In the end, a simple unanimous vote by Port Coquitlam’s mayor and council passed a bylaw placing tougher rules on apartment owners who evict tenants to make way for building renovations.
But for dozens of residents of 1955 Western Dr., who have been given June 30 eviction notices by property owner M1 World Developments, the decision to amend the business bylaw for apartment buildings was a lifeline and a promise of housing security.
“I feel better, this is the right thing,” said Camelia Maxim, who is raising two children with her husband in the apartment complex and works for the Tri-Cities Chamber of Commerce.
Maxim, along with retirees, young workers, parents and others facing eviction, expressed jubilation with council’s decision to stop renovictions in PoCo.
“I’m happy and relieved,” said Jesse Bachman, a heavy equipment operator, who spoke to council about possibly leaving Metro Vancouver to find housing if the city becomes too expensive to live in.
Maxim and Bachman were among the dozens of people who turned out to witness what some on council suggested was a historical decision to protect tenancy rights of PoCo residents.
“I was very confident of council’s decision,” said Gary Crane, a former building manager, now retired, who helped rally the apartment residents to fight the evictions the company says it needs to make substantial renovations.
Lawyers representing M1 told council the apartment needed to be renovated and market rents are necessary to keep the company in business. The spectre of a legal challenge was also raised by the company’s agents, who presented council with a letter that didn’t name the owners of the apartment building.
But for many residents who spoke, the renovations planned for the building are either not needed or could be done without eviction, such as repairing windows and balconies, and installing a washer and dryer in every suite.
The city’s mayor, meanwhile, said the bylaw amendment would not just apply to 1955 Western Dr. but to all of PoCo’s older apartment buildings.
Mayor Brad West said the bylaw amendment would prevent “predatory renovictions” and had been scrutinized by the city’s legal team.
“This city is confident it is in a position to act on this in a way that is completely legal,” West said.
With the business bylaw change now in place, owners of buildings with five or more units will have to provide accommodation for renters if apartments are being renovated and need to be vacated. Tenants must also be allowed to return at the same rent, although there are exemptions for structural repairs, in the case of fire, flood or other severe damage, or where health and safety of tenants are at risk. But owners would still be required to accommodate tenants and it would be up to the Residential Tenancy Branch to approve any rent increases.
“We are fair to the people who are fair, that should be our motto,” said Coun. Darrell Penner.
Other councillors expressed similar confidence in the bylaw and noted that it is necessary to protect tenants in the region’s overheated housing situation, where market rents are beyond the reach of many on fixed or average incomes.
Coun. Steve Darling said the bylaw should be adopted in other cities as well to prevent mass evictions by predatory landlords, and he questioned why the owners of 1955 Western Dr. didn’t themselves appear before council.
“Show up and face the music," he said. "If you don’t that shows a lot right there.”
According to the latest Goodman Report presented to council by David Hendry of the New Westminster Tenants Union, the PoCo apartment building sold last year to M1 for $13 million. The 65-unit-building is one of several apartment buildings sold last year in the Tri-Cities for a combined total of 662 units. In Metro Vancouver, last year, 5,619 units in apartments with nine or more suites changed hands.