B.C. tenancy penalties not working

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By Michael Mui, 24 Hours Vancouver

Damage at a Vancouver SRO.  (FILE PHOTO, 24 HOURS)

Damage at a Vancouver SRO. (FILE PHOTO, 24 HOURS)

Staff at the provincial government are admitting B.C.’s administrative penalty system for dealing with problem landlords and tenants is ineffective due to a lack of direction and resources, according to information obtained via Freedom of Information legislation by the BC NDP.

An administrative penalties research review discussion document from 2014 says the Residential Tenancy Branch is focusing only on the “worst of the worst” cases of landlord and tenancy violations, and even so, “has not been particularly successful in doing so.

“Administrative penalties are complaint-based and random in that there are no clear guidelines for when and to what situations they should be applied,” the review said.

“As well, RTB does not have legal authority to inspect buildings as part of issuing administrative penalties, nor does it currently have expertise or human resource capacity to conduct inspections.”

The documents included multiple administrative penalty “checklist” files, describing violations of both landlords and tenants. Some were given monetary awards for winning, but often in the form of not having to pay rent for some months, and in some cases warning letters were sent.

Only one administrative penalty has ever been issued under provisions first introduced in 2006 — a fine against a Surrey landlord of $115,000. But that amount was never paid due to an agreement between the tenancy branch and the landlord to undertake repairs at the building instead.

New Democrat MLA Spencer Chandra Herbert brought up the issue on Thursday in the legislature, suggesting that government is letting “bad tenants and bad landlords continue to break the law with impunity.”

“There is a difference between those who for a month can’t pay the rent because they’re sick … and those who actively defy the system,” he said.

“There are landlords who know they can harass people out of their homes so they can jack up the rents over what they’re allowed … or renters in a few cases to get away with defying people out of tens of thousands of dollars.”

Minister Rich Coleman, who oversees the ministry responsible for housing, said in the legislature that it’s a “small amount of people” who are abusing the system.

“Because of the deterrent of administrative penalties … you actually had the landlords go in and do the renovations and fix up bad properties because that was hanging over their heads,” Coleman said.