Penalties against bad landlords and tenants ‘toothless’: Vancouver MLA

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Matt Kieltyka/Metro Vancouver-West End MLA Spencer Chandra Herbert joins residents of Hofmann Manor in Vancouver Sept. 10, 2014 to talk about alleged illegal rent increases and eviction attempts by the building’s landlord.

Penalties meant to protect renters from bad landlords, and vice versa, have proven to be toothless, according to the MLA for Vancouver’s West End.

Spencer Chandra Herbert obtained, through Freedom of Information, emails between Residential Tenancy Branch (RTB) staff suggesting its administrative penalties framework “has not been particularly successful” in dealing with the “worst of the worst” in landlord/tenant abuses.

“We continue to struggle w [sic] resources and get legitimate requests to apply the provisions,” reads an entry under the heading Administrative Penalties Review 2014.

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

Chandra Herbert says the regime amounts to a protection that sounds good on paper but has been useless in the real world, especially in Vancouver where 51 per cent of households rent.

Even in the only time an administrative penalty has been levied – $115,000 against a Surrey landlord in 2012 – the fine was never paid because repairs were eventually made to the building in question.

“It’s absolutely toothless,” Chandra Herbert told Metro. “As far as I can tell, there’s no real deterrence value because it’s never been used. There’s no penalty in the grand scheme of things for bad landlords or tenants.”

During question period at the Legislature, Housing Minister Rich Coleman said the penalties work as a deterrent, despite what the RTB emails suggest.

“[Chandra Herbert] hasn’t done his research with regard to some of the abilities that we’ve had because of the deterrent of administrative penalties, where you actually had the landlords go in and do renovations and fix up bad properties because that was hanging over their heads,” said Coleman. “That’s a deterrent and it actually works in the Residential Tenancy Branch.”

Administrative penalties were introduced into legislation in 2006 as a means of dealing with negligent landlords or tenants outside of the court system.