Tenants in Surrey, BC, are devastated their landlord demanded a 40 per cent rent hike from them — with a warning if they don’t agree, they could lose their homes.
A tenants’ rights advocate says while the situation has some unusual aspects, landlords are free to make demands for higher rent, and many do.
Linda De Gonzalez, 70, has lived in Winsome Place Apartments since 2002. She lives on a $2,100-a-month pension and pays $1,014 a month for her two-bedroom unit, well below the CMHC’s median rent for such a unit in Surrey — a city east of Vancouver — at $1,446.
But in late April, De Gonzalez and almost half of his neighbors received a notice from their landlord. It said due to the landlord’s growing costs, renters must pay more.
The residences at Winsome Place are condominium units, but have long been rented out.
De Gonzalez’s letter asked her to agree to hike her rent to $1,450 — a 42 per cent rise.
“We may put your suite on the market for sale as soon as July 1, 2023 if an agreement is not reached,” the letter read. “If the purchaser of the suite you occupy would like to move into the suite, you may receive a Notice to Vacate from them.”
The letter notes Winsome Place is, in fact, strata titled. “If we choose to, we could sell your suite at any time.”
“I nearly fainted,” De Gonzalez said. “I just sat on the floor and cried.”
There’s no indication the landlord is doing anything illegal in this case, says lawyer Robert Patterson with the Tenants Resource and Advisory Centre, who is advising the renters.
In BC, annual rent increases usually go up by a provincially set rate — two per cent in 2023 — but landlords can ask renters for more.
Patterson says these requests from landlords often come with warnings of consequences if the tenants won’t agree: either the home will be sold and the new owners move into it themselves, or, more commonly, the landlord could move their own family in there.
“It’s shockingly common,” Patterson said.
“I think what it ultimately is, is an example of how our current regulations to try and keep affordable housing don’t fully function.”
He said the fact that the rented-out Winsome was a stratified building was unusual and likely made it much easier for the landlord to sell the suites.
“It makes the threat, I think, much more real.”
Landlord declines to comment
De Gonzalez says the landlord sent similar letters to 30 renters. BC Assessment lists the building as having 70 units. CBC has seen the letters sent to De Gonzalez and another tenant.
Signed off by “Winsome Place Apartments Management,” it states allowable annual rent increases have been “minimal,” but operating costs — taxes, utilities, waste disposal and trade costs — have seen “dramatic” increases.
“We simply cannot continue to absorb the rising operating costs with the current building’s revenue stream,” the letter states. “We therefore need to increase the building’s revenue or consider other options.”
CBC twice contacted the building owner by phone to ask for his perspective on the matter. Both times he declined to comment.
Patterson says he’s never seen a fully-stratified building operated like a rental building as Winsome seems has.
“It may be more straightforward, perhaps easier for the landlord to actually sell those units,” he said. “And if they’re sold to people who want to live there, the tenants may be facing … the imminent loss of a tenancy.”
Patterson says tenants who agree to higher rent requests should be aware there’s usually nothing stopping a landlord from taking in the higher rent, then selling the place anyway.
“In fact, the landlord may want to sell the property only after getting tenants to agree to higher rents,” he said. “That increases the value of the property because it’s collected, as an entire building, more monthly rent.”
De Gonzalez says she will likely pay, however. She says she can’t afford anything else that will take her pets, three caged parrots.
“What’s my alternative, you know?” she asked.
BC’s Ministry of Housing says the Residential Tenancy Branch is reaching out to the landlord “to gather more information and ensure they understand their obligations under the Residential Tenancy Act.”