On April 12 2018, the BC government announced amendments to the Residential Tenancy Act (the “RTA”). The government says that the aim of these amendments is to increase protections for tenants facing eviction due to renovations, repairs, or demolition. However, tenant advocates, Community Legal Assistance Society (CLAS) and Tenant Resource & Advisory Centre (TRAC), say that the changes will not provide meaningful protection for tenants across the province.
Under the RTA, a landlord can legally evict a tenant if they plan to undertake repairs or renovations in a rental unit that requires vacancy. But landlords often use this provision to evict existing tenants so that they can charge a much higher rent once renovations are complete. Not only does this practice lead to the loss of housing for individual tenants, but it also contributes to the massive loss of affordable housing across the province, especially in low-income areas.
“As we all know, the housing crisis is not simply the result of a lack of affordable housing stock, it is also a result of weak tenant protections in the legislation. Our new government promised to address the housing crisis for low-income families by introducing stronger protections for tenants facing such evictions, but these new legislative amendments fall very short of that goal,” says Danielle Sabelli, a CLAS lawyer. “We believe that increasing protections for tenants is fundamental to finding a way out of this housing crisis – which is a crisis for tenants, not landlords.”
Protecting tenants in this way can be addressed by amending the RTA to give tenants the ‘right of first refusal’ tied to the same rent, which is the law in other Canadian jurisdictions like Ontario—this ensures that if a landlord requires a rental property to be vacant for renovations or repairs, the existing tenant can return to the rental unit at the same rent. Although the amendments the BC government proposes will theoretically allow a tenant to move back into the rental unit once renovations are complete, landlords will still be able to increase the rent to whatever they want, which means many tenants will not be able to afford to return.
The government has also failed to increase compensation for tenants who are being evicted for the purposes of renovating, repairing, or demolishing the rental unit. Tenants who receive an eviction notice for renovations, repairs, or demolition are still only entitled to the equivalent of one month’s rent. In most cases, this will not offset the increased costs of securing new housing, including moving costs, security deposits/pet deposits, and rent.
“Today’s amendments are a small step in the right direction, but they don’t do nearly enough to address the rental housing crisis facing BC tenants. Most notably, the ‘right of first refusal’ in its current form, despite sounding positive, offers almost no increased benefit to tenants facing renovictions. We strongly urge the provincial government to increase compensation for tenants being displaced at no fault of their own due to renovations or demolitions and/or implement a more meaningful right of first refusal.” says Andrew Sakamoto, Executive Director of TRAC.
The Community Legal Assistance Society has been providing free legal services to marginalized British Columbians since 1971 in the areas of mental health, human rights, housing, income security, and workers’ rights. We have assisted tens of thousands of British Columbians over the years through law reform, test case litigation, systemic advocacy, delivery of public legal education, summary advice, workshops and representation of clients before administrative tribunals and the courts.
The Tenant Resource & Advisory Centre’s purpose is to promote the legal protection of residential tenants across British Columbia by providing information, education, support and research on residential tenancy matters. We provide legal education and information through our website, Tenant Infoline, online course, social media, multilingual resources and legal workshops.
Danielle Sabelli, Lawyer
Community Legal Assistance Society
Andrew Sakamoto, Executive Director
Tenant Resource & Advisory Centre
604-255-3099 ext. 222