844 Johnson and Tenant Rights: The PHS Decision

By: 

Leila Geggie-Hurst

In May 2018, the BC Supreme Court confirmed two important things for local tenants. First, residents of 844 Johnson Street are considered tenants in supportive housing and have rights that are protected under the Residential Tenancy Act (RTA). Second, blanket restrictions against all guests in a supportive housing complex go against residential tenancy rights. If you’re a resident of supportive housing, what does this mean for you?

 

What Happened?

After Super-in-Tent City (SIC—a tent city formerly located on the Victoria law courts property) was dismantled, a social housing building was set up to house SIC residents at 844 Johnson Street. Portland Hotel Society (PHS), a non-profit supportive housing provider and operator of the 844 Johnson building, introduced blanket restrictions that severely limited tenants’ ability to have guests. TAPS supported a number of residents in arguing against these rules at a Residential Tenancy Branch hearing.

At the hearing, PHS argued that the Residential Tenancy Act shouldn’t apply to the building, but the arbitrator agreed that it should, even though the landlord provides support services and personal health care. The arbitrator also agreed that the blanket guest restrictions were not reasonable restrictions of the tenants’ RTA rights.

PHS appealed this decision to the BC Supreme Court, where the tenants were represented by lawyers from the Community Legal Assistance Society. On May 18, 2018, Justice Sharma agreed with the arbitrator’s decision. The judge agreed that “tenants who are being given a social benefit of below market housing in an effort to stabilize their living situation” should have the same legal rights as tenants paying market rates.

This case now sets a precedent—that means that the judge’s decision should be applied in future cases.

 

What Does This Mean For People Living In Supportive Housing?

This decision will have positive and lasting effects on the lives of the thousands of tenants living in supportive housing in Victoria and across the province.

First, the court has confirmed that people living in supportive housing have the same tenancy rights as people living in market housing. As Kevin Love, a staff lawyer at Community Legal Assistance Society who represented the clients in the court proceedings said, “This 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”.

More specifically, this case confirms that blanket guest policies cannot restrict access to the building for all tenants’ guests—these blanket policies are illegal. The court has confirmed that supportive housing tenants have the right to visit with friends and family in their own home.

However, this decision doesn’t mean that social housing providers can’t introduce rules. Housing providers still have the right to establish reasonable guest policies that protect the safety, security and quiet enjoyment of tenants. Landlords, whether market or non-profit, continue to be allowed to adopt and enforce reasonable guest restrictions, but they must be on an individual case-by-case basis.

This approach ensures tenants are treated fairly as individuals, and rejects a one-size-fits-all approach that punishes all tenants regardless of whether or not they have done anything wrong.

 

What’s Next?

The court decision means that people living in supportive housing should have an easier time getting their rights recognized, especially in terms of guest policies. If you live in a supportive housing building and your individual tenant rights are being violated, you can reach out to TAPS for support.