VANCOUVER — “Democrats are going to change the loopholes in the Tenancy Act and fix it so that renovictions don’t occur,” NDP Leader Carole James said on the campaign trail, borrowing a term used by renters who are evicted for renovations.
The NDP has drawn attention to a significant problem for those in older rental accommodations, especially for seniors who have lived for decades in the same apartment. Basing legislation on the most extreme cases is rarely a sound approach to public policy. The NDP proposal, however, appears flexible enough to provide increased protection for tenants while still allowing responsible landlords to move ahead with necessary renovations.
The Residential Tenancy Act permits landlords to evict tenants for major renovations and to raise rents as much as they like once the units come back on the market. Some landlords have used the pretence of renovations to chase away tenants who were paying less than market rates. After minimal work in the apartment, they have hiked rents significantly. Tenants can challenge eviction notices, requiring landlords to show that the work is required. But renters say in many cases they lose their housing before they can appeal.
The NDP promised to close the renovation loophole by giving tenants the right of first refusal after renovations are completed. The rent would be set at pre-renovation levels, adjusted for the standard allowable annual increase.
NDP Leader Carole James highlighted the changes to the Residential Tenancy Act this week while in Vancouver’s west end, where up to 80 per cent of residents are renters.
Two apartments have been in the media spotlight in recent months. The landlord of the Berkeley apartment has indicated he wants tenants to move out to clear the way for a complete renovation.
The landlord of the Seafield apartment recently received approval from the tenancy branch for rent increases of up to 38 per cent for most of the units. Similar situations have been reported in Victoria and in Kelowna. Tenants feel they are being kicked out of their homes unfairly.
Michael Geller an adjunct professor at the Simon Fraser Centre for Sustainable Community Development, said the NDP proposal responds to “a very small percentage of landlords” who empty out buildings, carry out modest renovations and later rent out the suites at higher rates.
He cautioned that the proposed legislative changes could have unintended consequences. Many rental units were built in the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s and are now in need of repair. The NDP’s proposal could discourage legitimate renovations, leading to a significant deterioration of the province’s housing stock.
The central issue, Prof. Geller added, was who should subsidize those long-time tenants who are currently paying significantly less than market value for their accommodations.
“At the risk of sounding hardhearted, I say it’s ultimately not the private landlord’s obligation to subsidize tenants.”
The NDP says increasing the rights of tenants would not mean landlords are required to subsidize them, NDP campaign researcher Vanessa Geary said.
The NDP proposal is similar to legislation currently in effect in Ontario. Rents can be increased over a number of years to reflect the cost of legitimate renovations. Closing the loophole is intended to stop excessive increases in rent by those who do not follow through with plans for renovations.
“It will provide extra protection for tenants so landlords will think twice about doing it,” she said.