Have Airbnb evictions arrived in Vancouver?

While researching my story on short-term rentals for The Tyee back in the spring, I asked the Tenants Resource and Advisory Centre whether staff there had heard of any Vancouver tenants being evicted to make way for short-term rentals. The answer was no, but that was before Plan A Real Estate bought 1168 Pendrell (Hoffmann Manor), a low-rise apartment building in Vancouver’s West End, in August and promptly began issuing eviction notices to tenants.

Wanting to make a property available for short-term rental is not legal grounds for eviction, so no sane landlord would ever state that as a cause. However, based on what I’ve gathered from media reports, Twitter, and the Greedevictions blog set up by Hoffman Manor tenants, Plan A was illegally renting out apartments in that building on a short-term basis through Airbnb. It’s hardly a logical leap to conclude that the company’s desire to increase its profits through short-term rentals was one of the factors driving the eviction notices it sent. That said, Plan A has stated that it issued the eviction notices because after taking possession of Hoffman Manor on August 5, it found that tenants were not complying with the terms of their existing leases, and that it had no intention of converting the entire building to short-term rentals. If bringing tenants into compliance with their leases was really the only goal, issuing 11 eviction notices within a month of taking over is an inept and draconian way to go about it. For a professional property management company to make that claim strains credulity, but that is nevertheless what Plan A has said.

Various news outlets (see below) have covered this story, though the Airbnb angle has not received as much attention as other aspects, such as the increased laundry fees and insurance demands. Metro News’ September 10th piece said “Plan A was served legal notice by the city Sept. 3 after being found to be illegally renting units in the building out for less than 30 days, through the popular online peer-to-peer accommodation website Airbnb.” The lack of other media mention of the Airbnb connection made me wonder whether Metro had its facts correct, but the Hoffman Manor tenants subsequently posted more information on their blog, including an archived version of what they say is Plan A’s Airbnb host profile. According to the tenants, Plan A has been listing other properties as short-term rentals since at least June 2013. Tenants also posted a photo of the letter the city sent to Plan A, ordering it to cease occupying the building with short-term rentals (because doing so contravenes the city’s zoning bylaw). City councillor Geoff Meggs also wrote about the City of Vancouver’s warning on his own blog. Meggs has said that the city will now be taking further steps to guard against these situations, by subjecting applications to renovate multiple apartments to additional scrutiny by a cross-department team. This is welcome news, and a step toward fulfilling a Vision campaign promise first made in 2008, in connection with attempts to “renovict” tenants from another West End apartment building – The Seafied. This extra scrutiny of permits wouldn’t have helped the Hoffman Manor tenants since Plan A wasn’t seeking to renovate, but it could help prevent landlords from embarking upon future attempts to “renovict” other tenants.

Meanwhile, whether the Hoffman Manor tenants are evicted on any grounds is now largely up to the provincial Residential Tenancy Branch. That’s not exactly reassuring, especially if one has read On Shaky Ground, a 2013 report by the Community Legal Assistance Society that concluded the branch was chronically failing to provide basic procedural fairness in its decision-making due to the overloading and poor training of its staff. Tenants are disputing their eviction notices at the branch over the next few weeks. Plan A has also applied to the RTB for permission to levy a special rent increase of 30%. On what grounds I do not know, but would like to.

So, in answer to the somewhat inflammatory question I posed above, I conclude that yes, attempted Airbnb evictions have come to Vancouver. Whether these eviction attempts are successful (from the landlord’s perspective) is yet to be determined. It’s true that I can’t say for certain whether they are directly related to Plan A’s desire to convert Hoffman Manor into short-term rentals to list on Airbnb. The landlord denies that. On balance, though, I’m quite convinced that Airbnb played a role in this attempt to displace Vancouver tenants. It’s happened in San Francisco (see this story and this one) and now it seems to have happened here.

Selected coverage of 1168 Pendrell story
Vancouver MLA calls for better protection for renters following eviction notices for West End tenants. The Georgia Straight, September 10

$13.50 laundry and a 30% rent increase: Tenants call foul over ‘greed eviction.’ Metro News, September 10

Videos: Eviction notices a threat for West End tenants The Province, September 10

Vancouver mayor calls for more renter protections as West End residents fight eviction. Metro News, September 11

West End tenants fight evictions, rate increases by new owner, The Vancouver Sun, September 13

West End residents rally against landlord. WestEnder, September 17

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