The rental housing crisis in Greater Victoria is so bad that some people would rather risk the chance of dying in a fire than face eviction and having to find a new place to live.
The rental market is that bad.
I received a letter from a local renter named Farman who has been renting in the same place for the past six years, but is now facing eviction because the units he and his roommates and neighbours occupy are violating multiple fire codes and “life safety issues.”
“There are a total of 10 roommates and two basement suite families going to be evicted because of this bylaw officer’s order for these two houses,” Farman writes.
“We have been informed by the city officer that this house is unsafe for all of us because the 1968 year (built) house doesn’t meet the current fire separation code between upper and basement rooms, may not be rated, not code-compliant fire separations and current smoke alarm coverage is insufficient. How come they enforce current fire/building codes on a 1968 year (old) house? As you know, there is already a rental crisis in Victoria and our government is trying every possible way to save, help tenancy and this bylaw officer here is misusing their power and adding burden to the rental crisis.”
Now I’m not naming the Greater Victoria-area city in question because I’m not trying to throw shade at them.
With all due respect to Farman, it’s not an abuse to enforce the modern fire code to an older house. We’re talking lives here and it’s a city’s job to make sure people are kept safe.
My point in writing about this is to highlight just how bad things are in the rental market that someone is more afraid of having to find a new home than they are of dying in a horrible fire.
Farman has a below-market-price rental and these days that is solid gold for most people because rents continue to skyrocket. Victoria is one of the most expensive rental markets in all of Canada.
“Some of us are a group of students, working at low wages, living here for the past many years even before the current owner purchased this house,” Farman says, adding that he wonders why their units were picked on compared to the other old housing in the area.
“If a city bylaw officer is going to evict based on this rule, half of the city is soon going to be homeless,” says Farman. “All of a sudden this house becomes unsafe just because one of the room mates (who himself was a threat to others living with him due to his mental issues) called the city.”
Unfortunately, most city bylaw departments investigate only when they receive a complaint.
It’s a tough situation. You don’t want people living in death traps, but you also don’t want people to end up homeless because they face much higher rents compared to the place they are being evicted from.
If only the city could force upgrades while allowing the tenants to remain in their homes.
Chris Campbell is an editor with Black Press Media at the Victoria news hub. You can follow him on Twitter @shinebox44.
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