'It's come to a crisis point': New Westminster brings in strong rules against 'renovictions'

New Westminster is bringing in the strongest protection in the Lower Mainland against so-called renovictions.

New bylaw approved by city council this week to give tenants better protection

The bylaw aims to stop landlords from evicting tenants because of minor renovations and then upping the rent. (David Horemans/CBC)

New Westminster, B.C., is bringing in the strongest protection in the Lower Mainland against so-called renovictions.

City council approved a bylaw on Monday evening that stops landlords from evicting tenants under the guise of renovations and then increasing the rent.

Landlords caught doing so could be fined up to $1,000 a day and lose their business licences.

"The city really has seen an increasing problem with renovictions in our community," said New Westminster Mayor Jonathan Coté.

"It's come to a crisis point."

In the last few years alone, he estimates that roughly 300 rental units have been evicted for the purpose of renovations.

"We found that in a lot of the evictions taking place, the renovation were merely cosmetic and hardly any of them actually required the tenant to leave," he told Stephen Quinn, the host of CBC's The Early Edition.

More power to regulate

The business and licensing program aims to address this by giving the city more regulatory power when it comes to evictions.

Landlords will have to demonstrate to the city that the renovations make the building unlivable before asking a tenant to leave.

Things like changing a cabinet or minor renovations to a bathroom will no longer cut it, Coté said.

New Westminster is far from the only city in the province struggling with rental housing problems.

The B.C. Rental Housing Task Force was put together last year to advise the government about how to improve protection and fairness for renters.

Coté said New Westminster "couldn't wait any longer" for solutions, which is why city staff started looking at alternatives.

David Hutniak, chief executive officer of Landlord B.C., says the new bylaw doesn't address the real problem: a shortage of rental housing on the market. (David Horemans/CBC)

Shortage of housing

But according David Hutniak, chief executive officer of Landlord B.C., the bylaw doesn't get to the heart of the problem.

"The real issue that we face in this province, frankly, is the fact we have a chronic shortage of purpose-built rental housing," he said.

"That's what needs to be addressed."

He pointed to a lack of policies and incentives from all levels of government to encourage more secure, purpose-built housing as a bigger problem than renovictions.  

Mayor Coté said the protection against renovictions is just one policy the city is putting forward. They are also looking at incentive packages like tax exemptions that encourage both investment in buildings and increasing housing density.

"You need a carrot-and-stick approach," he said. "We need to make sure that running a rental building is a financially viable thing to do in our community."

New Westminster is bringing in the strongest protection against renovictions in the Lower Mainland for renters. 9:09

With files from The Early Edition

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