Vancouver’s Rental Reality: Fighting ‘demovictions’

File photo: Burnaby building where tenants were ‘demovicted’ as the city moved to make Metrotown a new ‘downtown.’. Simon Little / Global News

Vancouver’s Rental Reality is a week-long original series looking at housing in Vancouver from the renter’s perspective. From renters locked out of the property ladder to hellish landlords, renovictions and cramped living quarters we look at how renters say the city is pushing them away.

Terran Bell and Lucas Gallagher are your typical millennial couple living in Vancouver. They’re both in their early thirties, recently married and work hard to make rent each month.

Lucas owns a bike shop on Vancouver’s eastside, while Terran works with a charitable foundation.

LISTEN: Vancouver’s Rental Reality: Fighting ‘demovictions’
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But despite both of them having stable jobs, Lucas says they are still financially squeezed.

“I make a poverty income off of owning a small business and my retail rent is extraordinarily high, it’s really hard for me to make a margin,” said Lucas. “And I have to pay employees so that they can live in the city.”

READ MORE: Vancouver’s Rental Reality: House-share nightmare

With rent prices inflating rapidly every year, they worry that the city will become unaffordable for them to live in. And their worries are validated, considering they have been served with numerous eviction notices in the past.

In 2016, after living in the same apartment for five years, their landlord decided to sell the building. Four months later, they received their first eviction notice under the pretence that the apartment needed renovation.

“It caused us immediate panic, but then looking at it, it was really clear [the landlords] hadn’t done the due-diligence of doing it properly,” said Lucas.
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Lucas Gallagher and Terran Bell.

So Terran and Lucas started the bureaucratic process of fighting the eviction. Other tenants in the building also joined the fight which lead to the landlords issuing a new eviction notice for the following month, thinking that an extra month is all that was needed to diffuse the situation.

The residents decided to band together and file a joint dispute through the Residential Tenancy Branch.

“It was a very cumbersome, difficult and time-consuming process to go through. It’s supposed to be set up so that tenants can go themselves, but there are many stumbling blocks and a lot of ways to go wrong,” said Lucas.

READ MORE: Vancouver’s Rental Realities: From mouldy co-op to mom’s basement

While they were successful in their dispute, they ended up being served another eviction notice and lost the energy to fight it any longer.

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Terran says the emotional stress was taking a toll on them both.

“They would just keep chipping away at us until we left. And they were right, I guess in that approach they won,” said Terran.

The final notice specified that the landlords intended to carry out major construction as parts of the building needed to be structurally repaired.

WATCH: Burnaby demoviction protestors fight for affordable housing

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Burnaby demoviction protestors fight for affordable housing – Jul 18, 2017

But after a number of months had passed, Lucas and some friends viewed the apartment — curious as to what repairs had been made.

“They had re-done the counter tops in the kitchen, they said they had put in new floors, but they hadn’t, they were the same floors as when we lived there,” said Terran.

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However, rent was now more than double what they had previously been paying and they could not have afforded to stay there.

“It would be really hard to justify, and you know, some of the people in the building were low-income tenants, people with young children,” said Terran.

READ MORE: No Vacancy: The face of Metrotown ‘demovictions’

“We saw people in tears. It’s hard to imagine how someone would have navigated this if they didn’t have English as a first language.”

Under pressure to find a new place, they struggled to find something within their budget and eventually settled paying for a place that was less comfortable and was more expensive.

But Lucas said moving further away was not an option, as commuting costs would also increase, leaving them financially tight again.

According to Lucas, even trying to go through the Residential Tenancy Branch is complicated, adding that people have two weeks to file things properly while dealing with a lot of stress. He said they also had to pay a fee to file the dispute, which added more stress to their situation.

WATCH: Tenants raise concerns about demovictions

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Tenants raise concerns about demovictions – Mar 8, 2017

In their new place, they say neighbours have discussed how they are worried about being reconvicted. They say that unfortunately, some tenants now accept renovictions as a common practice in Vancouver.

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“It is daunting. I think people like us who have good jobs, we have a comfortable income and we have a really hard time seeing how we could possibly afford to stay in this city in the long term,” said Terran.

With the complexion of the city changing, young people are thinking about moving away more and more, but Terran says that this could change the vibrancy of the city.

“If people like us can’t afford to live here, then eventually what will happen?”

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