B.C. shuts rent loopholes

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MLA: ‘Used by landlords to get around rent controls’

Vancouver-West End MLA Spencer Chandra Herbert (left) on March 12 joins tenants of a West End apartment building whose landlord applied for a massive rent increase under a geographic rent loophole closed on Dec. 9.

Vancouver-West End MLA Spencer Chandra Herbert (left) on March 12 joins tenants of a West End apartment building whose landlord applied for a massive rent increase under a geographic rent loophole closed on Dec. 9.

Renters, who make up 53 per cent of Vancouverites, can breathe a bit easier this week knowing their landlords can no longer jack up rents above the allowed four per cent, nor pressure them to sign a fixed-term lease.

That’s because on Friday the province closed two longstanding loopholes in British Columbia’s renter protections — one allowing landlords to ignore provincial rent caps if nearby prices had risen significantly, and another exempting leases with an expiry date from the rules.

“As of Monday, no landlord will be able to say, ‘We’ll raise your rent 50 per cent through a geographic increase,” said Spencer Chandra Herbert, MLA for Vancouver-West End who’s proposed closing the loophole since 2009, in a phone interview Sunday. “And this is the end of the fixed-term loophole con job, or whatever you want to call it.”

The province earlier this year raised the maximum allowable rent increase from 3.7 to four per cent a year, prompting criticism from tenant advocates.

“The annual allowable increase is already tough enough for many people,” Chandra Herbert admitted. But allowing an even greater lift, he argued, “would have effectively meant their eviction.”

He said a number of his constituents faced between 40 and 60 per cent monthly increases, with one building hit with threats of a 73 per cent lift. In one case, he said, a landlord hadn’t actually applied for B.C.’s permission to jack up rents, but asked tenants to sign away their rent-control rights under the belief he had done so.

It meant that many decades-long tenants, who were grandfathered into affordable leases before rents rose dramatically in recent years, were forced to choose between sudden, massive rent spikes or eviction.

“It was really abusing the spirit of the legislation,” Chandra Herbert noted. “The fixed-term loophole was being used by landlords to get around rent controls.

“They’d say, ‘Sign this one-year lease, at the end you’re evicted or agree to a 40 per cent or more rent increase’ … Effective Monday, any fixed-term lease which comes up for renewal or ends in the next year or so changes to a month-to-month lease at the end of that term.”

Landlords are still allowed a four-per-cent increase once a year, which for Vancouver’s one-bedroom units — which hit a median rent of $1,945 in December, according to PadMapper — by nearly $80 every month. And a median-rate $3,890 three-bedroom apartment at would cost a family nearly $160 more a month.

But until the new regulations came into force Monday, B.C. has allowed landlords to apply for an exemption to those caps if surrounding neighbourhoods’ rents were much greater, or if tenants agreed to expiring or fixed-term leases.

The only exception: if a building’s rental income falls below its maintenance costs or property taxes, its owner can still apply to raise rents beyond four per cent.

The Tenant Resource and Advisory Centre praised the reforms, which its executive director Andrew Sakamoto said would have a significant benefit in near-zero-vacancy markets like Vancouver. But he argued B.C. also needs to ramp up fines against landlords who renovict tenants but never actually renovate their units.

—With files from The Canadian Press.