Proposed plan to protect tenants in Vancouver from renovictions sent for further study

Published in The Globe and Mail 

A proposed plan to protect tenants from being pushed out of their apartments by landlords wanting to renovate and charge higher rents has been sent for further study after city councillors expressed concerns such a policy will have unintended consequences that could make Vancouver’s rental supply even worse.

The decision at Tuesday’s council meeting left rental advocates optimistic that the issue has captured city hall’s attention. But Jean Swanson, the new councillor and long-time anti-poverty activist who proposed the new rules, said renters remain vulnerable as long as the practice known as renoviction is able to occur. City staff are due to report back within three months about the proposal.

“I’m hoping we can keep up the pressure and when this comes back, we can put in something that really is significant and that really does protect tenants,” Ms. Swanson said. “I don’t think we should succumb to the threats of the landlord lobby.”

Ms. Swanson’s motion proposed requiring anyone wanting to move tenants out of a building so it could be renovated to submit a plan to compensate the tenants or find alternative accommodation before a permit for the work would be granted. Currently, those conditions apply only for permits to redevelop a site, not renovate.

The motion also called on the province to allow for a policy known as vacancy control, which would prevent landlords from raising the rent on a unit once a previous tenant had moved out. Only the yearly allowable increase, tied to inflation, would be permitted.

“Vacancy control would spell the end of new purpose-built rental construction in B.C. at a time when we are finally starting to see some new rental housing being built,” Landlord BC, a group representing landlords, property owners and property managers, wrote in its submission.

Mayor Kennedy Stewart moved the motion, putting the policy suggestion over for study, saying more information was necessary in order to “address some of the concerns we’ve had from the larger community” and to assess the “impact on renters and rental stock.”

Councillors from both sides of the political spectrum agreed.

“This council is incredibly sympathetic and I think the spirit of this conversation is a good one,” said Non-Partisan Association councillor Sarah Kirby-Yung. “I also share concerns about making the best possible decision to support this. We don’t want to have unintended consequences.”

Marla Torgerson was one of 56 residents who spoke to council in support of the motion. In an interview this week, she said while she appreciates councillors’ sympathy for those facing renoviction, nothing is being done.

She has lived in a 26-unit low-rise in Mount Pleasant for the past three years. She said she first knew it was being sold when workers came into her unit with laser tape measures last spring.

“When they came in to measure, we all had a sinking feeling,” she said. “For months, we all had this underlying sense of anxiety, like when is the other shoe going to drop.”

In September, tenants in her building were informed the building had been sold. No permits have been posted and tenants – some of whom have lived there for decades – have not received a written confirmation that renovations will take place. She said they have been told that the building is being renovated, offered buyouts and informed of post-renovation rental rates in private conversations.

If she decides to return to her unit post-renovation, she was told her rent will increase 120 per cent.

David Hutniak of Landlord BC said that while the passing of Tuesday’s amended motion doesn’t require landlords to do anything differently, it sends a signal.

“This is a pretty strong message to landlords that the city and the council are really serious about addressing the displacement of tenants and I think that message hopefully will resonate with those in our industry who maybe haven’t been paying as much attention to what the responsible operation of their business really means.”

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