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An apartment building that was renovated to add additional units at 1333 Jervis Street in the West End of Vancouver on March 6, 2017. B.C. has the highest rate of “no fault” evictions, which means the tenant is not at fault.DARRYL DYCK/For The Globe and Mail

Ian Main has lived in his apartment in Vancouver’s West End with his wife and daughter for 20 years. For about five years, since the landlord announced a plan to redevelop the building, many of the units in the older 51-unit building at 1485 Davie St. have remained empty.

For a couple of years, they were one of 10 tenant households who hung on. Other tenants took the compensation offered, he says, and relocated to more expensive apartments. As required by the city, in 2018 the landlord offered a tenant relocation plan to help tenants find new housing.

Mr. Main, who pays $1,500 a month for their two-bedroom, refused to leave on the grounds that the tenant relocation package offered was insufficient. He says the specialist who was hired by the landlord merely pointed them to listings on Craigslist.

A development permit application sign went up for 128 condo units and 51 social housing units to replace the existing apartments. Another marketing sign announced presales. Then the market turned and the signs came down and the landlord began renting out a few of the apartments again, while coming up with a new plan. Today, there are only 20 units out of 51 occupied. Out of necessity, Mr. Main studies nearby development proposals to gauge where the market is at, and how much more time they might have at their long-term home.

“I think that for the people in this building [the redevelopment application] did put the fear into everybody. At least half the people left within the first months,” Mr. Main says. “They were given compensation of like, $6,000. A family here had a three-bedroom place, and had been here longer than us and moved to a place that was $3,000 a month – probably twice what they were paying. So how long does that $6,000 last?”

Once the new rental building is built, displaced tenants are given right of first refusal to return at a 20-per-cent discount off market rents. However, Mr. Main points out that if market rate rents are climbing to $3,000 or more, 20 per cent off isn’t affordable for the average tenant.

His building’s redevelopment plan stalled because the condo market slowed when it came time to launch presales in 2019. Mr. Main says that living in a largely empty building felt “a bit odd,” especially when it was obvious some remaining tenants were doing short-term rentals. He worried about the safety of his teenage daughter with strangers coming and going. He complained to the property manager who quickly put an end to the vacation rentals.

Mr. Main says the building has changed hands several times while he’s lived in it, owned by numbered companies. None of the owners have done necessary repairs, he says, and the building is in poor condition. According to land title records, the current owner of the property is 1034907 B.C. Ltd. All of its directors are Vancouver residents.

The key reason the building is more than half empty is because it needs a lot of work, says John Liang, one of 1034907 B.C. Ltd.’s directors. The company’s development arm used to be known as Vivagrand, but re-branded as Align B.C. Properties. Align is also redeveloping properties on Robson Street and the Cambie Corridor.

“I think that’s the maximum the building can handle, because even with 20 units occupied, we have to spend more than $2,000 a month to fix the plumbing issue,” Mr. Liang says. “Unless I rip off all the drywall and redo the plumbing – but that’s not going to happen. So, for now, we just have to repair all the leakage, all the broken-down machinery every month, and in some of those occupied units too.”

Another reason the units are empty is the tenant relocation process, he says.

The newer tenants signed an addendum attached to the tenancy agreement that says they understand the building is up for redevelopment and they are not entitled to tenant relocation, said Mr. Liang.

He said the initial plan to build condos no longer made economic sense, but the plan is to stick with the scale and design of the 21-storey, 128-unit tower, as well as a six-storey building and some below market units. When they were doing condos, they were required to provide 20-per-cent below market, but that’s now up for discussion with an all-rental building, he says.

“The interest rate, holding costs, plus construction costs and everything, and the sale price – it doesn’t justify the cost. So we feel like it’s better to do a market rental,” he says of the switch.

“With the plan being stalled and the market slowed and everything, I don’t know if we are still going to be able to provide that 20-per-cent social housing.”

He estimates the 20 renters will have at least another two years in the building, which, for now, is good news for Mr. Main.

Mr. Main’s predicament is one that is becoming familiar to many B.C. tenants.

The province holds the distinction of having the highest eviction rate in Canada, according to University of B.C.’s Housing Research Collaborative. B.C. also has the highest rate of “no fault” evictions, which means the tenant is not at fault.

In B.C., 10.5 per cent of renter households reported that they were forced to move out of their homes between 2016 and 2021, according to data collected by Statistics Canada for the Canadian Housing Survey. That compares to 5.9 per cent nationally.

“What this clearly says to me is there is obviously something different about evictions in B.C. compared to other provinces,” said Craig Jones, associate director of the HRC.

The CHS found that the top reason for eviction was the landlord’s desire to sell. Another top reason for eviction is the owner wanting to move in. In B.C., 85 per cent of evictions are no fault, while the national average is 65 per cent. The CHS also found that financial gain is a growing motivation for evictions, with 20 per cent of units in Canada owned by financial firms and one in five houses and condos owned by investors.

In terms of eviction rates, Canada “is an international leader,” says the CHS.

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Mr. Jones knows from experience what it feels like to get kicked out of your home. He and his family had been evicted several years ago when the landlord announced development plans. Instead of serving an eviction notice, the landlord offered one month’s rent and moving expenses if they moved out.

“I have a visceral memory of moving day. It was the worst. We moved from a really cool old building with lots of space we could afford to renting a condo that was tiny,” Mr. Jones says.

Blaine Thurier lives in a West End apartment on Barclay Street with his wife and two children. They’ve lived in the building for 24 years, and he says he has watched his building slide into disrepair, with old 1980s carpeting, water leaks coming through light fixtures, a rodent infestation, and, for a time, empty units. He estimates that eight of the units in his 23-unit building were empty for a year and a half, until tenants complained and a new property manager was brought in. Within weeks, the empty units were filled.

But he suspects that the new tenants are only there to help pay the tax bills until the building is ripe for redevelopment. There’s a continued sense of insecurity because the building has been on the market for several years.

If forced out, he doesn’t know if they could afford to stay in B.C.

“It’s very frustrating. These are homes where we live and raise our kids, and we are beholden to a bunch of speculators and I don’t care where they are from, it’s like our buildings are just like trading cards,” Mr. Thurier says. “It’s just about profit and essential human rights are being used for obscene money-making, causing suffering. We’ve hung on by the skin of our teeth to stay in what I consider, or considered, the greatest neighbourhood in the world, the West End. … But it’s just being ruined by greedy developers and politicians.

“Working people and families are just screwed. Just completely screwed.”

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