"Rental Only" Zoning Wins At The Supreme Court

In 2019, the City of New Westminster became the first city in the province to use "Rental Only" zoning legislated by the province.  The city enacted this in order to protect tenants in six rental buildings that legally could have been sold off as condos at any moment.

In response, the registered owners of all six buildings took the city to the Supreme Court of BC. We are happy to share with you that the Supreme Court of BC recently upheld the bylaw, protecting the rental stock and tenants in these buildings! This is a great win for tenant rights in New West, and a step towards the rental protections we all need.

Read the full story below and how we got involved.

Many of you may have met us back in the summer of 2019 when we door-knocked through these six rental buildings in New Westminster. These six buildings ( 214 Agnes St, 211 Eleventh St, 514 Thirteenth St., 723 Twelfth St., 215 Tenth St., and 425 Twelfth St.) were all stratified buildings, meaning that they were set up legally for the owner to have the right to sell each unit off as condominiums.

This is what happened in late 2018 to the 14 apartments at 530 9th St.

The building was sold in May 2018 for $3.6 million dollars (or $257,000 per unit) and the new owner, having no connection to the tenants, renovated the units and sold them off as condos.  You can see the financial incentive here as each unit would sell for at least $380,000 or more.  Evicting people from low-cost housing, especially by flipping into condos, is quite lucrative indeed.

The city then utilized new provincial legislation to enact “Rental Only” zoning at these sites so that they could not be converted and tenants would be protected.  The New West Tenants Union mobilized some of our members to speak at the public hearing and were amazed at the 20+ speakers from the landlord, real estate and developer lobby who all rallied against any infringement upon the owners “property rights”.

Stratified buildings are valued more than regular rental buildings, precisely because of the possibility of evicting tenants and realizing higher financial gains.  Owners stood to lose some value of their property, and so when city council passed the “Rental Only zoning” immediately they joined together with the help of Landlord BC to sue the city in Supreme Court.

'See you in court,' building owner warns New West council May 29, 2019.

‘See you in court,’ building owner warns New West council
New Westminster city council is standing by its plan to use rental-only zoning on six strata buildings in the city – despite warnings that the move could end up costing taxpayers millions of dollars and will erode its relationship with the developmen
Landlords launch lawsuit against New Westminster zoning | Watch News Videos Online
Watch Landlords launch lawsuit against New Westminster zoning Video Online, on GlobalNews.ca

Then over the next few months, the New West Tenants Union painstakingly went door to door through these 6 buildings, attempting to reach the near 230 families that this would affect. As we have learned through door-knocking over the past 3 years, people are surprisingly open to talking when it’s about something that directly affects them. On the whole people wanted to know more and were shocked to find that each of their landlords was suing the city in Supreme Court to retain the right to eventually evict them.

Of course these owners denied that they would ever do this, but the story of 530 9th St clearly illustrates what could happen. Maybe the owners are ready to retire and can’t resist selling as condos to make their retirement nest egg?  It would have been well within their property rights. Or they just sell off the whole building at a higher “stratified” building price. Will the next owners resist the fortune that could be made by selling as condos? Would the new owners pay that extra cost just to make less profit through rentals?

When the owners of some of these buildings found out about our organizing efforts it certainly touched a nerve.  Generally Landlords want tenants to remain separated, unaware of landlord actions and uninformed of their rights.  They don’t want to be put in the spotlight for behaving badly or putting their own profit over the health and safety of their tenants.  The prospect of tenants learning their rights and working in their own interests scares them to the core and prompts over-the-top “boss” letters like ones you would expect when trying to form a union in a workplace.

Like this letter from the owners of 211 11th St.

"Please be advised that your Landlord has been and will continue to be the only source of accurate information regarding the Elmwood apartments"... lol

Finally, on March 30th, 2021 the City of New Westminster successfully defeated the landlords challenge to their use of Rental Only zoning in the Supreme Court. So it looks like tenants in these units will not have the threat of a condo sell-off looming over them in the future.  

We hope that everyone is staying safe throughout the COVID-19 epidemic. We have not been able to do door-knocking during this time out of safety concerns but are looking forward to the time when we can meet again and build a stronger tenant voice in New Westminster.   An organized community is a healthy community!

Please stay in touch and email us if you have any concerns or questions we might be able to help with.  You can also stay connected by joining our Facebook page for more regular updates.

All the best,

New Westminster Tenants Union

Additional Media and Info on the Rental Only Buildings:

New West court victory on rental-only zoning a win for affordability: city
New West Record, Mar 30, 2021 https://www.newwestrecord.ca/local-news/new-west-court-victory-on-rental-only-zoning-a-win-for-affordability-city-3591603

Residential Rental Tenure Zoning FAQs
Zoning Amendment Bylaws No. 8123, 2019 and No. 8078, 2019

1 year after B.C. introduced rental-only zoning tool, just 1 city has used it (and it's being sued)
Justin McElroy · CBC News · Posted: Apr 10, 2019

Court ‘downzoning’ ruling spooks residential developers
New Westminster bylaw that retroactively rezoned 230 condominiums as rentals and banned owner-occupiers has won a BC Supreme Court ruling
Western Investor April 1, 2021