I got demovicted last week.
It wasn’t a grand moment of my landlord banging down my door, demanding I and my two roommates and two cats get out so that they can burn the house down to the ground and build an illustrious new condo development in its place. Rather it happened, as many things do these days, in an email.
“Unfortunately, I am given the task to deliver this news to you,” the email from our landlord said, before explaining that they had gotten approval to demolish our house and we had to leave in the next four months — a process commonly known as “demoviction.”
To be fair, we saw it coming. On our street in East Vancouver, our run-down two-level was the last remaining house older than 10 years. Look up the address on property assessment websites and you’ll see the land our house was sitting on was worth close to $1.5 million in 2019. The house itself? $40,000.
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The fate of our house was a ticking clock, one that we hoped to wait out as long as possible, relatively happy in our incredibly affordable (for Vancouver) basement suite off a bustling street of coffee shops, independent grocers and quirky stores. We loved the neighbourhood, even if we didn’t love the way our bathtub periodically spewed shit every six months or how the upstairs neighbours would practice the banjo at 2 a.m. But in Vancouver, you do what you gotta do.
The email still came as a shock though, and it came with even more details and information than I anticipated.
We had to arrange a time to receive the notice in person, we had a certain amount of time to challenge the eviction and our landlord was actually going to pay us a month’s rent for our troubles. Also, the landlord already had the permits from the city secured to demolish the house.
It took getting demovicted to realize how little I actually knew about getting demovicted. But it’s a reality many renters will face. According to a 2019 report from Statistics Canada, four per cent of British Columbia households have been forced to move in the past five years.
“It took getting demovicted to realize how little I actually knew about getting demovicted.”
And it’s not just B.C. — according to a 2019 report from Advocacy Centre For Tenants Ontario, there was a staggering 294 per cent increase in the number of eviction for demolition or renovation applications submitted to the City of Toronto since 2016.
If you find yourself in a demoviction or renoviction situation, here’s what you need to know.
What is the difference between demoviction and renoviction?
Renoviction refers to an eviction due to extensive repairs, while demoviction refers to a full demolition of the unit. Both require the tenants to move out of the unit in order for renovations or demolition to occur.
The terms are most common in British Columbia, but can apply to any situation where a tenant is forced to move out due to renovations, repairs or demolition. In Ontario, renovictions and demovictions are served through something called an N13, which refers to the form involved and are often called “N13 evictions.”
Then of course there’s repossession, which is a whole other situation. That’s when the landlord takes possession of the unit, with the intent to live there or move family in.
Why are renovictions seemingly on the rise?
Often, a unit will be renovated or demolished and built fresh as a way to increase the rent. Take a crumbling house like mine, rebuild it bigger and nicer and it’s easier to charge higher rent.
Will Gladman is a volunteer organizer with the Vancouver Tenants Union. He argues renovictions are particularly prevalent in B.C. because of current rent control regulations.
“Because of the different controls we have in B.C., landlords are seeing that the rents are capped, but the market rates are skyrocketing. And so they have an incentive to get those rent-controlled tenants out for the tenant turnover: They can re-rent that property for as much as they like,” he told HuffPost Canada.
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Under provincial regulations, rent can only go up so much per year for continuing tenants. If a new tenant comes in, however, landlords are free to raise it and remain competitive on the market. But that often comes at the cost of evicting the current tenants.
It’s not an issue unique to B.C. In Ontario, what are often called “no-fault evictions” — evictions that are not the fault of the tenant such as renovictions, demovictions and repossessions — are on the rise and with them, rent costs overall. The Advocacy Centre For Tenants Ontario report cites a connection between the two.
“These soaring rents are likely a result of developers’ focus on building condos and luxury rentals that yield much higher profits alongside the negative effects of vacancy decontrol that allows landlords to increase rents at any amount for new tenants of existing units,” the report argues.
Renovate or tear down the unit — increase the rent for the next people to live there. It’s as simple as that. Of course, this isn’t the case in every situation. Sometimes buildings are deemed not structurally sound or an area has been rezoned. But for the most part, a unit gets renovated or demolished so it can be rebuilt nicer and more expensive.
What differs from province to province?
Regulations around residential renting vary from province to province and are set out by provincial and territorial tenancy acts.
In B.C., section 49 of the Residential Tenancy Act establishes three basic requirements to end a tenancy for renovations or repairs:
- the landlord must have the necessary permits and approvals before giving notice to end tenancy
- the landlord must intend, in good faith, to renovate or repair the rental unit
- the renovations or repairs must be so extensive that they require the rental unit to be vacant
Extensive renovations that require the unit to be empty include stripping the unit, electrical wiring or major plumbing overhauls. They also, of course, include demolishing the unit and building.
If all of these factors apply, in B.C. the landlord must give four months’ notice. They are also required to pay out a month’s rent to the tenants, no matter how long the tenants have lived there.
“Regulations around residential renting vary from province to province and are set out by provincial and territorial tenancy acts.”
In my case, my roommates and I received our notice in mid-January, and were told we had to be out by May 31. That time is intended to ensure tenants have time to find alternative housing.
Read more on renovictions in B.C. here.
In Ontario, the requirements for landlords are similar, and they must give 120 days’ notice to tenants. However, the payout is larger — in most cases the tenant is entitled to three months’ rent rather than the one month’s rent paid out in B.C.
If they intend to demolish the unit or convert it for non-residential use — a.k.a. a demoviction — you are entitled to at least three months’ rent or a similar rental unit that is acceptable to you. If the landlord just plans to renovate — a.k.a. renoviction — and you plan on moving back in when they’re done, you’re still entitled to that three months’ rent or the equivalent rent for the period the repairs are being done, whichever is smaller. If you don’t plan to move back in, you’re still entitled to that three months’ rent.
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But, all of this only applies if you live in a building with five or more units. A split-level basement suite like where I live wouldn’t apply in Ontario. In that case, if the landlord chooses to demolish or renovate, you get nothing.
Read more on your rights in Ontario here.
Tenancy acts vary across Canada. For more information on how to deal with renovictions or demovictions in your province or territory, check out these resources:
How can you prepare?
Gladman says the best way to deal with a renoviction or demoviction is to be prepared before the notice even comes.
“If you know your rights before that thing lands on your doorstep, you’re going to be in an infinitely better position than if it catches you off guard when it comes in,” he said.
Gladman recommends that if you’re living in an apartment building or complex, get to know your neighbours. That way, if you all find yourselves in a renoviction or demoviction situation, you can work together to possibly fight it.
“If you know your rights before that thing lands on your doorstep, you’re going to be in an infinitely better position than if it catches you off guard when it comes in.”
It varies from province to province, but once the permits are secured and the notice is issued, you have 30 days to challenge it in B.C. by paying a $100 application fee and submitting a formal challenge. And Gladman says it’s worth doing, because you do stand a fair chance of winning, particularly in the case of a renoviction.
“The bar for a landlord is quite high when it comes to renovictions,” he said.
They have to have secured all of the proper notices and permits, prove that the unit must be empty for the renovations, and show that they aren’t acting in bad faith or have an ulterior motive for ending the tenancy. Gladman says in his advocacy work, many groups of tenants have been successful in having renoviction notices thrown out because the landlord didn’t meet one of those requirements.
In a demoviction situation, like what happened to me, however, he says the odds are much slimmer.
“With demovictions, where they’re really going to be tearing the place down, once you’ve got that notice it’s tricky,” he said.
The permits required are often secured a year in advance, land has been purchased and new developments planned. In our case, the permit to demolish our property was actually secured in July, even though our landlord didn’t tell us until January.
Gladman recommends that if you live somewhere you feel might be at risk of demoviction or renoviction, you can look ahead to see if the landlord is applying for development permits. In most major cities, development permit databases are available online.
“In our case, the permit to demolish our property was actually secured in July, even though our landlord didn’t tell us until January.”
“You can check it periodically and if you see that they’re applying for permits, call the city, find out who is the lead member of staff on that file and work with them to make sure that at the very least, the landlord is complying with all of the things that they have to comply with to get that permit,” he said. “It’s pretty amazing how far badgering city staff can go in these situations.”
He says if you don’t succeed in stopping a permit from going through, at the very least you show you’re serious about getting everything you’re entitled to as a renter.
And if that demoviction notice does show up in your inbox like it did for me, don’t panic. The biggest thing, Gladman stressed, is to know your rights and be prepared to state your case if the need arises.
“Document everything, have documentation of all of your interactions with your landlord, anything that’s broken, anything they fix, any people they send around to look at things,” he said. “That way, if you do decide to challenge and you want to have a good case, it’s going to be really strong to have that contemporary evidence in your favour.”
In our case, we’ve chosen not to fight the demoviction. We’d been planning on moving within the next year anyway, and thankfully we’ve already found a new place to live.
In a month we’re going to move out of this old house with the doorknobs that don’t work and the bathtub that spews sewage into a newer condo building in the suburbs. The house we live in now will get torn down and a different, newer condo building or house that doesn’t spew sewage will go in its place — the circle of life in Vancouver housing.
As someone in their mid-20s and a renter for the foreseeable future, there’s a high likelihood I’ll be demovicted or renovicted again someday. Rent control policies continue to be divisive, and housing demand continues to rise despite a lack of a similar rise in accessible, affordable housing.
But now I know what I deserve, and what I should fight for.
CORRECTION: This story has been updated with more precise data from Statistics Canada on the rate of moving in B.C.