British Columbia has created a five-person investigations unit to go after landlords and tenants who flout the law as part of its effort to grapple with a headline-grabbing housing crisis that has seen rents skyrocket and tenants evicted through renovictions in hot local markets.
The new unit is part of what Housing Minister Selina Robinson called a major initiative to stop a culture where “too many people feel there are no repercussions for breaking the rules.”
The head of the new compliance and enforcement unit, former Victoria police officer Scott McGregor, said his group has already opened 20 investigations – 14 involving complaints about landlords and six involving disputes with tenants – and fined one Surrey landlord for not doing essential repairs for his tenant.
“I’m calling [Mr. McGregor] ‘the enforcer’ and there is more to come,” said Ms. Robinson. She said landlords who continue to break the laws when it comes to security deposits, unannounced entries, lack of repairs or unnecessary evictions “can absolutely expect to hear from the unit.
“I’m here to confirm there can be significant and monetary consequences,” she said.
The investigations unit has been empowered to research cases on its own, without going through the province’s dispute-resolution process for rentals and impose fines of up to $5,000 a day. It will also publish its decisions so that both landlords and tenants can check to see whether there have been problems in the past.
The residential tenancy branch, which handles disputes, has also had its budget expanded and Ms. Robinson said that means that the wait time for calls to the branch have dropped from 45 minutes to five minutes.
But the minister also noted in her announcement that her government has hit pause on a recommendation to ban rental restrictions in condo buildings, saying that there is “some work” to do on the implications of such a ban.
When that suggestion was first outlined in the province’s rental advisory task force last November, a spokesman for condo homeowners noted that changing the law would make it very hard for small condo buildings to deal with what can be difficult tenant issues.
As well, said Tony Gioventu, the executive director of the Condominium Home Owners Association of B.C., a study of rental data from condos both with and without rental restrictions did not indicate that removing restrictions would create any more available units.
Ms. Robinson also said that the government is going to do more work to clarify what constitutes a major renovation on an apartment building.
That’s a big issue in B.C. Some landlords are frustrated that rents are capped to an annual inflation-related increase, meaning long-time renters are paying far below current market rates. But critics are concerned landlords have gotten around rent controls by emptying out their buildings on the pretext that the units need major renovations. In some cases, the landlords then do relatively minor renovations and put the units back on the market at significantly higher rents.
Finally, the province is creating a liaison in the residential tenancy branch to work with cities, which are also grappling with the rental crisis.
In the past couple of months, New Westminster and Port Moody councils have introduced new bylaws to try to protect rentals from conversion to condos or from renovictions. But both councils are being sued by landlords, who say the councils have gone too far.
A representative for the province’s landlords’ association said he was generally pleased by the latest moves.
“This is really good. They’re trying to allocate resources to manage the broader process,” said David Hutniak, the chief executive of LandlordBC.
He also welcomed the idea of a liaison with municipal councils.
“There’s a lot of interference from municipalities."