'Mom and pop' landlords
Vancouver's housing crisis has turned many homeowners into DIY landlords who use rental income to pay the bills, reports Megan Dolski
Online classified sites are filling with posts from pilots, lawyers, construction workers and people doing all kinds of other jobs who have tacked on being a landlord as an extra way to help cover their mortgage costs.
With cities such as Vancouver and Toronto struggling to cope with a housing-affordability crisis, many people are choosing to rent out secondary suites in, or attached to, their homes as they try to keep a handle on outrageous property prices.
The rapidly increasing cost of real estate, particularly in the Vancouver region, has rippled into the rental market, pushing vacancies near zero while causing rates to increase. At the same time, the number of units outside of purpose-built rental buildings has been steadily escalating.
Vancouver and Toronto permit secondary suites as a legal renting option – provided they meet certain criteria – and encourage them as a means of generating affordable housing. Other cities, such as Calgary, have struggled with finding a smooth process for regulating such rentals, balancing the need to create more housing with complaints from neighbours wary of introducing more renters into areas currently dominated by single-family homes.
There isn't any certification or training requirements to rent out a home or condo across the country, but all landlords are covered by provincial tenancy laws that set out rights and responsibilities of both landlords and tenants. While renter advocates have complained that such laws aren't adequate, some landlords also say they don't have enough protection from problem tenants.
Amy, who asked that only her first name be used, is a small-scale landlord, originally from Alberta who has lived in British Columbia for 25 years. She rents out a "mortgage helper" suite in Burnaby and a condo in Coquitlam.
She's a volunteer administrator of an unofficial landlord support group on Facebook. Amy says she participates in the group because she doesn't think there are enough resources available for small-scale landlords in the province, or any forum available to register problem tenants.
While Amy doesn't deny that slumlords and bad landlords are a problem, she says there is a group of people who do the job simply as a means to get by financially.
She worries that many of these new landlords don't know how to properly vet tenants and can end up in tough situations because of it. She feels the current laws don't protect landlords enough, that the eviction process takes too long and can result in landlords spending money they can't afford in the process.
"That is the biggest failure," she said. "The government is always talking about housing and how there isn't enough rentals, and the rental [vacancy] rate is so low and prices are so high and you know … if there was better protection in place for the landlords, I can tell you there would be a lot more small landlords."
Realtor and landlord Lola Bradfield also feels there is no venue for landlords to share information or get support in the province.
She says B.C.'s Residential Tenancy Act favours one side – the tenant – over landlords.
"The assumption that there are no bad tenants is ridiculous," Ms. Bradfield said.
"What the system puts landlords through when they try to rid themselves of a bad tenant: you would think the landlord is the devil and the tenant is some angel that just fell into hell, and that's not the case."
It's difficult to get a precise handle on how many homeowners have become part-time landlords. Some cities don't regulate, or track, secondary suites at all, and even when they do, they often measure the phenomenon differently.
In Vancouver, construction permits for secondary suites and lane-way housing have increased from just a few dozen in 2009 to nearly 1,000 in 2015. Toronto says it doesn't track secondary suites.
Andrew Sakamoto, executive director of the Tenant Resource and Advisory Centre, which provides legal advice and support to tenants across British Columbia, says that he's noticed that "mom and pop" landlords sometimes feel an unwarranted sense of entitlement to their property.
"Sort of an 'It's my home I can do what I want' type mentality," he said, adding that the landlords who tend to think that way often fail to educate themselves on their role as landlords, outlined in the province's legislation.
He says that in the past six months, the majority of complaints his centre has received from tenants in secondary suites were about eviction, repairs and noise issues.
Mr. Sakamoto says a member of his staff cited a trend that tenants living in secondary suites complained of being pressured out, with these types of landlords either planning to switch to Airbnb, or raising the rent by starting a new lease with new tenants.
David Hutniak, the CEO of LandlordBC – the biggest landlord industry association in the province – said his group's members recognize they are running a business and have signed a code of conduct requiring them to familiarize themselves with their own and tenants' rights.
However, Mr. Hutniak acknowledges that there is a demographic of landlords who haven't spent the time to understand the act, or who simply don't honour it. This worries him.
"They are not only harming themselves and tenants but they are also harming the broader industry," he said.
To address that, Mr. Hutniak says LandlordBC hopes to launch a voluntary landlord registry in the province that will require landlords to pass a test in exchange for receiving a certificate of competency.
"We've had so many turnovers in terms of housing here and new owners and new condos and all this and I think consequently we've had a lot of novice landlords who have entered the market."
He says there are some basics to the landlord-tenant relationship, and that it's up to new landlords to learn them.
"It's all well spelled out," he said.
The B.C. government notes that the terms of the act don't differentiate between landlords who manage many properties and those who simply rent out suites in their own basements.
In Vancouver, Lloyd Cheung's phone has been ringing off the hook.
On Thursday, he posted an ad on Craigslist to rent out the basement suite of his house in East Vancouver where he lives with his family. He works in construction, but his part-time gig as a landlord helps pay his mortgage.
"I didn't realize how short on housing this city is," he said. "It gets overwhelming. " He says he asks that people e-mail him to express interest, but that he doesn't have time to respond to all the requests he receives.
He's been renting his suite – which he says has been fully legalized by the city – for four years now.
Sometimes, Mr. Cheung says he gets suspicious calls that make him uncomfortable: people offering to send him money without seeing the suite and inquiries from different parts of the world, which he says he ignores.
But, so far, he's never had a bad experience with a tenant.
"I treat them like my really good friends, I don't treat them like I'm the landlord," he said. "Because after all they do live under the same roof as I live in, right."