Eviction notices issued to residents of the Bonnie Brae apartments in Port Coquitlam have been cancelled following a Residential Tenancy Branch hearing last week.
But arbitrator R. Lanon disagreed, writing in a decision that while the renovations would create challenges for the property owner, the work could proceed without displacing tenants.
“I find that the available statement evidence upon which the landlord relies does not sufficiently support the renovations are so extensive so as to require that a rental unit must be vacant or empty in order for them to take place,” Lanon stated in the ruling. “I further accept the evidence of the tenants that terminating the tenancies is not the only manner in which to achieve any necessary vacancy of the rental unit.”
Gary Crane, one of the residents of the 65-unit building, said in a statement that tenants were breathing a “sigh of relief” following the decision.
He said the renovations proposed by the property owner were mostly cosmetic and noted that all of the tenants who appeared at the hearing last week were willing to temporarily live in different comparable suites while work was being done.
"While it would have been nice to accommodate the landlord's construction schedule, it is refreshing to know that doesn't trump the rights of good tenants in the province of British Columbia," Crane said.
The Tri-City News contacted the M1 Group but the company was unable to immediately comment.
In court filings, the company had said it needed the building empty for at least nine months while it conducted renovations, including upgrades to plumbing and electrical systems, and the removal of asbestos. To cover the costs of the loan needed to pay for the improvements, the company stated rent increases are necessary.
“One of the terms of the construction loan is that the rental building will be rented out at market rents following the renovations,” the court documents state.
LAWSUIT AGAINST CITY OF POCO
Despite the Residential Tenancy Branch decision in favour of the tenants, the legal battles over the Bonnie Brae building are far from over.
When the property owner issued the eviction notices in February, it prompted PoCo city council to pass a bylaw amendment designed to protect renters from renovictions. The new regulations require rental apartments with five or more units to provide interim accommodations to tenants when they make repairs or renovations. The bylaw amendment also prohibits property owners from raising rents after the work is complete beyond what is already allowed in the Residential Tenancy Act.
Earlier this month, the M1 Group challenged the regulations in court, stating the new rules prevent improvements from being made to their building and will hurt the market value of the property.
“The bylaw amendment is so unreasonable that no reasonable body would have adopted it in the circumstances,” the company stated in court filings.