Vancouver residents embroiled in tenant disputes with their landlords will be able to access legal advice from a new community legal clinic set to launch in December.
The legal clinic will receive $250,000 from the B.C. government and the Law Foundation of BC to improve access to justice for tenants in the province. The Vancouver-based not-for-profit Tenant Resource and Advisory Centre will operate the clinic.
“The housing crisis has created just a lot of people in need. It’s a bit like drinking from a firehose. You know, there’s just so much going on,” said Robert Patterson, one of the two legal advocates at the resource centre who works with Vancouver tenants.
Funding will allow new hires and service offerings
The money will allow the centre to hire and train more lawyers who will provide legal guidance and, in some cases, legal representation for tenants. The service aims to support them throughout any dealings with the Residential Tenancy Branch and, if need be, to advocate on behalf of tenants who wish to go to B.C. Supreme Court to challenge the rulings made by the branch.
“We’re currently not equipped to deal with judicial reviews and branch decisions right now. And we have to refer people to other organizations for them. So that clinic allows us to open that new branch of work,” Patterson said.
He said the clinic, which will operate out of an extension of the resource centre’s current office space, will also increase its capacity to handle more clients and will ease the process for tenants in need of legal support.
“We kept adding capacity for a while before we found we couldn’t be overloaded any more,” he said. “I think if we had more capacity to handle more people, we could take on more files and take on more work to help people.”
In Vancouver, the tenant resource centre already offers phone assistance and features an online guide to tenancy law in association with the Justice Education Society. Patterson said TRAC receives at least 500 calls a month.
The new funding, part of a $2-million government initiative announced earlier this month, will be distributed in eight communities across the province.
Experts call it a good start
The executive director of the not-for-profit legal organization Access ProBono ,Jamie Maclaren, sees this as a good start.
Maclaren said community legal clinics are more effective than simply a boost to the existing legal-aid system. He wrote a report on the need for legal assistance for tenants in the province that resulted in the new funding.
“I’m very gratified and pleased that they’re opening new community legal clinics,” Maclaren said. “I know that $250,000 isn’t a large amount of money in the broad scheme of things. But it will get the clinic up and running.”
He said this funding could bring about real change in tenancy law.
“Courts are where the appeals have been and all hearings are made. That’s where some real systemic change can happen. It’s is in the courts, of course.”
The new funding will be distributed through the law foundation.
Patterson hopes that the Vancouver office will be able to start providing these services as of Dec. 2.