[First published at The Tyee. Tyee Editor’s Note: Vancouver revels in its reputation as North America’s most ‘livable’ city. Yet for as many as half of Vancouver’s households and thousands of others across Metro who rent rather than own their accommodation, finding a place to come home to can mean a nail-biting search. More worrisome still, even once an affordable rental has been found, it can be abruptly snatched away again. In this installment of our latest reader-funded Tyee Fellowship series, journalist Jackie Wong investigates one common practice that has a growing number of renters up in arms.]

The hallways in The Seafield apartment building have been stripped of their carpets. Pebbles and dust line the dark walls. It’s the first day of March, and the 80-year-old, 14-unit walkup in Vancouver’s West End is in rough shape — in more than one sense. For two and a half years, the Pendrell Street dwelling has been the site of a vocal battle between the people who until recently owned The Seafield, and the people who live there.

Brothers-in-law Chris Nelson and Jason Gordon purchased the building for $3,447,000 in July 2008, through their company Gordon Nelson Inc. (GNI). Over the following months GNI issued a number of eviction notices, claiming it needed the suites vacated in order to renovate the elderly building.

Tenants protested. As they saw it, once in possession of a vacant renovated suite the landlords could increase the rent, collecting more from new tenants than they would from its former occupants. Residents regarded the derelict conditions in the hallways as intimidation tactics, meant to motivate tenants to move out on their own when eviction notices weren’t enough.