Home / Media Advisory: McNeil v. Elizabeth Fry Society of Greater Vancouver: Tenancy rights at stake!

Media Advisory: McNeil v. Elizabeth Fry Society of Greater Vancouver: Tenancy rights at stake!

When:        Monday October 16, 2023, at 8:30 AM

Where:     800 Smithe Street, Vancouver, BC [Smithe Street Entrance]

Who:         Our Homes Can’t Wait (OHCW) members, Pivot Legal Society (PIVOT) and British Columbia Civil Liberties Association (BCCLA).

xʷməθkʷəy̓əm (Musqueam), səlilwətaɬ (Tsleil-Waututh) and Swx̱wú7mesh (Squamish) territories / Vancouver, BC McNeil v. Elizabeth Fry Society of Greater Vancouver 2022 BCSC 2174 stands to impact core housing rights and tenancy protections for low-income communities. This press conference is being convened by Our Homes Can’t Wait (OHCW), Pivot Legal Society (PIVOT), and the British Columbia Civil Liberties Association (BCCLA).

When Nicole McNeil, the appellant, and four other tenants challenged Elizabeth Fry Society’s restrictive building policies at the RTB, their application for dispute resolution was dismissed because the RTB agreed with Elizabeth Fry that their housing was “transitional” and therefore exempt from BC’s tenancy laws. Without clarity in this area of tenancy law, landlords can take advantage of the tenuous distinction between supportive and transitional housing to maintain that tenants living in non-profit housing are not covered under the Residential Tenancy Act [RTA]. This deprives marginalized tenants of basic rights, and any legal recourse to assert rights that affect housing as a core concern in people’s everyday lives.

In RTA exempt-housing, non-profit landlords can ignore the unliveable building conditions in which tenants live, they can subject their tenants to no-notice evictions, excessive rent increases, intrusive identification checks, systemic neglect of buildings, and restrictive guest bans that disproportionately impact Elders, Indigenous, racialized, immigrant and poor communities. This ultimately increases the likelihood of poor communities being pushed out of their homes and communities.

We know that these anti-poor measures are reflective of broader systemic pressures to privatize housing and disentitle whole communities, largely racialized and poor communities from protections from unlawful evictions, restrictive guest bans and other corrupt landlord practices. A 2023 UBC study found that BC’s evictions rates, which are the highest in so-called Canada, are overwhelmingly concentrated amongst Indigenous communities – such that Indigenous folks are 1.7 times more likely to be evicted than non-Indigenous counterparts.

OHCW and Pivot represent the crucial perspective of folks directly impacted by weakened tenancy protections. Many of OHCW’s members are living on fixed incomes such as welfare, pensions, and other forms of social assistance, meaning they are forced to live in low-income housing such as SROs, supportive and transitional housing. Our hope is that the BC Court of Appeal will listen to us about the harmful implications of carving out marginalized tenants in non-profit housing from provincial tenancy protections.

Julia Riddle of Arvay Finlay, Claire Kanigan of Kanigan Law, and Veronica Martisius, Litigation Staff Counsel for the BCCLA explains how broad interpretations of the transitional housing exception under the RTA sweep marginalized tenants into and have severe impacts on people’s lives and housing conditions:

The BCCLA is pleased to stand with Pivot and Our Homes Can’t Wait (OHCW) at this important juncture for tenants’ rights. The BCCLA is intervening in this case to urge the Court to clarify what “transitional housing” truly means to prevent government funded supportive housing providers from using this gray area to opt out of the RTA and the protections it provides. Transitional housing must be interpreted in consideration of the RTA’s protective function and the severe consequences of losing those safeguards. Regarding the latter, we are grateful to Pivot and OHCW for uplifting the voices of the people who are most often subjected to the precarious housing circumstances that Nicole McNeil and the other impacted tenants faced.

Being excluded from tenancy protections has a severe and profound impact on not just individuals’ ability to stay housed, but their ability to feel safe and secure in that housing. Currently, the transitional housing exception to the Residential Tenancy Act is interpreted so broadly that it puts large numbers of BC’s most vulnerable tenants at risk – at risk of without notice, without cause evictions; unlawful restrictions on what they can and cannot do in their homes; and more. Transitional housing is often the first step to end homelessness or the last resort to prevent it. Receiving social assistance or moving into government-subsidized housing should not make one more likely to be subject to sudden homelessness, but that’s what the law is allowing to happen now. We hope the Court of Appeal will see how profoundly unjust and harmful this is.”

The BCCLA is represented by Julia Riddle of Arvay Finlay and Claire Kanigan of Kanigan Law.

View the full joint media advisory and press release.

Read the BCCLA’s factum.

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