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East Vancouver renters fight conversion to strata units

Tenants face eviction in a unique case that could set a precedent for similar rental units in the city that are in low-density, older multiplex buildings.

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Tensions are heating up at an east Vancouver lowrise building where tenants are protesting the landlord’s plans to convert their long-existing rental homes into strata condos.

They face eviction in a unique case that tenants and their supporters say could set a precedent for similar rental units in the city that are in low-density, older multiplex buildings like this one that was built in 1913. None of the units are purpose-built rentals, but they have existed with affordable rents for decades.

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The case comes as the city and province roll out new policies to encourage the building of more affordable “missing-middle” rental housing like this multiplex, which is at 1171-1177 East 14th Ave. in a single-family neighbourhood near transit.

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Tenant Terry McIntosh at the East Vancouver lowrise building where he rents on Feb. 15. The tenants are protesting the landlord’s plans to convert their long-existing rental homes into strata condos. Photo by NICK PROCAYLO /10103867A

The landlord, who bought the building in 2021, has applied to the City of Vancouver for a development and building permit. The application proposes renovating or reconstructing the seven licensed rental units — three one-bedroom units, two two-bedroom units and two three-bedroom units — and converting them into four strata units that can be sold.

“We think that people should know if rental to strata, like this, is going to become a thing in Vancouver,” said Autumn Dickinson, a tenant in the three-storey building on a 50-foot-wide lot.

The tenants have emailed the city asking it to deny the application. They’re concerned that if the application is approved, the landlord can evict them under the Tenancy Act, which has stipulations for compensation based on length of tenancy. This would clear the way for the landlord to apply for a strata conversion since there would be no one left to oppose the plan. Guidelines require that two-thirds of households in a building must give written consent for a conversion to proceed.

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They also pointed out to the city its own policy updates in April 2023 to protect affordable housing, including priorities to retain existing rental stock to support marginalized residents. In this case, the displaced tenants would include a senior, a refugee and a tenant on long-term disability.

“If this eviction is allowed to go through, it could spell the beginning of a slew of condo conversions for similar apartment buildings, decimating more affordable homes in Vancouver,” says a web post by the Vancouver Tenants Union, which is advocating for the tenants.

In January, Gurv Brar, a senior manager at the city, let the tenants know that “after careful review, we have determined that the proposed renovation application can comply” with the city’s bylaws. He said that rental-to-strata conversions are allowed under the Strata Property Act, provided that a Tenant Relocation Plan is completed.

He said a housing planner has been assigned to the case to ensure eligible tenants are identified and requirements are met, and that “our hands are tied in terms of refusing the application as long as it complies with the city’s regulations.”

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Another tenant, Terry McIntosh, is a 75-year-old university instructor who has lived in the building for 26 years. He pays $1,300 a month for a two-bedroom and shares the space with a roommate. He would be eligible for 12 months’ rent if he was evicted, but would prefer to stay.

For most, the compensation money would only cover rent elsewhere for a few months, he said.

He and some of the other 10 tenants recently spent $500 to design and put up a large sign to draw attention to the landlord’s plan for their building and what it could mean for tenants in other similar buildings if it proceeds unimpeded.

Mimicking the style and format of City of Vancouver signs that are placed on a property when an owner is applying for a development permit, it said “Save Our Homes.”

“We got an email from the property manager saying you better take it down or they may come and junk it. It was our sign on their property,” said Dickinson.

Days later, they saw someone working for the landlord take it down and throw it away.

Andrzej Kowalski, the owner of the building, declined to comment when reached by phone.

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When he bought the building, it was described in a listing as a “very well-maintained, updated building that generates $135,000 a year in gross income.” The listing, which was priced at $2.88 million, said most of the kitchens and bathrooms had been redone and there were new windows.

This week, the property manager sent another email to the tenants with updated information.

“(The owner) has multiple paths to use this site from renovation to demolition to personal use, all of which unfortunately involve bringing your tenancies to an end. From my own experience as a tenant, this could happen with as little as two months’ notice, only one month’s compensation and no TRP (tenant relocation and protection policy),” the email said.

The property manager said she wasn’t speaking on behalf of the owner, but suggested they determine what market rents are for their suites and offer to pay those as a way to encourage the owner not to redevelop.

“With each week that passes and your attempts to derail the project, I feel the owner is less likely to consider any other option and will simply continue with his plans.”

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