January 21, 2022

Lawsuit of the week: Owners of single-room accommodation buildings take City of Vancouver to court over vacancy control rule

By capping rents, city is unfairly “foisting the taxpayer’s obligation to provide income assistance on SRA owners,” claim states

Pender Lodge, at 431 E. Pender, one of the buildings at the centre of a lawsuit against the City of Vancouver | Google

A pair of companies that own single-room accommodation (SRA) buildings is taking the City of Vancouver to court, claiming recently adopted vacancy control bylaw amendments are beyond the city’s jurisdiction and conflict with the provincial Residential Tenancy Act.

In separate petitions filed on January 6 and January 7 in BC Supreme Court, Pender Lodge Holdings Ltd. and 0733603 B.C. Ltd. claim the bylaws should be quashed for exceeding the municipal government’s power as authorized by the Vancouver Charter.

According to Pender Lodge’s 39-page petition, which quotes heavily from an affidavit from owner Peter Thanas, the company owns a 30-unit building at 431 East Pender Street. Thanas claims city staff used a “misleading term” to characterize the bylaws as “vacancy control” measures. He claims the bylaws don’t control vacancies in such buildings, “but instead seek to cap [single-room accommodation] rent increases introduced between individual tenancies.”

Thanas claims the building’s costs have increased nearly 35% in the last five years, while rental income has increased by 12.5%. Pender Lodge, according to the petition, “houses a diverse group of tenants, including foreign students, the working poor and others who require ‘entry level’ housing.’” Many of the tenants are considered “hard to house,” suffering from mental health issues and addiction, and the Pender Lodge also faces significant issues with damage from vandalism, fires, floods and other property crime. Operating the building, the company claims, is “very difficult,” and the bylaws will compound the challenges by capping rents and creating new “onerous and invasive administrative obligations.”

Moreover, Pender Lodge claims the bylaws make clear the city government’s “desperation and frustration” with the provincial government’s failure to both raise income assistance levels and amend the Residential Tenancy Act to tie rent increases to units rather than tenancies.

Meanwhile, Pender Lodge claims the court should note that in an expensive market like Vancouver, the city government is being “transparently self-serving” by capping rents in SRA buildings to make them less desirable to investors while planning to acquire the same buildings in co-operation with the federal and provincial governments.

In its petition, 0733603 B.C. Ltd. claims it rents out “high-end microsuites” at its building at 430 Abbott Street, a 60-unit building built 60 years ago.

“The bylaw amendments substantially prejudice the owner’s ability to recover costs spent on upgrades to the building,” the petition states. “The building is routinely maintained, updated and upgraded, and the owner increases rents between tenancies to recover the costs of doing so as part of its business model. The owner intends to continue to do so, but its ability to profitably do so and to operate the building in this manner will be affected by the bylaw amendments.”

The petitions’ factual bases have not been tested in court, and the City of Vancouver had not responded to them by press time.



Festering fissures in BC Liberal ranks could widen with new leader

If the BC Liberals stand a strong chance of regaining power in 2024, at this stage they cannot bank mainly – as opposition parties typically do – on the faltering of the sitting government.

The B.C. economy is not operating as business would have wished, but our nation-leading performance is not what business would have anticipated, either. The public is increasingly disenchanted with the imposed strictures of the pandemic – two years of this is a long time – but no expert is forecasting this province is headed into administration-toppling fiscal follies. Then again, we will see, because two years are indeed a long time, and there is some unravelling under way.

Still, a poll last month suggested John Horgan remained the country’s most-trusted premier. Presuming that his recent cancer treatments fare successfully, as we all hope, and that he chooses not to step down, as his supporters all hope, the BC Liberals have a hill to climb.

It would help, too, if the aspiring leaders stopped pushing each other down it.

In canvassing about a dozen Liberals unassociated with the leadership campaigns, the politest views I heard along the way were that the leader to be elected in early February has to swiftly address fractures before the party credibly challenges the BC NDP.

The most troubling views I heard were that either of the two perceived front-runners, former cabinet minister Kevin Falcon and MLA Ellis Ross, would further fracture it as leader – the former driving the hard-right wing into Conservative Party of BC hands, the latter driving the party’s soft-left to sit on their hands or, good gracious, even the Greens.

The middle path – that one of those two as victors simply needs to furnish a lick and a promise and a coat of paint and things will be back to pre-2017 predominance – is simply, plainly, frankly unthinkable. This campaign is a small step in a large trek.

Falcon to a great extent and Ross to a lesser one pin their hopes on a first-ballot victory in the preferential ballot vote. Each campaign sees the other as in second place. Ross has more plausible growth potential in picking up the second choices of the least popular candidates in the early ballots, although it is likely a small tiding. It might take a fourth ballot to yield a decisive dividend.

Debates rarely settle leadership contests, which are about selling memberships and sealing support on vote day. But what last week’s final debate of the contestants demonstrated is that there is a disquieting rancour/animus that Falcon in particular would need to quell.

His campaign has drawn accusations from every other candidate of manufacturing a membership list by playing outside the lines. To be fair, no evidence has proven this; to also be fair, Falcon has up and down denied it; and to be fair again, the party’s contest organizers have not broken a sweat looking. The registration process is supposed to sort the situation by requiring specific personal data, but two campaigns told me late last week it was not doing so, and the party’s audit commitment within it is underwhelming. The court is bound to be petitioned on this pre-vote.

Falcon and his team have, in a bit of political judo, accused his opponents of racism because many of the disputed memberships emanate from South Asian and Chinese communities. In the debate it was quite the audacious spectacle, considering their respective subject positions, to see Falcon hector MLA Michael Lee, an esteemed solicitor of Chinese descent, on his opposition to membership diversity and how his claims were lacking in integrity. If Lee could not respond with a haymaker at that moment, it was likely owing to paralytic onset at Falcon’s derring-do.

Falcon, however, is back riding the bike in full form in debate, and is inarguably the readiest to tackle Horgan tomorrow on basic, traditional political cut-and-thrust. Still, he of anyone in the contest has to bring aboard the bulky luggage of Liberal governments and keep it stored safely in the overhead compartment in the turbulent time ahead. Horgan’s message would likely be: we remember you well, as we will remind you well.

Ross notes that Falcon won’t be an MLA for some time if he wins, without opportunities to get into the grill of the premier as he has of his six campaign rivals. Falcon’s debate reply: that doesn’t seem to concern the majority of the BC Liberal caucus supporting his candidacy. Of course, touting the guardian MLAs on your team doesn’t exactly ooze a welcoming of new blood.

From the distance of Greater Vancouver, the Ross campaign has seemed a surprise; in most everywhere else, hardly. His conservatism is a creature comfort of large swathes of the province’s 87 ridings, each of them with 100 points to divvy up when votes are counted. One rival confided that when its campaign reaches out for member backing, the most authentic support it hears is for the former Haisla councillor. To put it mildly, his BC Liberal party would certainly be an unambiguous alternative for voters.

At the race’s early stage, it seemed Val Litwin’s growth in it – or lack thereof – would define the outcome, and that still seems possible. In debates the former BC Chamber of Commerce CEO has questioned Ross about his reticence to ascribe climate change to human conduct and Falcon about whether there were deals cut to gain recruits. Last week he had coherent proposals on housing affordability – beyond the general mantra of supply, supply, supply.

He and Lee stand to earn most of the anyone-but votes, and unlike Falcon, Ross and now Lee, he hasn’t become any kind of target.

But as the contest closes, the hopes for the party remain a) that it doesn’t rupture with its choice, b) that it offers new programs instead of a rerun for the audience and c) that by October 2024 the premier honours the official retirement age he will have just reached. •

Kirk LaPointe is publisher and editor-in-chief of BIV and vice-president, editorial, of Glacier Media.




An extremely rare, 400-year old book of Shakespeare plays is on display in Vancouver

“This is really a gift, not just to UBC, but also to the city of Vancouver."

Vancouverites know the Bard on the Beach, but now they can see the Bard on the Table.

The University of British Columbia (UBC) library has been donated a rare and important book: a first edition version of William Shakespeare’s Comedies Histories and Tragedies. Printed in 1623, there are only 235 left in the world; this one is only the second to come to Canada.

The book contains 36 of Shakespeare's 38 known plays and was compiled and edited by his friends, fellow playwrights and actors seven years after he died. It is considered the most authoritative of the early printings of his work. It contains the earliest printings of plays like The Tempest and Twelfth Night.

“The First Folio is a cornerstone of English literature and with this donation, we are able to bring this cultural treasure into public ownership,” says Katherine Kalsbeek, head of the library's rare book collection, in a press release. “Adding a First Folio to the UBC Library collection represents a milestone in terms of our development as both a library and as a university.”

As part of UBC's mandate there will be public access to the book. Different departments at the university already are planning a digital project around the book, including a virtual reality version.

But before all that, it's on display for the public to go see.

“This is really a gift, not just to UBC, but also to the city of Vancouver and to the many people in the region who appreciate Shakespeare,” says Kalsbeek. “We thought it was very appropriate that we partner with the Vancouver Art Gallery and Bard on the Beach to present it to the Vancouver community before it ultimately comes to UBC to support research and teaching.”

Opening on Jan. 15, For All Time: The Shakespeare First Folio will display the famous book along with other pieces of Shakespeare's portfolio. It'll be there until March 20.

“This is something the whole community can get excited about and can rally around: the first printing of almost half of Shakespeare’s plays that would have been lost were it not for this book," says Dr. Gregory Mackie. "It’s important to history, culture, and literature for so many people."

"It’s a tremendous moment for Arts at UBC."



Vancouver has a new all-vegetarian 'express' grocery store in a historic location

The independent market is following up its successful North Vancouver flagship with a fresh spot in Chinatown

Larry's Market, an independent vegetarian grocer, opened its first location in North Vancouver, seen here, in 2019 | Larry's Market/Facebook

After the 2019 launch of Larry's Market in 2019 in the Shipyards district in North Vancouver the business has expanded to include a recently-opened outpost in Vancouver's bustling Chinatown. 

The vegetarian grocery store is up and running at 291 East Georgia Street in a historic building that dates back over a century and for a long time in more recent memory served as a Chinese grocer.

Owner Ryan Dennis brought a quarter-century of grocery expertise to the table when he went into business for himself with a concept that focuses on vegetarian foods and products that align with his own lifestyle.

“I wanted to bring healthy food to a convenience format,” Dennis told the North Shore News in 2019 when Larry's debuted. “The only way we felt we could get that healthy food was through opening up a store that focuses on organic produce and healthy foods that don’t include refined sugars. Basically, everything in our store is organic or local.”

In addition to pantry staples and fresh produce, Larry's stocks dairy and plant-based products like oat and nut milks, snacks, meat alternatives, and baked goods. Additionally, the market has in an in-house café that serves up its own salads, sandwiches, toasts, pizzas, and much more, and they're known for their signature kombucha slushies.

The new Chinatown location is an "express" Larry's Market, but the outpost still offers customers one-hour same-day delivery in the area. Both locations are open 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. daily.

Oh, and if you're wondering who Larry is: Dennis used his middle name for the market's moniker, but jokes that when customers ask who Larry is, he'll turn to the team and they will all declare they are Larry.




A two-week celebration of poutine is happening in Vancouver this winter

All hail Canada's signature dish, that glorious combo of hot, salty, crispy fries with melty, gooey cheese curds and rich, velvety gravy

La Poutine Week will feature Metro Vancouver restaurants offering up poutine dishes and diners can go online to vote for their favourites | JML Images/Getty Images

Undoubtedly Canada's most well-known food creations, poutine is often what we find ourselves eating to punctuate a celebration, and now Vancouver is set to experience a two-week city-wide celebration of the Quebec-born dish.

The glorious combination of hot, salty, crispy fries with melty, gooey cheese curds and rich, velvety gravy is what La Poutine Week is all about, and in 2022 the festival is doubling down with an extra week of deliciousness to mark its 10th anniversary.

The premise is pretty simple: Eat poutine during La Poutine Week and go online and vote for your favourites.

This event celebrating Canada’s unofficial national drunk food takes place the first week of February each year and features poutine dishes submitted by restaurants and bars nationwide. This year La Poutine Week will run seven more days, stretching - like a good cheese pull - from Feb. 1 through 14.

While the event is wildly popular in its native Quebec, the fest has steadily expanded nationwide over the years with a few Metro Vancouver and B.C. restaurants signing up to take part in the friendly - and flavourful - competition. 

Last year, poutine lovers had their choice of 17 different poutines available from nearly 30 participating restaurant locations across Metro Vancouver during La Poutine Week. That roster included poutine dishes made with tots, or topped with things like butter chicken or dry-aged duck. Whether they're loaded with prawns or bacon or done up like donairs...there are always plenty of indulgent and creative takes on the classic Canadian comfort dish.

We can expect to learn which local restaurants will be taking part in La Poutine Week in the coming weeks as the big week gets closer. Stay tuned!



What are we reading? January 20, 2022

Getty Images

Each week, BIV staff will share with you some of the interesting stories we have found from around the web.


Mark Falkenberg, deputy managing editor:

Burnaby’s Vitacore Industries Inc., the first domestic company to win Health Canada authorization to make N95-equivalent respirators in Canada, is urging the B.C. government to encourage the use of the N95 and N95-equivalent masks in the province. It has also backed its request with a big gesture – donating 100,000 N95 masks to the BC Teachers’ Federation.  – Burnaby Now


This piece on global temperature increases offers some awesome climate-change doomscrolling – partly because its graphics are a journalistic outlier in that they very deftly help tell the story instead of the getting in the way. – Bloomberg


Timothy Renshaw, managing editor:

Pouring more fuel on the fire of the global depressive psychosis epidemic, scientists and journalists are busy pursuing every research and story angle to come up with doomsday predictions and bad news bilge, even if it's billions of years in the future. Here's another example featuring a BGR yarn about when the Sun is going to explode and kill us all. What is the point of chasing such calculations that could be off by billions of years? And does anyone stop to think of how it might affect local real estate prices?


Meanwhile back on Earth in the here and now, if you have ever wondered what everything is made of and how it all holds together, wrap your head around the theory of almost everything as outlined in this Asia Times story.


Glen Korstrom, reporter:

Documents from the police investigation into the four-year-old murder of the Toronto billionaire couple Barry and Honey Sherman keep being released. Barry, who founded the pharmaceutical company Apotex, apparently owed $1 billion in lawsuit settlements and did not plan to pay. Insights are also coming out about family relationships. This could be a movie. – Toronto Star 


Kirk LaPointe, publisher and editor-in-chief:

Boris Johnson is in deep trouble. The British Prime Minister stands to cling to power but on the shortest possible permanent leash. This essay lays it out devastatingly well. – The Economist


Worth catching up to is this bundle of, yes, 193 separate stories on how each of the world’s countries would be affected by climate change. Won’t spoil it for you on what happens here, but you can probably guess. – The New York Times


This interesting piece looks at the music of NBA YoungBoy and other emerging stars who don’t get the notice, but do get the download traffic, of the high-profile performers. – The New Yorker