Another winter, another mass eviction in the land of low vacancy rates
by Vanda Schmöckel
On Nov. 29, tenants of the Viva Apartments at 2141 Rae St. got the news that every renter in Regina fears: they’re being evicted and have until Jan. 31 to leave their homes.
Being turfed out in the middle of winter is a grim enough prospect, but on top of that, Regina’s vacancy rate is sitting at 1.9 per cent1 — still well below what’s considered a healthy vacancy rate: three per cent.
And a low vacancy rate means places to live will be harder to find and more expensive.
Regina’s vacancy rate is expected to rise over the next year, but any increase won’t come fast enough for those facing this round of evictions, many of whom are recent immigrants.
Moinul Haque and his family are from Bangladesh. He and his wife moved into the building with their four-year-old daughter only two months ago. Since receiving notice, he’s tried to find another apartment, but hasn’t had any luck locating an affordable option. His neighbour, Mezbahul Karim, is in the same boat. He and his wife are full-time students at the University of Regina and SIAST, and moved to the building with their young daughter because of its relative affordability and proximity to local elementary schools.
Karim says a mid-winter eviction isn’t something they’re prepared for. So they, along with all their neighbours, are disputing the eviction notice with the Office of Residential Tenancies.
They’re hoping they can stay at least until the snow is off the ground.
“It’s very stressful,” Karim says. “We’re not ready to leave. We want to stay. If the renovations are minor, we can help them. If they need to shut down the heating system, we are ready to help. But they did not ask us anything — just served the notice.
“Nobody’s ready,” he says. “I think they did not follow the proper way of eviction.”
But, technically, the owner — Vineyard Property Corp — did issue the notice to vacate properly. Legally, landlords in Saskatchewan need only provide tenants with a month-to-month rental agreement 30 days notice to vacate. If renovations and repairs are cited as the reason for the eviction, the landlord must prove that they have the proper permits for construction, and that they intend to carry out these renovations within a reasonable amount of time.
Tenants at the Viva Apartments received notice in October that there would be some renovations to the common areas, but at that time, they say there was no indication that any major work would be done, and certainly nothing that would require the tenants to move out.
Following local media coverage of the eviction, Night Hawk Properties, who recently took over maintenance of the building, issued the following statement on behalf of Vineyard Property Corp.:
“The owners of the building have decided to undertake renovations to the building. The nature and extent of the renovations will require all units to be vacated during construction. As a result, the owner has provided the required written notice to all tenants that their tenancies are terminated at the end of the notice period. It is the intention of the owner to re-let the units once the renovations have been completed.”
This statement was released to the media, but according to Angela McLean, who has lived in the building for five years, no one from either Night Hawk Properties or Vineyard Property Corp. got in touch with the tenants directly to tell them what was going on.
“We were told by media that the owners had issued a statement,” McLean says. “No one in the building has been given any justification for it. One of our concerns is that if everyone moves out and they do some renovations, people might move back in, and the rent will be doubled, considering how difficult it is to find affordable housing in this city, especially close to schools.”
A corporate registry search reveals that Vineyard Property Corp. bought the building in 2011 and has five people listed as owners. When a representative of Vineyard Property Corp. was contacted by telephone, he informed Prairie Dog that Vineyard Property Corp. has no intention of inflating the rent following the renovations, nor do they intend to convert the units to condominiums.
Beyond this, though, he said there was little he could reveal specifically about the nature of the renovations at this point in time.
While fears around a condo conversion might be out of place here, tenants and local resident can be forgiven for jumping to conclusions. After all, the current sorry state of rental housing in Regina can be at least partly traced back to a period of time between 2005 and 2008 when landlords were gleefully applying to convert affordable multi-unit rental properties to condos — with the approval of the Regina Planning Commission. Indeed, 2141 Rae St. itself narrowly avoided being converted to condominiums in 2009, following the previous owner’s protracted application to the city. That conversion was almost approved, but following an organized response by the tenants and loud public outcry, the application was denied.
The city had introduced a moratorium on condo conversions in 2008 to address the dwindling supply of rental housing, and said it wouldn’t consider condo conversions again until the vacancy rate rose to at least two per cent. Due to the backlog of conversion applications submitted prior to 2008, however, the moratorium really only started to have an effect in 2010.
In the meantime, hundreds of affordable rental units had been taken off the market.
Recently the City set the threshold for conversions at three per cent, so whatever happens to the Viva Apartments, even if the owners wanted to — and they’ve said on the record they don’t — a condo conversion should not be expected here.2
Prairie Dog will continue to follow this developing story in future issues and on Dog Blog at prairiedogmag.com.
1. Regina’s apartment vacancy rate, from the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation’s spring 2013 report, the most recent available at press time.
2. City Council does have the authority to grant exceptions, however, so it’s not legally impossible.