B.C. to close another loophole to prevent unfair rent increases

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The B.C. government has announced it’s closing another loophole in residential tenancy laws to prevent landlords from unfairly raising rents in a hot housing market.

The province is eliminating a clause that allows landlords to raise rates above the allowable limit to match rents within a geographic area, Vancouver-West End MLA Spencer Chandra Herbert announced Saturday.

“Renters have been threatened with huge rent hikes under the existing rules — that’s a scary situation for any renter,” Herbert said.

 

The current allowable rent increase is four per cent, but the clause allows landlords in hot markets to raise rents at significantly higher rates to match neighbouring prices.

Some renters have reported agreeing to increases of 30 per cent after a landlord threatened to raise rates by as much as 50 per cent, according to the Vancouver-based Tenant Resource and Advisory Centre.

“Eliminating geographic rent increases is another positive step toward making housing more affordable and secure for the roughly 1.5 million tenants living in British Columbia,” said Andrew Sakamoto, the centre’s executive director.

The province says by getting rid of the clause, it ensures renters no longer have to fear significant rent increases based on the market where they live.

Jennifer Mateer was renting an apartment in James Bay when her landlord asked her and four other tenants to sign a rental increase agreement. Faced with an increase of almost 40 per cent on her $1,040-a-month rent, Mateer refused to sign the agreement. She was evicted on the grounds that the landlord needed the suite for a family member.

Mateer, 30, said while the move to disallow rent hikes based on geographic area wouldn’t have prevented her situation, she’s happy to see the government keeping its promise to better protect renters.

“With a 0.5 per cent vacancy rate, there’s a lot of people taking advantage of tenants,” Mateer said.

Mateer, who has a PhD in geography and studies gentrification, says she would like to see heftier fines levied against unethical landlords and a less complicated Residential Tenancy Branch complaint process, which many people have trouble navigating.

David Hutniak, CEO of Landlord B.C., said he has heard of cases of unscrupulous landlords who threatened to raise rents by exorbitant amounts in order to get the tenant to agree to a rent increase that is higher than the allowed four per cent.

“When I heard about this kind of abuse, it makes me quite angry, to be perfectly honest with you,” Hutniak said. “This is one of the challenges — we have landlords who don’t know their rights and responsibilities.”

Hutniak welcomed news in September that the NDP government would provide an additional $7 million over three years to the Residential Tenancy Branch, which settles disputes between landlords and tenants.

Some of that funding will address long wait times and create a dedicated unit to investigate landlords or renters who are not following tenancy legislation.

The change eliminating geographic rent increases follows the government’s announcement in October that it would eliminate vacate clauses (which require tenants to vacate a unit at the end of a fixed-term agreement) and restrict rent increases between fixed-term tenancy agreements. All of the changes come into effect on Monday.

kderosa@timescolonist.com

— With files from The Canadian Press