The B.C. government’s Rental Housing Task Force is recommending changes to the Rental Tenancy Act to stop renovictions, but it’s rejected the idea of vacancy control — an idea renters favoured and landlords opposed.
The pair of proposals are among 23 recommendations the task force unveiled at a Dec. 12 press conference in Victoria. Others include strengthening enforcement and increasing penalties for those who violate tenancy laws.
Premier John Horgan formed the three-member task force, led by Vancouver-West End MLA Spencer Chandra Herbert, last spring in order to modernize the province’s tenancy law, which hasn’t been updated in 16 years.
Chandra Herbert called the recommendations “balanced” and said they will make life better for both renters and landlords.
“If implemented, they will give renters more protection from renovictions while giving landlords the security to invest in their homes and ensure the rent gets paid,” he said.
“We’ve recommended significant changes to strengthen enforcement of the law, to strengthen penalties for those who break the law and also real improvements to ensure the law is fair for everybody. Landlords deserve to be paid on time and have their property respected and tenants deserve to know that their home is safe and that they’re safe to live in it for the long-term. Stronger enforcement of the rules is good for everybody.”
Renovictions — a major issue raised by renters, especially in cities such as Vancouver where the vacancy rate is below one per cent — happen when a landlord targets tenants for evictions based on doing major renovations, but then does only minor work before jacking up the rent for the next tenant.
The task force says the RTA should allow renters to maintain tenancy during renovations as long as they are willing to accommodate construction, with evictions only being approved if there’s evidence that reasonable accommodations can’t be made to maintain the tenancy.
“Evictions for renovations should be reserved for the rare instance of serious, major and long-term renovations, such as seismic upgrades, which extend the life of a building considerably where it is impossible to keep tenants in the building due to health and safety risks, or unreasonable to expect a tenancy to continue, due to the extensive length of time a building will be uninhabitable,” the recommendation states.
Chandra Herbert said renters have been forced out of their homes due to renovictions for too long.
“If renters are willing to accommodate renovations in their homes, they should be allowed to stay in their homes,” he said.
He pointed to a 10-storey building in his riding in the West End where significant work on plumbing and electrical systems was done with tenants staying in their units.
As for toughening up enforcement and penalties, Chandra Herbert said “too many landlords and renters have faced challenges because of people preying on them, cheating them out of their rents, damaging their suites, forcing them out of their homes illegally.”
He said in the history of B.C. there have only been two serious financial penalties levied against those who’ve broken the rules.
"That has to change… good landlords and tenants need to know that we have their backs," he said.
Despite pressure from renter groups such as the Vancouver Tenants Union (VTU) to implement vacancy control, in which the rent is tied to the unit rather than the tenant, the task force opted for the status quo.
“We believe that landlords need to invest in their property and need to be able to invest in their property for the longterm. We need more rental housing and it needs to be competitive to provide more rental housing,” Chandra Herbert said. “It maintains that competitive environment while also, of course, with our further recommendations providing further protection for renters from illegal or unfair evictions.”
The VTU had argued that vacancy control would disincentivize evictions for a profit motive, slow the destruction of low-income rentals, lower the caseload for the Residential Tenancy Branch and help create “positive, good-faith relationships between landlords and tenants.”
Organizations such as LandlordBC, meanwhile, insisted vacancy control would limit what landlords could invest in their properties during turnover and spell the end of new purpose-built rental construction in the province.
The VTU stated in a press release sent after the recommendations were revealed that "vacancy control is a prerequisite for any serious strategy to address the housing crisis.
"Without vacancy control, any investments made in public housing, financial supports for tenants, and new supply will not keep pace with the loss of affordable rental stock. Across B.C. average rents are rising two to three times higher than the allowed amount set by government every year, eroding the purchasing power of tenants, with affordable units being lost every month to renoviction and tenant turnover. Today's recommendations not only leave out vacancy control, but offer no new substantive protections for tenants whatsoever. It is very disappointing to see the (B.C. Rental Housing Task Force) fundamentally misunderstand that the housing crisis is a crisis for tenants and not for landlords."
Acorn BC, the BC Poverty Reduction Coalition, Pivot Legal Society, Together Against Poverty, and several other renter groups from New Westminster, Kelowna and Victoria shared similar sentiments.
The Urban Development Institute is reviewing the recommendations, but president and CEO Anne McMullin said in a press release the organization is “relieved” the task force recommends that rent continue to be tied to the renter, not the unit.
“However, we are disappointed the Task Force didn’t take the opportunity to recommend incentives to increase the construction of new rental homes,” McMullin stated. “The access and availability of rental homes was one of the top issues discussed on the online forum during the consultation. Renters were especially concerned there was not enough housing in urban areas, yet the report makes no significant recommendation to increase or encourage more rental construction.”
Other recommendations by the task force include:
- increasing the availability of currently empty strata units by eliminating a strata corporation's ability to ban owners from renting their own strata units
- speed up the return of damage deposits to tenants by allowing tenants to make a direct request to the Residential Tenancy Branch for the damage deposit where no damage has been found and reported by the landlord
- ensure it is clear for all landlords and renters where to go to get help for all forms of residential tenancy
- work with the insurance industry to see if rent guarantee insurance, and other improvements to insurance coverage, might be provided for landlords in B.C.
- allow email as a form of notice of service between landlords and tenants.
Selena Robinson, minister of municipal affairs and housing, said she will deliver the recommendations to Premier Horgan, and the ministry will spend the coming weeks considering how the recommendations might be implemented and consulting with stakeholder groups.