It was the end of March and a friend I’ll call Al got a note from his landlords. Their house had been sold to an offshore owner who had never seen the property, and the laneway house Al was living in was going to be used for “family.” He needed to depart within 60 days.

In times past, contesting such an eviction would require the tenant to file an application disputing the new landlord’s reason, a process that’s enough of a hassle that most tenants just give up and move. But when Al called the Residential Tenancy Branch, they said, “You can just ignore it.”

Tenants’ rights advocates say that the pandemic has moved the province closer to where it should have been all along: looking out for tenants in a market that was precarious well before COVID-19. In addition, the provincial government is also granting rent subsidies of up to $500 (not nearly enough, say critics), freezing rent increases until the provincial state of emergency is over, and ceasing most evictions up to and including not paying rent. It’s been a long time since renters in this city felt anyone was paying attention to their needs—sadly, it took the pandemic to shift (at least temporarily) the focus to their plight.