A company that manages single-room occupancy buildings in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside has suffered a defeat in B.C. Supreme Court, but it says it will not change the policy that sparked the case.
Jamie Richardson, who was a resident of the London Hotel, an SRO run by Atira Property Management, challenged a policy that requires guests of tenants to show government-issued identification. He said the policy prevented many of his guests from visiting because they did not have and could not afford such ID.
Atira argued the neighbourhood is known for high levels of crime and violence and the policy was needed to ensure the safety of residents – though an arbitrator with the B.C. Residential Tenancy Branch ruled against it last May, and a second arbitrator upheld that decision in August.
Atira then petitioned B.C. Supreme Court, with a judge late last week also reaffirming the arbitrator's decision.
"… The petitioner is only arguing that the arbitrator was wrong because she did not agree with the petitioner's position," Justice Mark McEwan wrote.
Janice Abbott, Atira's chief executive officer, in an interview Sunday said the ruling only applied to one case and the policy itself will not be scrapped.
"It's not a ruling against the policy, it's a ruling with respect to that tenant. And so, nothing will change for us," she said.
When asked if the ruling could be seen as a precedent, allowing other tenants to seek the same recourse, she said, "We're not at this point concerned about the ruling."
Ms. Abbott said Mr. Richardson is also no longer residing at the building.
The policy requiring guests to produce government-issued ID was introduced on March 31, 2014. Atira had previously required guests to show some sort of ID but it did not have to be government issued, and photocopied ID was acceptable. Guests were also allowed to show a card known as a Life Skills ID, which could be obtained through a community resource centre.
Mr. Richardson applied for an exemption to the new guest-identification policy shortly after it was introduced.
At the arbitrator's hearing last May, Atira argued its policy was supported by a City of Vancouver bylaw that says an SRO owner must maintain guest ledgers.
However, the arbitrator said the civic bylaw does not require guests to produce photo ID and the province's Residential Tenancy Act says a landlord must not unreasonably restrict access to a property. The arbitrator ordered Atira to let Mr. Richardson have guests without requiring them to produce ID.
Atira then sought a review hearing, which was held in August. The company, at the review hearing, cited the high levels of crime and violence in the neighbourhood. It said the policy was put in place, in part, because of a double shooting at another Atira building. It said the policy had led to a decrease in violence and was enacted in conjunction with the Vancouver Police Department and provincial agency BC Housing.
The second arbitrator, in upholding the first arbitrator's decision, said the landlord submitted no evidence that restricting Mr. Richardson's guests was reasonable.
Atira, in its B.C. Supreme Court petition, said the first arbitrator was patently unreasonable. It also said a visitor had accessed its buildings using a fake Life Skills ID, and many residents were relieved the new policy would better protect them.
Justice McEwan, in his ruling, said the arbitrator's decision focused on Mr. Richardson's circumstances and was not unreasonable or incorrect.
Atira manages 20 buildings in all.