Renters need better protections in wild Vancouver market: advocates

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Metro Vancouver renters are increasingly at risk of being legally pushed out to make way for higher paying tenants.

Apartment buildings in Vancouver's West End neighbourhood.

Jennifer Gauthier/For Metro

Apartment buildings in Vancouver’s West End neighbourhood.

Housing advocates say tenants are increasingly being pushed out of their homes by landlords seeking higher rents, and B.C.’s rent laws need to be changed to better protect renters.

“It’s now something that’s really exploded,” said Andrew Sakamoto, executive director of the Tenant Resource and Advisory Centre.

With Vancouver’s vacancy rate currently at 0.6% and land values skyrocketing, landlords are using two legal methods to get around B.C.’s current 2.9 per cent annual rent increase cap.

In what’s become known as a renoviction, a property owner will give tenants two months notice that they want to use the property themselves or to renovate the suite. Sometimes landlords are saying they or their family will be using the suite, but actually rent “to strangers just to raise the rent,” Sakamoto said.

Fixed-term tenancies are another problem: tenants are being asked to sign a rental agreement for a specific period of time, including an agreement to vacate the unit after the term ends. While tenants can choose whether to accept the vacate clause, the scarcity of units mean many feel like they have no choice. When the term ends, some landlords are then telling tenants that they can sign a new agreement, but must agree to a steep rent hike — up to 30% in some cases — in order to stay in the suite.

NDP MLA David Eby has introduced a private members bill several times to deal with the renoviction issue: under the proposed bill, the tenant would have the right to return when the renovation is complete, at the same rent they were paying before. Landlords would be able to apply to B.C.’s Residential Tenancy Branch (RTB) to increase the rent based on the renovations that were done.

Sakamoto would like to see landlords have to apply to the RTB before issuing the two-months notice, and provide evidence that they really intend to use the property for their own use.

Sakamoto believes the fixed-term tenancy problem can be fixed by simply not allowing landlords to use the vacate clause.

Eby said he is still researching policy options for fixed-term tenancies, which can be convenient for both landlords and tenants because they provide flexibility and clarity on when a tenancy ends.

“But the reality is we’re in such a crisis in Metro Vancouver around rental housing…that it may be that ending fixed-term tenancies, period, is the only way to resolve the issue,” he said.

Landlord BC, an industry group, has cautioned its members not to abuse the current situation.

“The potential negative consequences to our industry as a result of the few who feel it is appropriate to gouge renters due to the ridiculously low vacancy rate, should not be lost on anyone in the industry,” the group recently wrote to members. “We are in the midst of an election campaign with huge pressure on the two major parties to address the housing challenges both buyers and renters are facing.”

In a statement emailed to Metro, communications staff for natural gas and housing minister Rich Coleman indicated that current rules contain adequate protections for renters. Government is not planning to change the regulations around evicting tenants to renovate a suite.

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