Tenants living in social housing deserve the same rights as everyone else, a B.C. Supreme Court judge ruled May 18.
Residents of social housing on 844 Johnson Street managed by the non-profit Portland Hotel Society (PHS) will no longer be subjected to blanket guest restrictions after they were ruled illegal in the court’s decision.
“This decision is about reaffirming respect for legal protections for all tenants,” said Douglas King, Together Against Poverty Society (TAPS) executive director, in a press release.
The PHS petitioned the Supreme Court after the Residential Tenancy Branch said that residents of the Johnson Street building are covered under the Residential Tenancy Act (RTA), and therefore should be afforded the same rights as tenants living in market housing.
In her decision, Justice Neena Sharma said the Portland Hotel Society failed to offer “any justification of why tenants who are being given a social benefit of below market housing … ought to be given less legal rights than tenants paying market rates.”
Plaintiffs argued guest policies were overly restrictive
In June 2016, shortly before the dismantling of Super InTent City, the provincial government purchased the 844 Johnson Street property to provide housing specifically for those who lived in the camp.
Those residents were required to sign a tenancy agreement that said they were allowed guests from 9 a.m. to 10 p.m. Tenants were also required to register their guests, who must display photo identification.
A copy of the guest policy posted in the building’s entrance also said no one under the age of 19 years old would be allowed in the building, and that guests had to be signed in by a resident at the front desk.
But according to court statements, residents said the policies were too restrictive in who was allowed to visit, and when.
Quinn Frederick, for example, said the policy impacted his relationships with friends and his support network. “There have been many instances in which my friends have come to visit me only to be turned away because they don’t have proper ID … I feel isolated as a result,” he said.
According to court documents, the PHS argued that parts of the RTA didn’t apply to social housing the same way it does to market housing.
But in her ruling, Sharma said the PHS “cited no case law or authority to suggest that the interpretation or application of the [RTA] is dependent in any way upon whether the landlord operates on the profit motive.”
Decision is ‘precedent-setting,’ says TAPS
Doug Swait, one of the plaintiffs and a resident of 844 Johnson Street, said he was pleased that the court recognized the rights of tenants living in supportive housing.
“This decision will go a long way toward ensuring that individuals living in supportive housing across BC know that they have rights and that these rights can be enforced, even when their landlord is a non-profit service provider,” he said.
Kevin Love, a Community Legal Assistance Society staff lawyer who represented the plaintiffs, said the case “confirms that subsidized and supported housing providers have to follow the rules just like everyone else.”
“Tenants do not give up all their rights just because they need support or help paying the rent,” he said.
Portland Hotel Society has not yet responded to a request for comment from Victoria Buzz. We’ll update if we hear back.