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One Simple Idea to Stop ‘Renovictions’

Let the original tenants come home — at their old rent.

Christopher Pollon 19 Oct 2016TheTyee.ca

Christopher Pollon is an independent journalist, a contributing editor to The Tyee and a member of the Tyee Solutions/Housing Fix reporting team. 2016-17 funders of the Housing Fix are Vancity Credit Union, Catherine Donnelly Foundation and the Real Estate Foundation of B.C., in collaboration with Columbia Institute. Funders of special solutions reporting projects neither influence nor endorse the particular content of our reporting. Other publications wishing to publish this article or other Housing Fix articles, please contact editor Chris Wood here.

In Vancouver, Canada’s most contorted market for housing, it can happen to almost anyone who rents — in formerly affordable low-rise neighbourhoods or the priciest precincts in the suburbs: a notice to vacate so the property’s owner can do repairs or renovate.

Sometimes the improvement isn’t much more than a coat of paint — but the rent almost always goes up — often beyond the means of the original tenant.

Pretty much everyone in Vancouver knows the manoeuver: the “Renoviction.” No one really knows how often it happens. Landlords aren’t required to inform the Residential Tenancy Branch, the provincial body that mediates tenant-landlord relations, when they turn someone out.

Vancouver city councillor Andrea Reimer knows a thing or two about renovictions. A rare politician who rents, she figures she’s been evicted no fewer than nine times, mostly due to sales and demolitions. She holds the dubious honour of being evicted three times by the same east-side landlord.

Reimer says there is an easy fix: give tenants a “right of first refusal” after a suite they occupied is renovated: allowing them back in to the renovated suite at the same rent as before. That would deter the most abusive renovictions — in which the tenant who wants to stay faces a big rent increase even though the “reno” was a minor improvement.

As the rules stand, if a landlord evicts one tenant for a renovation and rents later to a new one, they can raise the rent to whatever the market will bear. If they re-rent the unit to the same tenant, they must apply for permission for any increase above the annual limit. But nothing obliges them to re-rent to the same tenants — hence the motive to “renovict” and find new tenants without a limit on higher rents.

Giving existing tenants a right of first refusal, at their former rent, would close that loophole and do away with that motive. Where landlords legitimately invest in more costly improvements, they would still have the right, as they do now, to seek the RTB’s permission to raise rents beyond the permitted annual adjustments.

Landlord BC, a group representing owners and managers of rental buildings is on board with the idea. “The notion of giving existing tenants [a] right of first refusal is one that Landlord BC very much endorses,” said David Hutniak, the group’s CEO.

The provincial Ministry of Natural Gas Development — also responsible for housing — not so much. Asked about the idea, a spokesperson responded that, “We aren’t contemplating any changes to the Residential Tenancy Act regarding evictions due to renovations. If a tenant thinks a landlord has ended a tenancy without a valid reason, the tenant can dispute the notice to end tenancy through the Residential Tenancy Branch.”

[Editor's note: As The Housing Fix has previously reported however, that process can be far from easy, or even transparent.]  [Tyee]

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