B.C. rental task force calls for end to ‘renovictions’

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A government-appointed rental task force is calling for an end to “renovictions” by allowing residential renters to stay during renovations to their suites.

It’s one of 23 recommendations for the B.C. government with the aim of making the renting process fairer for tenants and landlords.

Many renters across B.C. have raised concerns about being unfairly evicted because the landlord wants to renovate. Some landlords have used it as a tactic to evict low-income renters, make cosmetic improvements and then increase rent.

The report recommends that evictions for renovations should be done only in rare instances of serious, major and long-term renovations, such as seismic upgrades. Otherwise, the tenancy can continue during construction, as long as the tenant is willing to accommodate the work.

In some cases, the Residential Tenancy Branch has relied on a B.C. Supreme Court ruling that an eviction notice is not necessary if the landlord can carry out renovations without ending the tenancy, but the task force recommends clear guidelines in the Residential Tenancy Act on what accommodations should be made by landlords and tenants during renovations.

“I think the 23 recommendations being presented are balanced and will make life better for renters and for landlords,” said the task force’s chair, Spencer Chandra Herbert, NDP MLA for Vancouver-West End. “They will give renters more protection from renovictions, they will give landlords the ability to invest in their homes and ensure the rent gets paid.”

David Hutniak, CEO of Landlord B.C., said he believes most landlords do renovations between tenants and try to avoid mass evictions of an entire building, but added that there are exceptions.

He said the report strikes the right balance between allowing landlords to upgrade existing rental stock, some of which is “reaching the end of its ­functional life,” and protecting renters from eviction.

Other recommendations include:

• Working with local governments to develop tenant compensation and relocation guidelines in the event of the demolition of a purpose-built rental building.

• Strengthening enforcement against those who violate the Residential ­Tenancy Act, with steeper penalties for bad landlords and tenants alike.

• Eliminating a strata corporation’s ability to ban owners from renting their own strata units.

• Implementing a B.C.-wide “rent bank” system that would provide ­interest-free loans to low-income households who have regular incomes but are facing eviction due to short-term ­financial difficulties.

Housing Minister Selina Robinson said the government will give careful consideration to the report before implementing any changes. “We need to make sure that the rental market is working for landlords and for renters,” Robinson said.

The three-member task force, appointed by Premier John Horgan in April, spent the summer consulting with landlords, renters, interest groups and the public about the Residential Tenancy Act. The Green Party’s Adam Olsen (Saanich North and the Islands) and New Democrat Ronna-Rae Leonard (Courtenay-Comox) also sat on the task force.

Emily Rogers, legal advocate for rental advocacy group Together Against Poverty Society, said she’s disappointed the task force endorsed the status quo of tying the rent to the renter, not the unit. TAPS was pushing for the rent to be tied to the unit, which would prevent landlords from hiking rent when someone ends their tenancy. Currently, landlords can raise a tenant’s rent by a maximum of 4.5 per cent each year, but when the tenancy ends, the landlord can set any price for the next tenant.

“Without vacancy control the affordability crisis will continue to escalate in our province,” Rogers said.

Rogers said she’s delighted to see the recommendations that aim to put a stop to renovictions, but “without vacancy control, we’re still going to see landlords incentivized to evict old tenants and bring in new ones.”

Landlord B.C. was happy that the task force understood the “huge unintended consequences” of tying rent control to a unit, Hutniak said. Landlords would not be able to afford any improvements to the suite, other than basic maintenance, and there would be a freeze on new ­purpose-built rental properties, he said.

The Urban Development Institute for the capital region said it was disappointed the task force didn’t recommend incentives to increase construction of new rental homes, saying availability of rental homes was one of the topics ­discussed in an online forum during the consultation process.

kderosa@timescolonist.com

The 23 recommendations

1. Stop renovictions.

2. Work with local governments to develop tenant compensation and relocation guidelines in the case of demolition of purpose-built rental to reduce dislocation, and homelessness of affected tenants.

3. Set a clear timeline for a tenant’s decision on the use of a right of first refusal.

4. Implement a B.C.-wide rent bank system for low-income people.

5. Strengthen enforcement of the law, including implementing a clear process for making, investigating and reporting administrative penalty complaints.

6. Strengthen penalties for breaking the law, including refusal of service for outstanding administrative penalties.

7. Investigate ways to provide affordable access to bailiff services in smaller and more remote communities.

8. Investigate other options to increase the repayment rate for damages, non-payment of rent and other storage costs if ordered by the residential tenancy branch.

9. Increase the availability of currently empty strata housing by eliminating a strata corporation’s ability to ban owners from renting their own strata units.

10. Maintain rent tied to the renter, not the unit.

11. Work with local governments to develop, implement and enforce short-term rental rules to better protect long-term rental stock.

12. Make the Residential Tenancy Branch more responsive, accessible and proactive with more opportunities to learn from and educate landlords and renters on their rights and responsibilities.

13. Improve fairness and consistency of the residential tenancy branch dispute resolution hearings process by recording all hearings.

14. Improve procedural fairness by expanding review considerations to include more grounds for review.

15. Require landlords who are filing for eviction for cause, or for renovation, to provide all evidence with any eviction notice to the affected tenants.

16. If repairs are needed to maintain a rental home and the landlord is refusing to make them in a timely way, have the residential tenancy branch proactively reduce the rent of affected tenants until the repairs are completed.

17. Allow email as a form of notice of service between landlord and tenants.

18. Speed up the return of damage deposits to tenants by allowing tenants to make a direct request to the Residential Tenancy Branch for the damage deposit where no damage has been found and reported by the landlord.

19. Work with the insurance industry to see if rent guarantee insurance, and other improvements to insurance coverage, might be provided for landlords in B.C.

20. Undertake a review to simplify the regulations relating to a landlord’s obligation to store abandoned personal property.

21. Ensure it is clear for all landlords and renters where to go to get help for all forms of residential tenancy.

22. Address the specific needs of non-profit housing and supportive housing providers in the Residential Tenancy Act.

23. Ensure manufactured home park rules are clear and understandable. Clarify what occurs when park rules conflict with lease or contract rules.

Times Colonist