Friday, Sept 8, 2017 

 

POV News

Are Rent Freezes Possible?

Evictions and lease terms mean rents jacked up

By Office to Elect Team Jean
 

ndependent City Council candidate, Jean Swanson, today called on the NDP-led BC government to go beyond “looking at” the recently-announced rent increases and commit to her plan of a rent freeze: a 0% increase to rents for 4 years.

 

B.C.’s Residential Tenancy Branch has raised next year’s allowable rent increase. Rising from this year’s 3.7 per cent to 4 per cent, it amounts to an additional $70 a month, or $843 a year, for a two-bedroom rental in Vancouver. That’s well above the BC NDP’s annual $400 renter’s grant.

 

“The new rent increases are outrageous,” says Jean Swanson, an independent candidate for City Council in Vancouver’s by-election. “People were already struggling to keep up with this city’s inflated rents, and now they’ll have to spend even more.”

 

The new allowable increase, moreover, doesn’t reflect the real increase in housing costs renters would face because it only applies to ongoing tenancies. Under the provincial Residential Tenancy Act (RTA), if a tenancy ends for any reason, the building owner can enter into a new tenancy agreement and charge whatever rent the market will bear.

 

“The way things are right now, landlords have an incentive to kick tenants out using one excuse or another,” says Swanson. “They can jack up the rents for their new tenants.”

 

Building owners will often ask, as Metro News reports, “tenants to sign a fixed-term agreement with a vacate clause when the term ends, that allows them to circumvent the rent cap.” Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC) data, derived from a survey of purpose-built rental buildings, indicates that the average rent for a one-bedroom apartment in the City of Vancouver rose 7.9% from October 2015 to October 2016.

 

Swanson’s campaign for City Council includes a plan to implement a complete halt to rent increases for the next four years during B.C.’s new NDP government. This “Rent Freeze”, as she calls it, has been met with widespread support. “My campaign is gaining a lot of momentum,” says Swanson, “ with people with various political affiliations working hard to get me elected.” On Aug. 26 she held a campaign rally with over 200 people in attendance. And last night, Aug. 29, the Coalition of Progressive Electors (COPE) voted to not put a candidate forward in the by-election and support Swanson’s campaign for City Council instead.

 

When the allowable rent increase was raised there was such a backlash that Housing Minister Selina Robinson has said she is now considering keeping limiting rent increases to the rate of inflation.

 

“We have already seen what bold campaigning on behalf of working people can accomplish,” says Swanson. “The people who pushed back and said this can't happen are the same people who are inspired by the Rent Freeze campaign that is a central part of my bid for City Council.”

 

Swanson says the province can immediately mandate a 0% allowable rent increase for ongoing residential tenancies. “The BC NDP consistently criticized the BC Liberals for failing to act during this worsening housing crisis,” says Swanson. “Now they’re in power and we have to push our friends to do what’s necessary: a complete freeze on rent increases.”
 

Furthermore, Swanson says, the City of Vancouver’s existing powers to expand the Tenant Relocation and Protection Policy could institute a rent freeze for units undergoing a renovation.

 

Though the RTA controls evictions to some extent, landlords can legally evict tenants by renovating rental units, a phenomenon popularly known as “renovictions”. They can then raise the rents beyond the allowable increase when the tenant returns.

 

But the City has the power to undermine that incentive. “Rents could and should be tied to the unit and not the tenant,” says Swanson. In Vancouver, a building permit, and in some cases a development permit, is required by City bylaws for almost all work that would necessitate tenants vacating their rental units. Therefore, the City has the power to eliminate the incentive for landlords to evict tenants by requiring, as a condition of issuing building permits, building owners maintain rents at existing levels after work is completed.

 

“A complete freeze on rents is dismissed as impractical but that’s simply untrue,” says Swanson. “It’s a matter of political will. Both the Province and the City could do it. And, with rents still increasing despite being already too high for the vast majority of people, they need to act now.”