photos: TOP: People gather along Hastings Street in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside. File photo by Jesse Winter

You can help close Vancouver's SRO rental loophole

VIEWPOINTS: Wendy Pedersen of the Downtown Eastside SRO Collaborative says that introducing vacancy control for the most low-income tenants in order to prevent homelessness is the least we can do.

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Imagine that you are one of the 4,000 people living in about 100 Single Room Occupancy (SRO) hotels in Vancouver, sharing a bathroom with your neighbours and paying $400 per month for your room. One day you notice that your neighbour has moved out and his room was re-rented for $1,100. Would you be worried? 

One tenant that I work with is in this exact situation and yes, he is worried. In fact, he got three eviction notices, one after another, for trumped-up issues. His landlord was trying to take advantage of a loophole in the provincial tenancy law that allows landlords to re-rent rooms for whatever price they can get.

Luckily, I was able to help the tenant out, but each legal defence was complicated and took us at least a week of full-time preparation to win. Most tenants do not have this kind of help, or the patience and skill, to jump through all the legal hoops. 

Data in city staff reports show that we are losing two to three hotels every year to these upscaled rents. Many tenants are ending up homeless. And this process of displacement is accelerating. This must stop and we don’t have much time. 

The good news is that this loophole can be closed, and the issue is going to Vancouver City Council on Nov. 17. 

Thanks to two previous motions over two years by Coun. Jean Swanson, Vancouver staff have devised some options for municipal vacancy control through the city’s business licence bylaw that are designed to keep rents stable between tenancies in SROs.

If council members choose to support vacancy control, they may be presented with some options such as a zero-per-cent increase between tenancies, or a two-per-cent or five-per-cent increase. We at the Downtown Eastside SRO Collaborative hope they will choose a zero-per-cent increase to remove the financial incentive to evict vulnerable tenants in SROs.

To be clear, these changes would only apply to hotels under the Single Room Accommodation Bylaw (about 100 hotels) and not to rentals in any other part of the city or province.  

Will landlords like this? Not at all. We are expecting a lot of pushback from the landlord lobby. Landlords may claim they will go out of business, but vacancy control is in place across the entire rental stock in Manitoba and Prince Edward Island, and Western civilization has not collapsed there, as far as I know. Introducing vacancy control for the most low-income tenants in Vancouver in order to prevent homelessness seems like the least we could do.

Will landlords still be able to afford to make repairs if they can’t raise the rents between tenancies? Yes. If you know the SROs, you probably know that SRO repairs are not happening that often anyway, even when the rents go up. But if a landlord is really stuck, they already have recourse to go to the BC Residential Tenancy Branch, where an arbitrator or housing judge will look at the landlord’s track record, consider their income, and make a decision about whether or not the landlord needs to raise the rents, and by how much.

So technically, any landlords who are in financial trouble, but who have a good track record of keeping up with repairs, will not be totally boxed in. But SRO investors or slumlords who are out to make a fast buck will have to slow down and do right by the tenants that they are housing now. 

Will Vancouver’s mayor and council vote in favour of vacancy control in SROs? We hope so. You could write a letter to them at https://vancouver.ca/your-government/contact-council.aspx or, better yet, sign up to speak to this issue in order to help us get this passed. (https://vancouver.ca/your-government/speak-at-city-council-meetings.aspx).

In my view, this issue will be the most important one this council will face related to housing and homelessness in their elected term, which ends in November 2022. Let them know that you are watching!  

At top: Wendy Pedersen, a community organizer at the Downtown Eastside SRO Collaborative, is urging the public to support rent control for Single Room Occupancy accommodation. File photo by Paula Carlson.

 

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  • Lise Gray
    commented 2021-11-22 16:37:43 -0800
    Hi I would like to read more about Vancouver. I used to come from, Ontario, now reside in Massachusetts.we have a very good friend living in a small apartment in lower Vancouver, community of women! She is one of the leaders of “Boldfest”’’ women . Lesbian women that gather in September or October? Not sure. Anyhow is there a possibility that I could join and read this magazine online
    Thank you so very much! I’d be happy to pay for it! Sounds very interesting!!!
    [email protected]

    Lise gray!
  • Wendy Pedersen
    published this page in Magazine articles 2021-11-16 17:14:36 -0800
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