behalf of the redevelopment to help Reliance secure the permits it needed to start construction.

The City of Vancouver has yet to grant Reliance an occupancy permit for 1188 Bidwell Street, saying in a statement to CBC that it would not be issued until the final Tenant Relocation Plan report is deemed satisfactory by the general manager of arts, culture and community services.

Reliance has made two other options available to seven former tenants. They are:

  • Occupancy at 1188 Bidwell at a 20 per cent rent discount for the life of their tenancy.
  • Remain at current units owned by Reliance properties at old rent-rate for two additional years after signing a new tenancy agreement at market rent in which rebate checks will be provided.

The company has set a deadline of 6 p.m. January 13 to agree to one of the options.

Gray says he will not be signing and instead is planning a protest outside the Reliance Properties head office in Gastown.

"We're not going to agree to it. Monday is going to come and go and we are going to find ourselves, at that point, facing potential eviction," he said. 

"We are in a fight to remain in Vancouver and not get forced into a rent increase we cannot afford."