“Forget it, leave us here: East Van Tenants Draw Crowd to Reject Eviction by Landlord Loophole

Terry McIntosh has lived at 1171-1177 East 14th Avenue in East Vancouver for 26 years. A botanist by training and vocation, McIntosh maintains a small shared greenhouse on the rooftop of the small mid-rise building near Clark Drive.

On February 11, a misty Sunday morning, McIntosh and eight others from the “1177 Tenants Collective,” gathered to organize against the destruction of their home. The landlord is seeking to convert the building from seven rental apartments to four privately owned condos, under what appears to be a glaring policy loophole.

McIntosh sorts a box of chocolate onto a table of free refreshments. While a crowd forms, he greets them warmly.

In October 2023, the building’s property manager informed the tenants of 1171-1177 that they would eventually be required to vacate the property, so that the landlord could undertake substantial renovations, according to tenant Autumn Dickinson. While the landlord can’t issue official eviction notices until he has received the proper permits, Dickinson says that this interaction was how they first heard about the impending relocation.

“Renovictions,” or evicting tenants under the guise of renovations, has a history of being weaponized against tenants in BC. In 2021, the BC government appeared to acknowledge these “bad faith evictions,” and claimed to shore up protections against misuse of renovations as a reason for eviction.

Since 2019, Vancouver has also had its own municipal policy called the Tenant Relocation and Protection Policy (TRPP). The policy requires those applying for rezoning or a development permit to provide affected tenants with a relocation plan, which includes some financial compensation, as well as assistance finding alternate accommodations. While progressive in theory, the newer policy is considered by many to be loosely enforced, and only softens the effects of displacement, rather than preventing it altogether.

Last year, ABC, Vancouver’s governing party, defunded the city’s renters office, which had been implemented by the previous council to ensure renter protections were more stringent.

Alarmed by the sudden life altering news in October, the group of tenants started working together to investigate the legality of the eviction, including why and how it could proceed.

Organizing Against Quasi-Legal Evictions

When the tenants of 1171-1177 East 14th came together, there was a strong community atmosphere, including regular conversations between tenants, which eased the process of identifying individual skill sets and moving to action quickly. While the group has not yet received their formal eviction notice, they began researching their seemingly pending eviction as a group. The rationale behind the eviction and its precarious legal footing seem clear, from the tenants’ perspective.

A building permit application made to the City of Vancouver submitted in September 2022 reveals that landlord Andrzej Kowalski intends to replace the seven rental units located between 1171-1177 East 14th Avenue with four condominiums, a “reduction of dwelling units.” The latter presents a more profitable alternative to the long-term tenants, whose rents sit beneath market rates. The application is currently “under review” by the City.

Typically, landlords seeking to convert existing units to condominiums are bound by the City’s strata conversion guidelines requiring 2/3rds written consent from existing tenants. And The same guidelines all but rule out conversions of more than 6 units without a full city council vote.

But Kowalski seems to be utilizing a glaring loophole.

While the pending eviction would have to be based on renovations, a reduction in the number of dwellings prior to strata conversion makes for an uncommon situation.

In an email, the City informed The Mainlander that prior to turning the building into strata units, Kowalski would have to receive all other necessary building permits. The City spokesperson stated that staff are working to ensure that “the interests of tenants, and the extent to which those interests have been respected through the process, [are considered] in their decision on a strata conversion application.”

The City did not respond to follow up clarifications about how eliminating or reducing units fits into their definition of demolition.

The City also did not specify whether or not the strata conversion guidelines that require two-thirds consent would apply to tenants of 1171-1177 East 14th who lost their units to consolidation during the renovation process.

When reached for comment through his LinkedIn account, Kowalski responded that he is unable to comment at this time but that, “we are working with the City on the application.”

In the case of 1171-1177 East 14th, a building with seven affordable units, such consent has not been offered, according to tenants.

Without the informed consent of the impacted tenants or authority to do so under existing protections, how can Andrzej Kowalski turn tenants’ homes in rental buildings into individually-owned condos?

Sunday’s anti-redevelopment party had a Valentine’s Day theme. Photo by Aaron Bailey.

The tenant organizers claim that Kowalski, a Vancouver-area businessman whose investment portfolio includes holdings in resource extraction, cannabis, and real estate, is profiteering off a loophole in the strata conversion guidelines.

By appearing to renovict existing tenants after the issuance of a building permit, but before converting the property to strata, Kowalski stands to bypass the limited protections afforded to tenants of rentals facing eviction under a condominium conversion. The residents of 1171-1177 East 14th are facing the threat of being without tenant protections, as protections do not apply to strata conversions if tenants are somehow evicted prior to the conversion process starting.

McIntosh and his neighbours feel that their potential eviction would not be legally sound.

“This is kind of an illegal eviction, it breaks a number of city rules,”said McIntosh. “In a time like this when so many people don’t have affordable homes, and we have one – an affordable home for all of us.”

Solidarity from VTU

Under a canopy tent where supporters write valentines for Kowalski, Vancouver Tenants Union (VTU) Mount Pleasant Chapter organizer Sydney Ball fears that the loophole in question will be used by landlords to displace tenants in similar buildings elsewhere.

“We’re very concerned that if this is how easy it is to wiggle around the [strata conversion guidelines] that it’s going to continue to be exploited by landlords around the city,” Ball said.

A 2017 decision by Vancouver’s Development Permit Board to deny condominiums at 105 Keefer Street – after resistance led by Chinatown residents – has been characterized as a flash point for housing and tenancy rights movements in the city.

Tenant organizing has increased its power and presence substantially in the city. In his book The Tenant Class, Ricardo Tranjan highlights the success of the VTU in mobilizing and halting an eviction in August 2020. In 2023, The Tyee covered the Portland Hotel Union’s achievement in getting their broken elevator back on their nonprofit landlord’s agenda.

Now Ball and the VTU are supporting the 1177 Tenant Collective to resist their eviction.

Ball continues, “This is incredibly rare because the city of Vancouver has had laws against condo conversions…on the books since 2007. So it’s very unusual. But he’s getting around it in a kind of ridiculous way. He’s getting around it by basically doing a building and development permit first that will manage to evict the tenants. And then, once there’s nobody here, doing a condo conversion.”

If the owner is successful in evicting the tenants, it raises serious concerns about use of this loophole – what does it mean for the city if investors can reduce homes to circumvent tenant protections, while netting a larger short-term profit for themselves?

As for the 1177 Tenants Collective, they don’t plan to go anywhere soon despite facing this uncertainty.

A mock-development permit sign stood proudly in the properties yard, announcing the tenants situation and landlord’s egregious actions to passersby for the day.

A man dismantles and packs up the Collective’s mock-development sign.

On February 12, one day after the community gathering, a building manager directed tenants to remove the mock development sign on behalf of the landlord, claiming that the structure had defaced the property. Within an hour, the freestanding sign had been destroyed by a stranger to the tenants.

Despite the sign’s removal, morale is high amongst the members of the collective, who are coordinating a mass letter writing campaign and petitioning the City of Vancouver to reject Kowalski’s Building Permit application alongside their neighbourhood organizing.

VTU will continue to work closely with the 1177 Tenants Collective to support their autonomous work to defend their home for as long as it may take. They have started collecting signatures and letters for their campaign at defendeastvan.ca.

For the time being, McIntosh and his neighbours are heartened by the number of supporters who visited the weekend anti-redevelopment party.

“It’s been great,” McIntosh said about the experience of organizing together. “I mean, the thing is that when I first heard about this, of course, you lose sleep, and you keep thinking about it to the back of your mind, in front of your mind. But with all the support, we’ve just gotten along really well. And everybody’s pitched in and done things.”

Asked about the tenant collective’s core demand of Kowalski and the City of Vancouver, McIntosh immediately answered, “Just forget it, leave us here. That’s the core demand. Which makes sense – It’s pretty straightforward.”