British Columbia

Crown land renters facing astronomical increases as B.C. property values soar

After the value of the Crown land under their Squamish-area home increased 180 per cent, Alice Savage and Claude Potvin saw their rent also increase by 180 per cent.

People living on Crown land are not protected by the province's annual allowable rent increase cap

North Lake is located on the Sunshine Coast of B.C. near Egmont. (submitted by Rick Craig)

Most renters can rest assured that British Columbia's skyrocketing property values won't render their home unaffordable overnight, with the province capping rent increases at 1.5 per cent in 2022

But that's not the case for Alice Savage, Claude Potvin and their two children.

The family has lived on a Crown residential lease property in the Paradise Valley near Squamish for close to a decade, paying the government annual rent at the set rate of five per cent of the assessed land value.

The problem is the province's rent cap does not apply to Crown land rent; Crown lands refer to land owned by the federal or provincial governments. So this year when their property soared 180 per cent in assessed value, it instantly triggered a 180 per cent rent hike.

In real dollars, that means the couple's rent has gone from $9,590 in 2021 to $26,932 in 2022.

"We're a tenant of the government ... and it's scary," said Savage. "Compared to the 1.5 per cent increase allowed for the rest of the population of B.C., this is absurd [and] unacceptable."

Savage and Potvin would like to see a system that makes Crown rent increases incremental and predictable.

Private members bill

So would West Vancouver–Sea to Sky MLA Jordan Sturdy, who has introduced a private members bill proposing that Crown land be treated like every other rental property in B.C.

"If limits are placed on landlords around the province in terms of the rents ... then I don't understand why the province doesn't hold itself to the same standard," said Sturdy.

"The simple approach to resolving this and providing certainty to people who in some cases have lived on these properties for many, many years ... is that residential rents cannot be increased beyond the [Consumer Price Index]," he said.

Sturdy said he knows of 20 Squamish Valley residents who are struggling with Crown rent increases. 

"They entered the circumstances, I hope, eyes wide open," he said. "But I don't think anyone anticipated that land values would increase so much, that B.C. Assessment would value the land like they have and ultimately affect the ability for people to stay in their homes."

The same issues are playing out at tiny North Lake near Egmont on the Sunshine Coast. There, property values roughly doubled last year, threatening to force out longtime, elderly residents who moved to the rural community for its affordability.

"What that means is some people on fixed incomes are looking at a doubling of their rent. And some, of course, are going to have difficulty affording that," said Rick Craig, president of the North Lake Residents Association. 

Lease renewal backlog

Making matters worse, said Craig, is that a number of residents have been without a valid lease for two or three years because the renewals are stuck in a government backlog. 

"So the problem is that if somebody can't afford to pay a 100 per cent rent increase, they can't even sell the property because they don't have the lease, right? So they're kind of stuck between a rock and a hard place. And government is saying it might take another year or two for them to get these particular leases," he said.

Many North Lake residents have appealed their B.C. Assessment. For his part, Craig questions why Crown land is being assessed according to market value. 

"I can't rent the place out. I can't cut trees on the property. I don't have the freedom to do what I could if I owned the land. And yet, at the same time, government charges rent as if it was freehold land," said Craig.

One year ago when the issue was brought up in the B.C. Legislative Assembly, Forestry, Lands and Resources Minister Katrine Conroy said her ministry was looking into it.