Advocates for tenants say the British Columbia government’s changes to protect renters don’t go nearly far enough.
“The government has at least acknowledged tenants need to feel safe and secure in their homes,” said Danielle Sabelli, a lawyer with the Community Legal Assistance Society in Vancouver. “That’s a good step.”
But the government’s proposed changes still leave tenants vulnerable, she said. “What I fail to see is how any of these changes actually keep people in their homes.”
Housing Minister Selina Robinson introduced the Tenancy Statutes Amendment Act, 2018 last week, saying “These amendments reflect our commitment to make housing more secure for renters in British Columbia.”
The changes require landlords to give tenants four months notice of an eviction due to a renovation instead of the current two. They increase the time tenants have to dispute an eviction notice from 15 days to 30.
Compensation for “bad faith” evictions where people are evicted for a renovation that never happens is increased from two months rent to 12.
And in multi-unit buildings, tenants who had been evicted would have the first right of refusal once a renovation is complete, though their rent would be at the market rate.
The bill also provides support and better financial compensation for tenants who are displaced from manufactured home parks due to redevelopment, Robinson said in the legislature.
Andrew Sakamoto, executive director of the Tenant Resource and Advisory Centre, was quoted in the government’s news release. The changes were a positive step, he said, but there was much more for the province to do. “TRAC is hopeful that today’s announcement is an interim measure, and that more substantial changes are planned for the future.”
Sabelli said increasing the notice period is little comfort to tenants. “The effect is still the same. Landlords are able to get people out of their homes.”
And giving former tenants an opportunity to move back into renovated units won’t help much if landlords can hike rents significantly after evictions, she said. Few people could afford to return to their homes, she said.
Sakamoto took a similar position in a statement distributed by the Community Legal Assistance Society. “The ‘right of first refusal’ in its current form, despite sounding positive, offers almost no increased benefit to tenants facing renovictions,” he said.
Sabelli said B.C. needs a law like Ontario’s, which gives former tenants the right to return to renovated units at the rent they had been paying.
Increasing compensation for wrongful evictions won’t help people stay in their homes, she said.
Sabelli said the society will bring its concerns and proposals to the attention of a new Rental Housing Task Force that Premier John Horgan announced earlier in the week.
Spencer Chandra Herbert, NDP MLA for Vancouver-West End, will chair the task force that includes NDP MLA Ronna-Rae Leonard from Parksville-Qualicum and Green MLA Adam Olsen from Saanich North and the Islands.
“Everything’s on the table as far as I’m concerned,” Horgan said while introducing the task force.
It reports to Horgan and is to consult with landlords, municipal governments and tenants to “find the right balance,” the premier said.
That includes making recommendations about renovictions, he said. “We need to renew existing housing stock, but that creates great anxiety for people who are living in housing units that do need to be renewed and rehabilitated for the 21st century, that creates great anxiety and we want to make sure we find the balance.”
Sabelli said she’s hopeful the task force process will lead to changes that strengthen protection for renters. “In order for that to happen the government has to really listen to what tenants have to say.”