Despite tough new regulations to end “renovictions” in New Westminster, tenants of affordable rental buildings in the city are putting up a fight to keep their homes.On Saturday, about 40 people joined a rally and walking tour organized by the New West Tenants Union, during which they protested the eviction and displacement of renters for the purpose of renovations.The group’s outrage was mostly directed at Dinesh Chand, who is linked through land title and corporate records to five rental buildings in the city.On Dec. 27, Chand gave eviction notices to the tenants of 732 5th St., which is where the protesters met. For that, the protesters called him the “landlord who stole Christmas.”Shelley Comerso, 63, a tenant of the three-storey building for nearly 14 years, became angry while describing her eviction. She vowed to keep fighting for the rights of tenants, though she and her neighbours have been given until April 30 to leave.“Every single unit that you see over there that’s empty is the loss of an affordable unit, an affordable home for the people of New Westminster … for people all over the Lower Mainland,” Comerso told the crowd.“You, as citizens, need to make sure you stay in touch with the city, you stay in touch with the bylaw officer, you find out what’s going, stay informed and be engaged — because vigilance is vital.”Comerso pays $805 for her unit, up from $625 when she first moved in, but worries she will not be able to find another place at the same affordable rate.The Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corporation reports that the median rent for a one-bedroom unit in the city last fall was $1,057. The vacancy rate rose to 1.6 per cent, from 1.1 per cent a year earlier.Melissa Roth of the New West Tenants Union spoke to protesters in front of 520 9th St., which Chand bought last December. Roth said the residential manager has since been let go and repairs and maintenance have faltered.“When someone buys a property with an opportunity to significantly increase rent upon suite turnover, it’s not a good thing,” she said.“However, there is new hope on the horizon. With the new laws that have been passed by the New West city council, we have high hopes — or some hopes.”
Several dozen people who are under threat of losing their apartments due to renovations by building owner Dinesh Chand staged a rally in New Westminster on Saturday.
Jason Payne /
Last month, council adopted a bylaw for rentals which includes new regulations controlling how landlords and rental business owners can undertake renovations, as well as new restrictions on evictions. People who violate the new rules face fines up to $1,000 per day.In January, the city introduced policy to slow the redevelopment of older purpose-built market rental buildings and a tax exemption to incentivize their maintenance and protection.But New West Tenants Union organizers and protesters said it remains unclear whether these changes will protect the people already evicted from 732 5th Ave.City councillors Jamie McEvoy and Patrick Johnstone, who the protesters said have been supportive of renters, could not be reached for comment on Saturday.Chand’s lawyer, Michael Drouillard, sent an emailed statement in response to a request for comment:“It is unhelpful to blame individual landlords, such as my client, for the Lower Mainland’s affordability crisis, and irresponsible for individuals who do not live in the buildings in question to organize protests like this one,” Drouillard wrote.“All protests like these do is inflame tensions, force an adversarial resolution of the matter, and unfairly put blame for the shortage of affordable rental housing on small landlords like my client.”Drouillard said that under existing laws and government policies, buildings like 732 5th Ave. which have “reached the end of their useful economic life” are typically demolished for condos or market rentals, or preserved by extending their life while maintaining their affordability “to the extent economically possible.”Chand chose to extend the life of 732 5th Ave., Drouillard said.“Ending the tenancies was a difficult decision, but the only one available given the scope of the renovation, the need for vacant possession, and the existing legal regime,” he said.“My client has tried to minimize the impact as much as it can, including by offering subsidized rent and alternative affordable housing to the existing tenants, the vast majority of whom have accepted my client’s offers of accommodation.”A hearing for people disputing the eviction at 732 5th Ave. is scheduled for March email@example.com/nickeagland