B.C. housing minister foreshadows legal crackdown on bad landlords
Victoria – Housing Minister Rich Coleman says he’s working on legal changes that could give new powers to government to investigate and fine bad landlords and tenants.
Coleman said his ministry is preparing ways to change the Residential Tenancy Act, which would allow the housing branch to compel documents and evidence from landlords and tenants as part of investigations into disputes. As well, the changes would allow for those who break the act to be fined.
“I’ve said that’s the challenge — let’s say the branch says we’re going fine the landlord $10,000 or $1,000… (the B.C. Offence Act) doesn’t have that ability to give a ticket,” Coleman said in an interview.
“I said, ‘Can’t you get to where you can issue a payable offence?’ Well that means we have to change legislation to get under the Offence Act so we can do that. That’s the work they’ve been asked to do.”
The changes could bolster what critics have said is a toothless provincial system to penalize bad landlords and tenants. Although B.C. brought in administrative penalties under the Residential Tenancy Act in 2006, it has almost never used them. The only penalty levied by the government — a $115,000 fine against a notorious Surrey landlord who hadn’t fixed structural problems or mould in a building — was later rescinded by government as part of an agreement with the landlord to fix the property.
“The fine piece requires us to change direction on how we would administer the fine and it’s never been done anywhere in residential tenancy that I can find,” said Coleman. “So that’s probably the more complicated piece.”
Both changes were suggested by Coleman’s staff in a review document dated March 21.
An organization representing B.C. owners and managers of rental housing said it’s not opposed to the changes, but expects to be consulted and wants more information on the details.
“It’s really about repeat offenders,” said David Hutniak, CEO of LandlordBC. “We have concerns about those individuals as an industry and by and large if there’s appropriate measures that were clear, transparent, and easily administered we would not be adverse to that.”
The current process works, but it’s also arduous and bureaucratic, said Hutniak.
NDP Critic Spencer Chandra Herbert said he’s surprised to hear Coleman is preparing legislation, but any changes would be welcome to fix the many problems.
“If they are going to fix them so we can actually crack down on bad landlords and tenants and improve rental housing in B.C., that’s a win,” said Chandra Herbert. “I’d like to learn more about it and hear more than one sentence from the minister explaining what they are doing.”
He also called on Coleman to include an open consultation with tenants and landlords.
Coleman offered no timeline on when the work would be done, other than to say it began behind the scenes a year ago and can sometimes take up to two years to become an actual bill.
“I can’t tell you I’m going to do legislation next week because in actual fact that’s not allowed,” he said. “But everybody knows we’re working on legislation to see how we can improve these penalties.”