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From left, roommates Ellison Richmond, Nina Martensson and Brianne Miller share breakfast in their Vancouver suite last week. (Rafal Gerszak/The Globe and Mail)
From left, roommates Ellison Richmond, Nina Martensson and Brianne Miller share breakfast in their Vancouver suite last week. (Rafal Gerszak/The Globe and Mail)

Loophole in Vancouver bylaws leaves renters at risk of eviction Add to ...

The tenants in a house in Vancouver’s Kitsilano neighbourhood had seen their new landlord attempt to evict them twice already in the past year.

The first time, they mounted a public campaign and posted signs around the building, and the building owner abandoned that attempt.

On his second try, last spring, the landlord claimed his family members were all moving in, but the tenants challenged the order at the residential tenancy branch, the provincial government agency that resolves disputes involving renters.

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The eviction notice was set aside, and the landlord was also ordered to pay the tenants $250 each for the stress he had caused.

But now they are facing eviction again, yet with no apparent way to resist or receive any special compensation – all because of a strange loophole in the city’s bylaws that allows owners of small apartment buildings to avoid city rules designed to protect older rental stock and tenants.

Those rules apply to buildings with six or more units, but the six-unit building at West 11th Avenue and Burrard Street, now owned by Dana Development Inc., is exempt because the owner plans to replace it with a four-unit complex.

“It’s been such a stress,” said Ellison Richmond, who is among the three sets of original tenants still in the building (the three others gave up during the preceding rounds and moved out). “But my girlfriend and I are trying to stay as long as possible now.”

City bylaws provide protections for tenants in rental buildings that are torn down and replaced. Owners are required to provide two months rent to tenants, pay their moving costs and help them find comparable rentals in the area. Furthermore, owners are required to invite previous tenants into the new building at a discount.

But those rules don’t protect Mr. Richmond and his neighbours.

Mr. Richmond, a 30-year-old who does public-health consulting and works with a health-software company, said he and others in the building are worried about what it will be like to try to find other rentals, given the almost zero vacancy rate in Vancouver.

“It took us so long just to find this place,” he said. He and his girlfriend, who are paying $1,900 a month for a three-bedroom unit in the converted house, moved there in April 2014.

Dana Development Inc. bought the building last year for $2.6-million.

The city’s director of housing policy and projects, Abigail Bond, said the case on West 11th is one more small crack in the city’s housing system that has appeared as Vancouver has undergone enormous stress in the past few years.

And planners are trying to fix that crack, even though it only affects about six apartment units a year – almost 50 units in the past six years.

“It’s not something where we are bleeding out a whole lot,” Ms. Bond said. “But we don’t take the loss of any units lightly.”

The city has not issued a building permit or demolition permit for the house, which is more than 100 years old but is not protected by any heritage provisions. It has, however, issued a development permit, which is available to any developer in that zone if the project is less than six units.

Joshua Prowse, a lawyer who works with the Community Legal Assistance Society and sits on the city’s renters’ advisory committee, said he had never heard of a case like this before in either of his roles. “I’m kind of surprised about it,” he said.

One of the principals of Dana Development, Hamid Naimi, declined to be interviewed about the project when visited at his office on West Broadway. He also did not respond to a subsequent phone call.

The company was formed in October, 2014, along with principal Abdorrahim Dahi, and operates out of an office that belongs to Avesta Services, a company that, like Dana Development, has no easily discoverable website or description of what it does.

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