It’s an issue that’s long been associated with British Columbia’s hot housing market, and now renoviction complaints are cropping up in smaller communities like Vernon.
Two brothers in the North Okanagan city are speaking out after their new landlord evicted them for renovations and raised the rent.
However, the business that took over their building is defending its actions, explaining it’s just trying to create better homes for tenants.
After being ordered out of his apartment at the end of January, Keven Hogan is feeling like he’s out of options.
“I don’t know what to say, it’s mind boggling,” said Hogan, throwing his hands in the air.
Last September, the Vernon man and his brother got a four-month notice to vacate their two-bedroom unit in Willow Manor because the new landlord planned to renovate.
“It’s money. It’s business to them there is no humanity involved,” said Greg Hogan, Keven’s brother.
The brothers consider this to be a so-called “renoviction.”
It’s a term used to describe cases where landlords renovate to force existing tenants out so they can significantly raise the rent, well above the small annual increases allowed for continuously occupied units.
“Sometimes there is a need to fix the unit up,” said Tish Lakes, a legal advocate at Okanagan Advocacy and Resource Society who regulary helps tenants navigate evictions.
“The problem is the rent increase the landlord can then put into place can be substantial. So it is a big incentive.”
To evict tenants for renovations, the province requires the work to be so extensive that the unit must be vacated to finish it.
The brother’s new landlord, Endicott Living, said that’s exactly the situation at Willow Manor, where it says it’s planning a full gut and renovation of the units including completely redoing the kitchen and bathroom, installing new flooring, new doors and new windows.
However, the Hogans disagree. The brothers argue they could have continued to live in the apartment despite the renovations.
“We were upset and I went to the tenancy board to make a dispute resolution, because what they are doing for renovations is just cosmetic, no major construction,” Keven Hogan said.
Keven filed the paperwork and waited almost two months for his residential tenancy branch hearing date, which was scheduled just nine days before his scheduled eviction.
He ended up losing the case because the arbitrator found he didn’t file the dispute paperwork on time.
“It’s not conducive to the tenant,” Keven Hogan said of the dispute process.
“There is so much paperwork and bureaucratic stuff.”
Hogan feels he lost on a technicality.
Global News reached out to the provincial ministry responsible to respond to concerns the dispute process is too difficult for tenants to navigate.
In a statement, the ministry didn’t specifically respond to the question, but did point out it has created a website for renters with “easy-to-navigate access to information” on renovictions, among other topics.
Two-bedroom units in the building are being advertised for rent for at least $1,300.
That’s $200 more than what the brothers were paying.
The company denies this is a money grab, saying it’s spending more than a million dollars on improving Willow Manor with the goal of creating better homes for tenants.
“We try to uphold due care when working with our tenants during this transition period. In Willow Manor alone, we have helped 7 tenants move out and relocated them to another home in goodwill,” read a statement provided by a public relations firm on Endicott Living’s behalf.
As is required, the brothers also received one month’s free rent.
Endicott Living did not make anyone available for an interview.
In statements provided by a public relations firm on behalf of the business, Endicott Living said that only three quarters of the units in Willow Manor needed to be gutted, while the rest received more minor upgrades.
In those units, the company said tenants weren’t evicted nor will their rents be raised.
The business said it’s complied with the letter of the law.
“Based on the extensive nature of the renovations, it was not safe for our tenants to live in a construction zone without essential amenities. All of our tenants have been given first right to return to their units and many of them have happily returned,” read a statement from Endicott Living.
However, the Hogan brothers won’t be among those going back.
After being forced from their apartment the end of January, they’re living with a friend and struggling to find another place.
Three Vernon buildings
Endicott Living is currently advertising upgraded apartments for rent in three Vernon complexes that were originally built in the 1960s or 1970s.
The business said its focus is on “investing long-term into the community to create better living homes for our tenants.”
“On average, we spend $1-million on upgrades in other buildings,” said a statement on behalf of the company.
“We pride ourselves in going above and beyond by investing in features that don’t necessarily help our bottom line, but make an immense positive impact for our tenants such as new windows, plumbing upgrades and improvements to security.”