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Millar Time: Landlords - damned if they do, damned if they don’t

Renovictions are a hot topic. The number of occurrences in Prince Rupert are literally soaring through the roof and creating large holes for renters to be rained on.
Millar Time - K-J Millar

Renovictions are a hot topic. The number of occurrences in Prince Rupert are literally soaring through the roof and creating large holes for renters to be rained on.

When I write any one of the numerous articles I have on the topic, my writing comes from a place of experience - more than 25 years as a legal agent and property manager specializing in landlord tenant issues. Yes, I have seen and experienced both sides first handed.

I would often tell my legal clients that they did not have to like what I say. Nope, you don’t have to like what I tell you, but you need to consider it. The same applies here and today.

ressive in the province I lived - with updated legislation that pretty much balanced tenant and landlord rights as best as it could. I came from a province where one could say the hub of Canadian business and housing standards are set.

In property management, buildings and rental units have alphabetical classifications, A, B and C. A class buildings are the swankiest ones with all modern fixtures, pools, gyms, party rooms, on-site management, some may even have a doorman, uniformed maintenance staff show up the day after a repair issue is reported. These units come with an applicable price tag. Then B class is slightly older units, with fewer amenities, but still clean and tidy, kept up by management, housing mid-income ranged tenants and families. C class were older buildings where fixtures had been painted over several times, perhaps located in the less popular areas, housing those on limited incomes, perhaps landlords were slow to get repairs done - if at all.

My awakening came when I saw the standard that rental units were being leased in this municipality and not isolated to any one landlord. They were low B class to C class at best. I came here with the knowledge that some of the properties I was going to manage housed doctors and lawyers and were some of the best units in the city. I pictured A-class buildings, which was my frame of reference as to where doctors and lawyers lived.

When arriving in the city, I had a quick jolt. I saw that while the city’s rental units may have housed these people, they were definitely not A-class buildings. As I became more familiar with the city and toured numerous rental units scoping out the competition’s quality and for my own living facilities (yes, I am a tenant), I came to understand lower B-class and C-class buildings were predominately what Prince Rupert had to offer.

To be honest, I’m not sure if there is an official D classification, but I have seen many units/buildings in this city that require a big fat F. However, due to the housing shortage in the city (in which Prince Rupert is not alone - it is a national problem), tenants take what they can get because there is no alternative. Landlords say ‘Meh’ and while they wouldn’t live in it themselves, this is ‘good enough’ for a tenant. Thus a cycle begins.

Because even basic housing is a rare gem, tenants rent units that may be sub-par in any other community, province or standard. They feel they have to accept lack-lustre maintenance standards because they are fearful of having no housing or losing what they do have. Some may withhold rent. Landlords may resort to means outside the set legislation to “encourage” tenants to move because not paying rent affects the available income to maintain the property. Some repairs may just be too big for a landlord to cope with. Without the proper procedures of the Residential Tenancy Branch being followed, more problems occur.

Eventually, the units and buildings become in such disrepair the landlords can not keep up with maintenance and costs, so they sell. New owners take over with the best intentions to repair and renovate the units to decent standards. Many of these may be from out of town, not knowing the underlying issues Prince Rupert faces, such as lack of labour, lack of supplies, shipping costs, construction challenges, etc. They find repairs and renovations run far deeper and costlier than first anticipated. Hence comes the need for vacant possession of a unit/building so they can upgrade rental accommodations with new infrastructure such as good working plumbing and safe electrics.

Tenants complain about the standard of their rental accommodation. Landlords need to do repairs. Just as the city’s infrastructure is aged, broken and needs replacement because of past neglect, so does the city’s rental housing stock.

The rental housing crisis in Prince Prince Rupert has reached the chicken and egg scenario. Which comes first — acceptable rental housing or renovictions? Landlords are damned if they do want to carry out major repairs and they are damned if they don’t. But somewhere, the cycle has to be broken.

So, while I get it — I completely understand how emotional and stressful being renovicted is, if you want decent, to standard, living accommodations that are in line with the rest of the outside world, then repairs and renovictions have to happen.

My hat goes off to the landlords who implement openness and approach tenants before issuing a renoviction notice. There is nothing wrong with this. The extent of repairs is explained, offers to assist with moving costs, extra time is given to find new digs and the RTB processes are followed.

My legal clients didn’t have to like what I said to them, but I advocated for open communication and negotiation. This is where the most benefit to both parties and forward momentum is made. I applaud landlords who attempt this even when the voices of tenants are louder, condemning they are being renovicted.

Of course, tenants are going to be upset. Being renovicted from your home in the housing crisis climate is heart-wrenching and it breaks us. Some tenants are vocal, some supporters wave their hands in the air but the underlying issue remains … people have the right to decent, warm, dry, well-maintained rental units.

It is a matter of the chicken and the egg. The cycle has to be broken. As painful as it is, the situation in this city needs the band aide of duct-taped pipes and spliced electric wires ripped off quickly. Renovictions have to happen for a decent standard of rental units to be available for tenants. Once the cycle is broken, the chicken can lay her offspring egg in a warm, dry and safe new nest.