Displacement by Disrepair: Metrotown tenants organize against landlord neglect

The Dow Avenue Tenants Group is calling for an end to the chronic disrepair and unhealthy living conditions caused by property developer Matchpoint Development, as well as the City of Burnaby’s housing policies that have made their landlord’s neglect possible. 

The Dow Avenue Tenants Group, a multi-building resident organization, has released an open letter setting out their demands to Matchpoint Development. Since the letter was sent on March 17th, Matchpoint’s only response has been to say that the ownership of the building has been transferred. A title search reveals that the building is now owned by 1173807 BC LTD, which shares an address with mega-property developer, Peterson Group.

On February 10th the ceiling gave away in multiple units at 6650 Dow Avenue, revealing widespread black mould and rotten wood in the roof. For more than three weeks tenants have tried to get the ceiling repaired, with their then-investor/landlord Matchpoint Development only responding to their requests after several tenants spoke to CTV news on March 4th. 

Since then, the landlord has begun superficial repairs, but tenants are still left with unlivable suites and unanswered questions. The landlord has paid for some tenants to stay in hotels in Vancouver while repairs are being done. However they have not paid for any other relocation expenses, such as food and transit, which tenants are forced to incur.

Serena Lowe, a tenant in the affected building and member of Dow Avenue Tenants Group, explained, “Neither Matchpoint Development, which owned the building, or Peterson Commercial, which now manages it, have communicated to tenants how long the job will take, under what conditions they can return, and why tenants cannot be temporarily relocated in the Burnaby neighbourhood rather than in downtown Vancouver. The timelines and priorities continue to shift and get extended, with no end date in sight.”

The Dow Avenue Tenants Group stated that Matchpoint and Peterson blatantly disregarded tenants’ health, leaving exposed mould in common spaces and refusing to communicate with tenants the results of an in-house mould toxicity report from March 5th.

Burnaby’s facilitation of landlord neglect

Matchpoint and Peterson’s gross negligence is facilitated by the City of Burnaby’s housing and real estate development policies. Matchpoint applied to tear down the existing units at 6645, 6659, 6675, and 6691 Dow Avenue to build highrises as part of the City’s massive Metrotown Downtown Plan, which arranges the mass rezoning and demolition of low-end of market rentals to build high-rise condos and luxury apartments with built height and density giveaways to condo developers. Since the Plan was passed, developers have bought up dozens of buildings in the neighbourhood to tear down and redevelop. As the anticipated source of developers’ profits isn’t rent but future redevelopment, tenants have become casualties of the Plan.  

Since the buildings on Dow were bought by Matchpoint, the landlord stopped doing all repairs, which benefits them in two ways. First, it means they no longer have to pay for the upkeep of a building they hope to destroy. Second, it makes living conditions so miserable, some tenants decide to leave early, making it less likely they will seek compensation and their right to relocation assistance under the City of Burnaby’s Tenant Assistance Policy (TAP). 

Critique of Burnaby’s “best in Canada” Tenant Assistance Policy

This fact points to the limitations of Burnaby’s TAP, which the City adopted as a concession to the years-long anti-demoviction movement in Metrotown that included mass rallies, City Hall occupations, and a 12-day long squat in a demovicted building. Burnaby’s TAP has been lauded as “best in Canada,” but time has shown that it is built to placate individual tenants and continue demovictions until every older, low-end of market apartment building in Metrotown is gone. 

The TAP states that tenants who live in a building at the start of the rezoning process will be provided alternative accommodation at the same rent after they are forced to leave as well as the right to return to the new building once it has been built. While this blunts the worst effects of demoviction for individual tenants, it fails both on its own terms and at a more systemic level. 

First of all, the TAP only applies to tenants who were living in the building before the date the developer submitted their rezoning application to the City. Those who move in after that date are not eligible for supports or compensation under the TAP. As well, tenants can only claim support and compensation after they have received their final eviction notice, which could be months or years after the date that the condo development company starts its rezoning application.

The TAP gives developers the incentive to force older tenants out ahead of the final eviction and either leave their units empty or rent them to new tenants, who won’t be eligible for support or compensation under the TAP. And because the Province’s Residential Tenancy Act allows for unlimited rent increases between tenancies, once the developer/landlord pressures existing tenants to move out, they can also rent to new, TAP-ineligible tenants at higher rents. Eligibility requirements in Burnaby’s TAP allows developer/landlords like Matchpoint and Peterson to displace tenants by disrepair in order to reduce the overall number of tenants to whom they will have to provide compensation, temporary housing or a unit in the new building.

Dow Avenue Tenants Group begins fightback

The Dow Avenue Tenants Group is calling their landlord’s neglect of the living conditions in their building a strategy of displacement by disrepair. According to Serena, “We believe this disrepair is a way to displace us from our homes before the building is demolished. If we leave on our own, we do not qualify for TAP, and that works in the developer’s favour.” 

In the Dow Avenue Tenants Group’s meeting with the Mayor, he dismissed these concerns, assuring them that eligible tenants can still claim TAP even after they moved. However, this attitude shows a complete ignorance of the precarity and powerlessness of renters in relationship to landlords, as well as the disruptive effects of displacement. Before DATG began to meet with their neighbours, very few tenants even knew about the TAP, let alone that they are eligible for compensation and relocation to a new unit at the same rent. What is more, saying to people who have been evicted that they will be eligible for compensation and a new place to live in a few months or years is absurd. Evictions are a violent process that rip people from their homes and communities, and put them at the mercy of unrelenting and unaffordable housing markets. Finally, the power landlords have over tenants makes it easy for them to intimidate tenants into not even claiming the limited rights they have, whether under the RTA or policies like TAP. While TAP may guarantee eligible tenants compensation and relocation, in all likelihood those who are forced to leave their buildings early will not be in a position to claim it

On Thursday, March 25th, members of the Dow Avenue Tenants Group met with Mayor Hurley to present their concerns. They called on him to use his power to set conditions for rezonings to ensure buildings are maintained and to extend the benefits of the TAP to all tenants, even those who have moved in after a project has begun. They also called for all tenants to be provided with alternative accommodation if they are forced to leave while rezoning is still underway, as has happened with 6659 Dow Avenue.

Mayor Hurley said that the Dow Avenue rezonings will not receive City approval until the tenants in the buildings are taken care of and repairs are carried out safely. However, Dow Avenue tenant Chris Marino is not convinced.“We still worry because we could receive an eviction notice for major repairs, forcing us to move out and into a new neighbourhood with no benefits available to us under the TAP until the rest of the building is evicted for rezoning. This could be six months away or two years away. How does the policy help take care of those tenants?” 

According to Allan Fernandez, who lives in another building managed by Peterson and previously owned by developer Matchpoint, the problem goes beyond one negligent landlord. He explained, “We called on the City of Burnaby to freeze rezonings until they fix the gaps in the Tenant Assistance Policy that continue to put tenants at risk. Finally, we are calling for a provincial moratorium on evictions and legislation that ties rents to units, so that tenants are no longer displaced for developer and landlord profits.”

Mayor Hurley did not agree to any of the group’s demands, and the landlord’s attempt continues to displace lower rent paying tenants through disrepair. But the Dow Avenue Tenants Group’s formation is a hopeful sign that a new anti-demoviction resistance in Metrotown has begun.

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