The City of Burnaby says a local developer has failed to meet its obligation to help house displaced tenants, and now renters say the very policy designed to protect them has failed.
The developer, meanwhile, disputes the city’s account altogether.
Tenants were evicted from a three-storey rental building at 4330 Maywood St. in Metrotown last summer.
That property has been rezoned to make way for a 24-storey tower, with 28 non-market rental units to replace those in the demolished building. The development application was made by Kirpal Properties, and the property is now owned by Madeira Manor Ltd.
'Unable to pay'
The City of Burnaby maintains the developer “defaulted” on a policy intended to protect renters displaced by development, and now the city has taken over subsidizing 11 tenants’ rents using a bond posted by the developer.
According to city spokesperson Chris Bryan, the developer told the city they would be “unable to pay rental top-ups for any of the 11 tenants in interim housing.”
He added: “The city was advised that the project would not be proceeding and the property would be sold. Therefore, we do not know when a new buyer would take over the project and proceed with building the development with the replacement units.”
Burnaby’s tenant assistance policy, or TAP, is intended to support renters during “demovictions,” when purpose-built rental buildings are demolished to make way for new developments.
It’s been hailed as one of Canada’s best tenant protection policies and was a policy copied in Vancouver’s Broadway Plan last year.
The policy requires developers to pay for renters’ interim housing while the rental building is demolished and the new development is under construction.
Developers pay rent top-ups for the tenants, whose rents prior to demoviction are frequently well below the current market rate, while the tenant pays the rent they paid before they were displaced. The new development must include rental units for the displaced tenants, at the same rent, to replace the demolished units.
Developer says tower going ahead
The developer says it isn’t in default of its TAP obligations.
“We did not say we cannot pay for the (TAP) payments — that’s false,” Saahil Kirpal, development manager at Madeira Manor, told the NOW, adding, “There were two tenants that were actively complaining that they’re not receiving their top-ups. And all the rest of the nine (tenants) used to get them. So it came to the point that they were harassing the city; they were harassing us; and they were harassing our tenant relocator. And so, we came to a mutual consensus with the city that the city take over the payments, and we’ll pay them (the city) upfront, so we gave them (the city) all the money upfront.”
Kirpal said the tower project is going “full forward” and is in pre-sales.
While there were 28 rental units in the old Maywood building, the TAP applied to 11 of the tenants.
Kirpal told the NOW the developer paid a bond to the city of $570,000 to secure the TAP when the development application was officially approved by council in 2022.
The city says it has cashed the developer’s bond to pay the tenants’ rent top-ups “as long as the bonding lasts” and has hired a tenant relocation co-ordinator for the renters.
Bryan said, “Developers are not allowed to opt out of rental top-ups due to conflicts with tenants.”
Uncertainty after bond runs out
Two of the tenants affected say they have been extremely stressed since the city informed them of the situation, as they were guaranteed housing in the new development and now their future is uncertain.
Marcella Zimmer, who lived at the Maywood building for almost a decade, said the stress has taken a toll on her health.
“I am so worried — it’s just consuming,” Zimmer told the NOW. “It’s consuming because you don’t know where you’re going to end up. I don’t know what’s going to happen to me. And so I’m living day-to-day basically.”
Lily Wong, another former renter at Maywood, is in the same spot as Zimmer.
Both the tenants were paying rents of about $950 until they were displaced. Their new rents are about $2,100, meaning the developer subsidizes about $1,100 for their monthly rent top-ups.
Wong and Zimmer both say the tenant assistance policy has been a stressful experience.
Wong wants to know what will happen after the bond runs out.
“What happens if the city cashes in the bond, and they run out of money?” Wong asked.
The city is offering Wong and Zimmer two options moving forward: the first, a one-time lump sum payment of around $13,000 (after which they would not be entitled to any more financial support like rent top-ups).
The second option is to continue the monthly rent top-ups until around spring 2024, until the TAP bond is depleted.
The city also told the renters it would try to ensure any future owner of 4330 Maywood St. would build replacement units (which the developer is required to include under the TAP) for the renters in the new development.
“At this time, the City does not know when replacement or alternative rental units will be built and ready for occupancy,” read the city’s letters to Wong and Zimmer. “As such, we encourage you to find housing that is suitable for you over the long term.”
But these options have only frustrated the renters.
When Wong got the letter from the city outlining her options, she said she did a double take.
“I looked at it, I read it twice, because I thought ‘These are not options,’” Wong said. “Like they’re forcing you to pick between three horrible choices.”
Renters frustrated with TAP experience
One of the options given to tenants under the TAP is to take a lump-sum payment instead of rent top-ups. But in the long term, Zimmer said, the rent top-ups and new unit in the new building seemed like the better option.
“To me that was a better offer, because … I’m retired, I only get what the government gets me. And so that to me was a good thing,” Zimmer said. “And I really thought that that (the top-up) would be better for me.”
“But now, since that time to now, it has totally gone totally different. It’s just, you know, it’s a nightmare.”
Wong described the TAP package as put together from “A to T — and the rest of the alphabet dropped off the face of the earth.”
“From the beginning, this has never ever been followed through,” Wong said. “It wasn’t what was set up in the TAP package, really, it was really recklessly thrown together.”
Zimmer said Metrotown was a good neighbourhood to live in because she has friends and doctors nearby.
“I can do all the things I want in this neighbourhood. … When they told me that I will be able to move back into my apartment and I will be able to pay the $949 that I was paying, that meant that I could afford to stay in my neighbourhood. But if they won’t continue and help me and put me in an apartment that I can afford at $950, I don’t know where I’m going to be.”