I have learned a lot during the renovation process that is currently going on in my building. I now know who to talk to, but I have also learned that there is not a lot of help for tenants in terms of protecting their health during renovations, especially when it comes to air quality issues. And there is a huge deficit when it comes to building green.
A couple tips. Make sure you document everything carefully, take good notes and pictures. If you are having health issues that you suspect are related to the construction, go see your doctor and get it on record. If you write to your landlord, put it in a formal letter (not just an email). If you have concerns about products being used, make sure you get the name of the product, you can usually download Manufacturer Safety Data Sheets on the company web site.
Vancouverites, Spencer Chandra Herbert, MLA for the West End and longtime tenant advocate, is hosting a renters rights workshop on June 7. The Tenants Resource Advisory Centre will be there and on the list of topics is renters rights during renos.
I have provided a list of resources below should you find yourself in reno hell. While the contacts are Vancouver specific, there are likely equivalent departments in your area.
WorkSafe BC. This is the Worker’s Compensation Board of BC. Although their mandate is to protect the worker, they were very helpful to me. They conducted two inspections on site and wrote up a full report that is now posted in the lobby. There were some worker-related violations that were caught, in addition they made recommendations to the construction company to help mitigate the effects on residents.
Vancouver Coastal Health. Environmental Health. The air quality officer I spoke to was very helpful during two phone conversations. Field officers conducted two inspections, wrote up reports and submitted to strata and property management. However, they were not able to measure the air quality, which seems critical in determining the health risk to tenants.
City of Vancouver. Call 311 and ask to have a Building Inspector assigned to your case. In a couple days, you can call back, get the name and number of the person and call them directly. You can request an inspection. Although the officer was very empathetic on the phone, as there were no building codes being violated, there was nothing they could do. They referred me on to the environmental protection branch. I will be calling them as well.
Tenants Resource Advisory Centre (TRAC). A non-profit group. They have a lot of good information on their web site. I also spoke to them twice. Your landlord may tell you that they can’t reduce your rent, but if you have lost “quiet enjoyment” of your premises or living space (balconies count), then you are entitled to compensation. They also have to cover any expenses you incur from the renovation (example, moving van, accommodation, fans).
BC Residential Tenancy Branch. This BC government department is there to provide information and help resolve disputes between landlords and tenants. I called the help line and found the person the least helpful of anyone I spoke to. However, there is a formal process to file a complaint and you will need to provide documentation. If you win your case, you would be compensated retroactively.