B.C. landlords should continue to have the right to raise rents as much as they want when a tenant leaves a unit, according to recommendations issued Wednesday by the province’s rental-housing task force.
But the task force also recommended that unnecessary renovictions – the practice of pushing out tenants to do largely cosmetic renovations that allow landlords to then charge higher rents – should be stopped.
Those two major conclusions have pleased developer and landlord organizations – who had warned against imposing onerous new rental rules – but dismayed poverty advocates at a time when there is turmoil in many British Columbia communities over the rising cost of housing.
“It shows [the task force] caved to the landlords and developers,” said Vancouver Councillor Jean Swanson, a longtime advocate for tenants who has been pushing for years to see limits placed on rent increases. “It’s going to continue the profit motive for renovictions.”
But Jon Stovell, a major developer who is chair of the region’s 750-member Urban Development Institute (UDI), said the recommendations are a welcome relief after months of concern the task force would propose to limit rent increases even more than they already are.
“It’s fantastic news. I think you’ll see an immediate return to optimism,” said Mr. Stovell, whose company is planning at least one major rental building on Broadway. “I think [the task force] has heard the message and heard from the big pension funds that they won’t invest in rental … if they make things too tough.”
He said landlords would have stopped investing in their buildings if they were prohibited from raising rents closer to market levels when tenants turned over in a unit. As well, he said, the proposal to “stop renovictions” is a practical one, since it only prohibits landlords from evicting tenants in order to perform cosmetic improvements on rental units.
The task-force report said that landlords still will likely need to empty out buildings “for the rare instance of serious, major and long-term renovations, such as seismic upgrades.”
A statement from the UDI said it was disappointing that the task force didn’t say anything about how to encourage the construction of more rental supply.
The province’s main non-profit housing association also said that the task-force recommendations showed a good balance.
“They had a tough job because it’s a crisis here with the rapid escalation of rents,” said B.C. Non-Profit Housing Association CEO Jill Atkey. “It protects tenants without stifling the needed supply.”
The association’s members had been somewhat concerned about limiting rent increases when a tenant moved out, since many non-profit operators need to adjust the mix of subsidized and non-subsidized rents in their buildings to keep up with operating costs.
Under current law, a landlord can only increase rent by a percentage set by the province as long as the same tenant is in the apartment. But if the tenant moves out, the landlord can raise the rent by whatever amount the market might bear.
Because of the tight rental market in the Vancouver region, that led to a proliferation of renovictions, as some landlords looked for ways to get rid of long-term tenants whose rents were below market because of the way rental increases had been limited over the years.
The task force has recommended that, in order to protect renters more in cases of apartment-building demolitions, the province should work with local governments to develop tenant compensation and relocation guidelines. As well, there should be a clear timeline for a tenant’s decision on a right of refusal to come back to a new or renovated unit on the same site.
The task force did introduce a major surprise change earlier this year when it reduced the amount landlords could raise rents for 2019. Until last fall, government policy was that rents could be increased by the rate of inflation plus 2 per cent. Housing Minister Selina Robinson announced in September, though, that any increases would be limited to inflation only, a move that had apartment builders saying it would kill construction in that sector.