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Seafield renters say it’s back to arbitration

Renter-landlord talks about converting rental complex into co-op fail

After nearly a year of conflict and arbitration hearings, the tenants and landlords of one West End apartment building had decided to negotiate turning the privately owned rental complex into a tenant-run co-op. But despite months of private meetings with landlords, Seafield residents now say they plan to resume arbitration and will bring the conflict to a judicial review if need be. 

“Negotiations haven’t panned out,” says gay Seafield tenant Ross Waring. “We can’t agree on a purchase price,” he explains. Waring said tenants are in a no-win situation, alleging that landlords, Gordon Nelson Investments, have been trying to get more money through rent increases or a high purchase price on the building.

Seafield residents met with the landlord throughout the summer hoping to solidify a deal to purchase the complex and turn it into a co-op. Waring says the talks failed when it came down to finances, adding that Nelson Gordon asked for $400,000 more than tenants were willing to pay.

“There is no resolution,” says landlord Chris Nelson, when asked about the negotiations with Seafield tenants. “It is a very fluid process,” he added. “There are many factors, the obvious one being price,” he says. “As I have said before, at the right price everything is for sale,” adds building co-owner, Jason Gordon. “There’s a chance for a real solution,” he says. Neither would comment on the asking price, or get into details about the negotiations, but say they remain optimistic. “We’re staying open to all alternatives, Nelson says.

Waring says he’s skeptical that a positive solution will emerge and that the “right price” can be agreed upon between the conflicting parties.

On Jul 28, Seafield tenants publicly announced their participation in negotiations with landlords, Gordon Nelson Investments, regarding the possibility of purchasing the 12-suite character building at 1436 Pendrell Street. A media advisory on the Seafield building website explained:  “We are confident that both Gordon Nelson Investments and all of us here at Seafeild will reach a solution that will make everyone happy in the near future and are proud of both ourselves and our landlords for making such a bold and creative move.”

But one month after the announcement, tenants are now saying talks have ceased, and the Residential Tenancy Office (RTO) hearing postponed last May, is expected to resume.

An arbitration hearing regarding the eviction of Seafield tenant Brian Broster was postponed earlier in the summer in the hope that negotiations between tenants and landlords would be successful. Broster, who shares an apartment with Waring, was served eviction papers last May for what landlords have described as “just cause,” but which tenants allege is a blatant infringement of Broster’s right to fight for his home and against the Residential Tenancy Act. Broster’s hearing will begin again this month.

Seafield tenants lost their initial arbitration hearing last spring when the RTO ruled in favor of Nelson Gordon to raise Seafield rents by 38 percent. The RTA allows landlords to raise residential rents by 3.7 percent annually. But under Liberal legislation, landlords can apply for an additional increase if they can prove the increase will put their units on par with the area’s market value.

Following the announcement that negotiations had been taking place between Seafield tenants and Nelson Gordon, many people in the queer community had hoped that talks would result in a positive end to an ongoing battle.

Renters at Risk housing activist, Janine Fuller, called the negotiations “hopeful.” “It’s nice to see a solution happen,” she said, upon hearing that the tenants may purchase the complex. “I think it’s a very progressive solution,” she added. “It really shows the tenacity and commitment of the people living in the Seafield building.”

Gay Vancouver-West End MLA, Spencer Herbert, was also “excited” to hear that negotiations between the conflicting parties had occurred. “If that’s what it’s going to take to keep people in their homes then good on them for developing a solution,” he said, adding that real change will come when legislation is changed. “In the long run the Liberals must change the law,” he says. “Not everybody can buy their own place or turn their place into a co-op,” he notes, adding that tenants purchasing a building does not close the gaping loopholes in the current Act.

Herbert introduced a private members bill in the legislature last fall regarding ending geographic rent increases to buildings in the West End. With the re-election of the Liberals, Spencer says the bill will have to be reintroduced — something he hopes to do this fall.

West End Residents’ Association (WERA) president Brent Granby says the fundamental issue of housing and affordability should not rest on tenants’ shoulders alone, adding that while some tenants may have the financial wherewithal to transform their building into a co-op, many West End renters do not.

“We need government support,” says Granby, suggesting that the city should have a Housing Authority to replace the Housing Centre it currently has.

Xtra West’s attempts to reach housing minister, Rich Coleman, for comment were unsuccessful up to press time.

In the meantime, Waring says Seafield residents will push ahead with an arbitration hearing.

If no positive outcome can emerge following this month’s arbitration hearing, then tenants would once again prepare for a judicial review to help save their homes.

But the landlords say they are not worried. “We’re confident,” says Nelson. “We’ve got good legal advice that their judicial review won’t be successful.” There was “a lot of goodwill at the start,” he says. “It’s their choice to go back fighting and end the cease fire.”