Vancouver’s new hotel bylaw – salvation or smokescreen?

Protest outside the Clifton Hotel, where the landlord is trying to reno-vict low-income tenants
Protest outside the Clifton Hotel, where the landlord is trying to reno-vict low-income tenants

Did Vancouver City Council make changes to its SRO hotel room bylaw that will help stop renovictions? Or did the July changes actually take away powers that the city could have used to prevent renovictions and rent increases?

In July, Vancouver Council passed a motion to change its Single Room Accomodation bylaw, which was originally written in 2003 to help save single room hotel units for very low-income people. But with a steady decline in the number of rooms that low-income people can afford, and a loss of 300 affordable rooms last year, the city said it had to make changes.

Media coverage of the changes made it seem like the city was acting boldly to stand up to slumlords and stop renovictions. “Vancouver toughens penalties for landlords who renovict poor tenants,” said the Metro paper in a headline. According to the Metro, Councillor Kerry Jang said the change, “… also says to the bad landlords, ‘Look out, we’re coming to get you.’ If you’re thinking about flipping those properties, think again, because it isn’t really going to happen we’ll make it so bloody difficult for you.”

But actually, the changes won’t really help stop renovictions, says the Carnegie Community Action Project, for two reasons. First, the most important change to the bylaw now requires that if tenants have to move for renovations to take place, the landlord has to go to the city for a permit. This permit will allow the city to negotiate for relocation of the tenant. Unfortunately, the old, unamended bylaw actually gave the city the power to stop these conversions, even if the tenant didn’t move. And, in the vast majority of cases, renovictions take place after the landlord has gotten rid of low-income tenants, not while they are still living in the building. They use various excuses such as disturbing other tenants, having bugs, needing the room for a caretaker. Sometimes renovicting landlords even give tenants hundreds of dollars if they will move so they can raise the rent when they are gone.

The second major change was to raise the amount from $15,000 to $125,000 that the city may charge landlords who apply to convert their SRO units to condos, hostel rooms, or rental units over 320 sq/ft. This sounds important, but Geoffrey Howes said it wouldn’t affect their buildings. Howes works with Stephen Lippman, the biggest renovicter in the the Downtown Eastside. He said this new rule wouldn’t affect them because they don’t take their rooms out of the SRA bylaw. In most cases this is true. The renovicters aren’t changing the size or use of the SRO hotel rooms they are gentrifying, they are just raising the rents beyond what low-income people can afford. So while the penalty is higher, the number of instances where it can be applied is greatly reduced. Neither change is likely to stop DTES renovictions.

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