Recommendations to the Rental Housing Task Force

CLAS staff Danielle Sabelli and Samrah Mian made submissions to the recently established BC Rental Housing Task Force, including four recommendations to protect and enhance Tenants' rights. The full submission including recommendations can be found here.

To the Rental Housing Task Force,

Re: Final Submissions from Community Legal Assistance Society (CLAS)

To begin, we are thankful for this opportunity to provide our input on our organization’s priorities for change in the rental housing context, however, we would be remiss if we did not emphasize the importance of continued, ongoing dialogue regarding housing priorities for tenants. Moreover, including the voices of indigenous communities and marginalized individuals is a vital component to ensuring the housing system in British Columbia operates inclusively, fairly, and effectively, and we believe that there is more work to be done by the government to bring these voices to the table.

For the last 47 years, CLAS has provided legal services to low income and other disadvantaged people living across the province, specializing in housing, income security, workers’ rights, mental health and human rights. We provide both service work, such as legal advice and representation within all of our programs, and systemic work on broader legal issues and legal reform that will assist our clients over the long-term. Although CLAS provides services in a variety of legal areas, housing issues continue to be a large portion of our work. Given the exceptionally high volume of evictions encountered by our office, we are uniquely positioned to identify the systemic barriers to secure, adequate housing affecting low-income and vulnerable people.

In making the recommendations that follow, we must emphasize that this is a housing crisis for tenants, not landlords and developers. This crisis is reflective of a system wherein property rights are secured and maintained, while the welfare, security and safety of tenants is degraded and dismantled. This is evidenced through the submissions provided to the Rental Housing Task Force from organizations representing landlords and developers. In reviewing the various submissions from these groups, their priorities are primarily focused on preserving the current law and/or implementing changes that allow them to secure a further economic advantage. Comparatively, the priorities outlined by organizations representing tenants include significant and substantive legal change and reform aimed at increasing housing security and protection. This difference between the two positions cannot go unnoticed—landlords and developers appear to be satisfied with the status quo, while tenants are calling for meaningful change. While striving to balance our tenancy laws to ensure safe, secure and affordable housing is laudable, the government cannot begin this work when the current situation exemplifies imbalance. Tenants’ rights must first be protected and then enhanced in order to meet the government’s ambitions. Only then can we begin a conversation premised on balance.

For any meaningful change to occur in this context, tenant protections and housing security need to be strengthened through the prevention of unjust and unmerited loss of individual housing and affordable housing stock. This must also include the creation of a fair and meaningful dispute resolution process. Above all, the housing needs and interests of marginalized people who are homeless or in danger of being homeless must be understood as a top priority. The impacts of homelessness on the lives of this population are particularly complex and significantly compound the barriers and challenges they may already face. You will find our priorities and recommendations appended to this letter.

The new government has pledged to alleviate the rental crisis, to strengthen tenant protections and to bolster the services provided by the Residential Tenancy Branch. In order to make good on these promises, sweeping reforms as outlined in our priorities and recommendations are required in order to rectify the harm that has been experienced by tenants across the province.

Yours truly,

Danielle Sabelli, Barrister and Solicitor
Samrah Mian, Intake Coordinator

Enclosure: Residential Tenancy Recommendations and Priorities

Full submissions including recommendations.