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Alice Hamilton and other tenants are worried about being evicted from this building that was built in 1912.Rafal Gerszak

The city's increasingly stressed renters have come together to form a new tenants' lobby group aimed at fighting for more protections from eviction and for more housing.

The Vancouver Tenants Union attracted about 250 people to its founding meeting Saturday, where a mix of people talked about the sense of uncertainty, lack of safety and plain fear they are living with every day.

The group's formation comes at a time when the vacancy rate in Vancouver is close to zero in a city where 50 per cent of people rent.

An increasing number of higher-income households are renting because they can't afford anything in the city's inflated real estate market.

That has resulted in a broad range of tenants, some paying $500 a month, others $3,000, all feeling a sense of precariousness, as they wonder whether their landlords will sell for a profit or try to raise rents in such a hot market.

Alice Hamilton told Saturday's meeting she's one of a group of about 40 tenants who have lived for decades together at a building at 10th and Main, the Belvedere Court.

A new owner bought the building two years ago and, after months of half-hearted renovations, the owner started issuing eviction orders to some, while putting others on notice, Ms. Hamilton said.

"It's actually in decent shape, it just needs cosmetic work," she said. "But what this means for many of us is to lose our home, lose our support network."

As well, it's likely that rents would go up substantially.

In many parts of the region, landlords jump on the tenant departures as a way to raise rents higher than the annual cost-of-living-plus-2-per-cent that is the maximum allowed as long as the same tenant stays in the apartment.

Others, like Ron Sigurdson, told stories of their landlords trying to push everyone out of a West End building, while advertising the same units on Craigslist for higher prices.

Jack Gates, who is living at one of the hotels owned by Vancouver's notorious Sahota slumlords, is suing in court over the problems with broken elevators, uncleaned washrooms and more.

But that's not just a Downtown Eastside issue.

Another young woman who didn't want to be identified, living at a Zen apartment on East Sixth, said she had made hundreds of calls to try to have problems with non-working fire doors fixed and other repairs, and gotten no response from the landlord or the city.

Patrick Campbell, living in a building on the 500-block of East Sixth, said a new owner was trying to get tenants out of the building by raising rents through a provision of the tenancy act that allows significant increases because of higher market value in a particular location.

He and 10 others are fighting that at his building. He urged others to do the same, saying those kinds of strategies by landlords can be defeated.

One tenants union organizer, Derrick O'Keefe, said he got inspired to get active because of his own feeling of frustration about the lack of attention paid to tenants.

He lives in a non-profit building, but he said the property manager assigned by Atira Property Management appears to have no time to do anything, and so there are constant problems that tenants are forced to put up with, because they have little choice.

The new union has four basic goals, said another organizer, Wendy Pedersen, a long-time activist in the Downtown Eastside now working with SRO Collaborative.

They are to get better protections to stop evictions, more effective rent control, an increase in welfare and disability payments from the current $610 to about $1,500, and more subsidized housing.

The group hopes to train tenants to be more activist, teaching them about their rights when a landlord tries to evict them without cause or to sign a fixed-term lease.

Fixed-term leases, which used to be almost unheard of, have surged into the public eye in the past two years because of some landlords using them to be able to significantly increase rents once a one-year lease is up, even though the same tenant may be staying on.

Housing Minister Rich Coleman has repeatedly been asked to do something to prevent the abuse of that provision, but he has said it needs more study.

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The Canadian Press

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