Housing advocates and members of the BC General Employees’ Union (BCGEU) are calling on the provincial government to do more to protect tenants.
“Our union is here to call on our provincial government to amend the Residential Tenancy Act to implement vacancy control now,” said Stephanie Smith, the president of the BCGEU, on Wednesday.
Vacancy control is a form of rent control that ties rent increases to the housing unit, rather than a tenancy agreement. This limits how much rent can be increased when a tenant moves out.
Those in support believe the policy would remove the financial incentive to evict tenants.
“We have seen landlords uproot families from their homes for reasons such as wanting somewhere to store a single cardboard box, or wanting more garage space for their motorcycle,” said Emma White, with the Together Against Poverty Society.
“We hear from people all across the province that people are scared that they’re not going to be able to stay in their homes,” added Sacia Burton from the BC Poverty Reduction Coalition.
But not everyone thinks vacancy control is the answer. Some argue those rent increases are needed to pay for necessary upgrades to older buildings.
In a statement to CHEK News, David Hutniak, the CEO of Landlord BC, said it would actually be harmful to renters and communities, as it would result in a “degradation of the quality of existing rental housing and the supply of new rental housing.”
“If rent is tied to the unit the ability for a rental owner to ensure necessary upgrades, including seismic and energy efficiency standards are completed to aging buildings, is severely compromised,” he added. “Furthermore, rental home builders and the pension funds who provide the necessary financing for this new construction confirm that vacancy control would be the death knell for rental home construction in B.C.”
In 2018, the provincial government created a Rental Housing Task Force to better understand what further changes may be needed to modernize the province’s tenancy laws.
In a statement, B.C. Housing Minister Ravi Kahlon said the task force “carefully considered the issue of vacancy controls and ultimately determined that it would have the unintended consequence of reducing affordable rental stock. The task force, after consulting with renters and rental housing providers, did not recommend implementing vacancy control in its 2018 report to government.”
But advocates believe those concerns are only myths.
“In fact, what we see is a stabilizing of rental situations and a generation of positive participation of renters in the economy because they’re no longer paying more than 50 per cent of their income to rent,” said Kari Michaels, the executive vice president of the BCGEU.
While vacancy control may not be on the province’s radar now, advocates are determined to keep their voices raised for change until everyone has a home they can afford.