The B.C. government’s focus on a few “bad actor” landlords came under fire from the opposition this week, as the NDP used its legislature majority to push through new measures to aimed at policing the eviction of tenants for renovations.
B.C. Liberal housing critic Ben Stewart pressed Attorney General David Eby, the new minister for housing, on the need to allow major renovations on rental buildings that are often up to 60 years old. Stewart said the government’s extension of a COVID-19 rent freeze until the end of 2021 is the latest disincentive for investing in rental housing stock, which continues to be in short supply.
Stewart pointed to a 2018 study by LandlordBC that calculated how rent controls widen the gap. It shows rental operating expenses growing at a 10-year average of 7.6 per cent annually, while rent increases were capped to inflation plus two per cent, or 4.5 per cent in 2018. The NDP government then dropped the two per cent, capping rent increases at the inflation rate of 2.5 per cent starting in 2019, and then froze rents entirely as the pandemic took hold.
“Repeatedly, governments have tried to solve the problem of housing by trying to control demand,” the landlord study noted. “Rent controls and other restrictions have been around since the 1970s and have never worked to alleviate the issues.” More investment in new and existing housing is needed, LandlordBC argued.
Eby defended the rent freeze and the move to stop “renovictions,” and said his government is working on getting new rental housing built. He confirmed that the rent freeze does not apply to post-secondary student housing, where students will be heading back this fall as the COVID-19 pandemic is relieved by widespread vaccinations.
The latest changes to the Residential Tenancy Act target landlords trying to take advantage of the tight urban rental market by evicting tenants for renovations to allow a new tenant to come in at higher rent.
Eby said the government will watch the effect of the new legislation to see if it leads to old apartment buildings being torn down instead of fixed up.
“We’ll be monitoring this, and if we do see a sudden rash of demolitions across the province, certainly, we would move to act,” Eby said. “This was aimed at the attempt to increase rents in an existing unit with a cosmetic renovation.”
B.C. Liberal MLAs voted against new measures to require landlords to prove in advance they are going to do substantial renovations that require rental property to be vacant. A show-of-hands vote initially defeated the section, before NDP house leader Mike Farnworth rallied enough MLAs to vote by video link to save the measure.
Eby called the requirement for tenants to apply to the Residential Tenancy Branch to stop an eviction “a huge waste of resources at the Residential Tenancy Branch for bad actor landlords that have been abusing this section. It’s not even close to the majority of landlords, but a group of bad actors that saw a way to try to circumvent the rent controls that are in place in our province, which pre-existed our government, and this test was put in place.”
Another long-standing issue for building and renovating rental housing is the length of time to get permits at the municipal level. The B.C. government held a series of meetings in Nanaimo, Prince George, Kelowna and Vancouver, and produced a report in 2019 recommending ways to speed up approvals.