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Renovictions through the roof in Prince Rupert

Advocate told tenants ‘Uncle Rupert will protect you,’ but new bylaw falls short

Renovictions are through the roof in Prince Rupert, with more than 25 units in three buildings and various properties in one day being affected, recent city bylaws guised to protect tenants have been found to be useless, Paul Lagace, tenant advocate at the Prince Rupert Unemployment Action Centre said on Jan. 8.

Lagace has had “pretty close to 40 evictions” in Prince Rupert since the beginning of December and is also working with another 40 units in Terrace that have crossed the threshold of his office with complex and precarious situations.

Renovictions are the main reason for the sudden increase in tenants needing assistance and he is being kept so busy that group meetings for tenants have been required.

A new city bylaw was enacted in April 2022 with the intention of protecting tenants from renovictions, which Lagace generally supported, however, with some concern, he said. Despite his initial trepidation, for the past several months he has been assuring tenants who enter his renoviction caseload “not to worry, Uncle Rupert will protect you.”

However, Uncle Rupert is now proving to fall short in that protection, he said.

The bylaw was supposed to work in tandem with provincial laws. However, Lagace said with the recent happenings at 613 Sixth Ave., and further renovictions at the unconnected property of Harbourview Apt. on Evergreen Drive, evicting 12 units, which is just the first of several buildings, the property bylaw has proven to be useless.

“There is no real-world scenario, from my perspective, that the bylaw would be useful. It’s just an illusion there is protection,” the advocate told The Northern View on Jan. 9.

Lagace said the current provincial procedure is that the landlord has to apply to the Residential Tenancy Branch to be able to service a four-month notice of eviction for repairs or maintenance. The application must be accompanied by all permits and appropriate documentation showing an eviction is necessary to carry out the repairs. If everything is in order and there is legitimacy to the landlords’ position, the matter gets set down for a hearing, at which time the tenants may dispute it. However, the adjudicator must issue a decision in the landlord’s favour if the balance of probabilities indicates vacant possession is required. Once an order is issued, it exempts the landlord from the city bylaws, Lagace said.

The Prince Rupert City bylaw was modelled after a successful version from New Westminster. While he provided some feedback and opinion during the implementation process in Prince Rupert, not all his advice and knowledge was accepted for the new bylaw.

City legislative conditions and stipulations regarding renovictions are outlined in the Business Regulations and Licencing Bylaw No. 3467, 2021 s. 44. However, Lagace points out that the additional s. 45 actually nullifies the previous section. he doesn’t know when in the process that was added.

In April 2022, The Northern View reported on the bylaw outlining the restrictions on evictions.

“Effective April 26, city landlords will no longer be allowed to deliver or serve a notice to end a tenancy for the reason of renovations or repair unless the owner has obtained every permit required,” Veronika Stewart, communications manager for the city said at the time.

This includes entering into a new tenancy agreement with the tenant with either the same terms for the same unit or terms more favourable to the tenant for a comparable unit in the same building. A copy of the agreement must be supplied to the inspector.

Alternatively, parties can make other arrangements in writing for the tenant’s temporary accommodation during the renovation/repair, and for their return to their original rental unit under the terms of the existing tenancy agreement following the renovation/repair. Documentation of the arrangements, as well as evidence of the tenant’s consent to the arrangements, must be provided to the Inspector.

Landlords who have met all of the conditions under the city bylaws must also still abide by all the Residential Tenancy Act conditions and as of July 1, 2021, they must apply to the Residential Tenancy Branch to determine if terminating the tenancy is essential for the completion of repairs.

Rent will not be permitted to be increased after the renovations are completed except as allowed under the RTA. Under the new city laws, the city inspector is authorized to collect a monthly business licence surcharge if rent is found to have been increased. This will be equivalent to the difference between increased and prior rent. As well, business licence renewal may be refused.”

Lagace said now a different picture is developing.

“No one would ever do that amount of work and then re-rent at the same amount or put tenants up until the place was done to have tenants move back in at the same rent if they couldn’t get an order from the tenancy branch.”

“There is no real-world scenario where that would ever flesh out. There is an illusion, certainly from my perspective that there is some protection here … there is nothing the city bylaw will help them with.”

Lagace said he feels deceived by the new licencing and maintenance bylaw and tenants in the city should be “mad as hell”.

“We have a less than one percent vacancy rate. Evictions are through the roof,” he said, adding he hasn’t seen anything like it since the Pinecrest evictions in 2020 when more than 125 people were evicted from approximately 30 units.

“It’s crazy. The city owes an explanation and I’d like to see council speak to the matter.”

“I don’t like being made a fool of. I believe in laws. I believe in these things,” Lagace said. “I don’t know why the city would put forth this bylaw under the illusion that there was protection, and there isn’t.”

Lagace said anyone who reads the summary of the bylaw on the city’s website would read it and believe as a tenant they are protected against renoviction.

“They’d say, ‘hey we’re protected,’ but it’s a complete illusion. Somebody knew what they were doing when they put that clause in there … maybe they could tell me under what scenario it worked - because I can’t figure it out. It was a very specific clause inserted as well. That wording was not in the New Westminister clause, which it was modelled after. There wasn’t an escape clause in it that nullifies that. And that was not talked about publically. I don’t even know at what stage that was added.”

“This is now going to be played out and it is going to set the precedent for everything else and that is disturbing,” the tenant advocate said.

READ MORE: Restrictions on evictions in Prince Rupert

READ MORE: Prince Rupert tenants renovicted weeks before Christmas

READ MORE: Prince Rupert tenant advocate wins against landlord evicting him

K-J Millar | Editor and Multimedia Journalist
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