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Opinion: New West landlord wants renters to fund $1M elevator overhaul. Is that fair?

Provincial rules mean the owners might get their way
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A group of New Westminster residents are pushing back after their landlord announced a proposed rent increase to help pay for an overhaul of the elevators.

But new provincial rules might mean they are out of luck in stopping the rent hike.

A dispute resolution proceeding is set for May 2022 for the tenants who live in the Skyline Towers on Agnes Street in New West. The owners of the building, according to a notice sent to residents and forwarded to the Record, hired a company to do a “complete modernization” of the four elevators in the towers. The work was completed in March 2021 after about eight months.

The total cost of the project, according to the notice, was a little more than $1 million.

The owners then notified the tenants in the 161 units of a proposed rent increase of $52.15.

According to a Skyline tenant, who doesn’t want their name used for fear of reprisals from the landlord, the rent hike would be on top of the annual increase of about $50.

“The owners knew at least 10 to 15 years ago that the elevators needed replacing,” the tenant said. “They waited until they had no choice, including multiple people trapped or they shut down … “They don't even do the most basic repairs, they shut our pool for two years, the parking garage they fixed two years ago is leaking again. I could go on about the issues but I don't think it's fair to pay for capital projects as tenants when they won't even fix leaky taps.”

Unfortunately, the tenants might have no choice but to pay. The Province of B.C. passed new residential tenancy rules on July 1 requiring building owners to apply to the RTB for rent increases to pay for certain capital expenditures.

“Should a landlord make repairs or improvements to a rental unit or building and want to apply a modest rent increase to pay for them, they must now apply to the RTB for approval,” reads a government news release. “This fulfils a recommendation of the Rental Housing Task Force … These changes will encourage landlords to invest in their rental properties by allowing them to recover some of those costs through modest rent increases approved by the Residential Tenancy Branch (RTB) director.”

I’m not sure if the tenants would see it that way.

To me, an elevator that doesn’t break down and trap people isn’t just a matter of “investing” in a building – it’s a damn safety issue that all owners should be required to fix. It doesn’t seem fair to make tenants pay for a safety issue.

The tenant who spoke with me says many neighbours won’t be able to afford the rent hike, while others can’t afford to move on.

“We've thought of moving but our rent is really good because we've been there so long, it's close to the SkyTrain and we have pets. The rental market is terrible at the moment so most of us have no choice but to stay.”

Follow Chris Campbell on Twitter @shinebox44.