City hall eyes online rental database

Association wants inquiry tool for landlord names

Vancouver renters may soon be able to make more informed choices about the suites they live in or want to rent.

City council unanimously passed a motion forwarded by Vision Vancouver Coun. Tim Stevenson Jan. 17 to have staff report back on the creation of an online rental database.

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Stevenson said consolidating information already available to the public in a public data base is not about punishing landlords but about government transparency.

He said renters, who make up 52 per cent of Vancouver residents, can look up rental suites to see whether they have outstanding fire safety or maintenance orders.

Staff told council they would report back about the prospect of the database within two months and that the cost of creating it would be minimal. Stevenson hopes the database could be online by summer and said information about Downtown Eastside hotels and secondary suites could be added later.

But former COPE councillor Ellen Woodsworth says the database needs to be broader.

"We've been working for how many years now to try to get SRO [single room occupancy low income hotel] landlords to comply with basic guidelines and, working with people in the Downtown Eastside, we've exposed extreme violations of tenants' rights so I just don't understand why they'd exclude it in the first round," she said.

COPE, which lacks a representative on council, and the West End Residents Association want the database to include licensed secondary suites so tenants know whether their suites are legal and fire safe.

Christine Ackermann, president of WERA, noted the B.C. Apartment Owners and Managers Association support a database that includes secondary suites.

WERA wants tenants to be able to see if their landlords have applied for any development or work permits. "Because those are the tools that landlords use to evict tenants," Ackermann said.

The residents' association would parse the data to see "which companies and which landlords are really using 'renovictions' as a business model," she said.

WERA also wants the database to include an inquiry tool for landlords' names, not just holding companies, so individuals and groups know who to approach with questions or problems. It wants the database to allow multiple properties to be grouped by owner.

Finally, WERA wants the database to include all of the decisions made by the province's Residential Tenancy Branch.

Woodsworth wants links to the residential tenancy act and information about advocates including WERA and the Tenant Resource and Advisory Centre.

She believes tenants should be able to add comments to the database, including praise or warnings about mould and bedbugs.

"We're able to check hotel rooms before we go in to find out if people recommend them or don't recommend them," she said. "This is not just a hotel room that people go in and leave. These are places where people are going to live, hopefully for a number of years."

She wasn't concerned that disgruntled ex-tenants could sully a landlord's name, saying other tenants could counter unfair comments. Twitter: @Cheryl_Rossi

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