British Columbia

Advocates demand better rental protections in 'out of whack' Vancouver market

The B.C. Tenant Resource & Advisory Centre wants to see better protection against legal "renovictions" and vacate clauses.

'What we've seen over the past half year are tenants being increasingly pressured out of their housing'

Advocates say landlords are increasingly resorting to "renovictions" and vacate clauses to evict their current tenants and raise rents. (Abby Schneider/CBC)

Although there are more renters than homeowners in Vancouver, discussions about affordability have tended to focus on how to make home ownership more affordable in British Columbia.

That conversation needs to shift to how to make the city more affordable for renters, said Andrew Sakamoto, executive director of B.C.'s Tenant Resource and Advisory Centre.

"A much larger proportion of the population [rents]. Even if you are a homeowner, your children are most likely going to have to rent," he said.

Sakamoto, speaking to Stephen Quinn on CBC's The Early Edition, said he has seen instances of bidding wars for apartment rentals and examples of landlords resorting to loopholes — like vacate clauses and renovictions — to increase rent.

"What we've seen over the past half year are tenants being increasingly pressured out of their housing."

Vacate clauses

Vacate clauses are attached to one-year, fixed term leases where a tenant says they will vacate by the end of the term, he explained.

A landlord is then free to seek out a new tenant at a new rental price.

"What often happens though is that they say to the existing tenant, you can stay, but you're going to have to sign a brand new tenancy agreement, with brand new terms including rent at whatever I want it to be," he said.            

Sakamoto said this circumvents the rent controls within the B.C. Residential Tenancy Act, and landlords often avoid fulfilling other duties.

"Typically at the end of a tenancy, the security deposit is returned. The locks are rekeyed for the new tenant. You do a move-out condition and inspection report," he said.

"In these cases, none of those things typically happen."

Landlords should have to apply for notice before renovictions

Another major problem is when landlords issue a two-month eviction notice, but the landlord doesn't follow through on what they said they were going to do, he explained.

For example, he said, some renters move out only to see their suite listed online for a higher price.

Sakamoto said tenants can challenge their landlord if this occurs — and get two months' rent as compensation — but only if they put in the time and effort to pursue a claim.

One way to eliminate landlords acting in bad faith, he said, is for the provincial government to reverse the onus: make landlords have to apply for the notice from the Residential Tenancy Branch.

"[They would] show them the permits that they have, explain to them the nature of the renovations and show that they are extensive enough to require vacant possession."

Landlords would be able to obtain a notice only after proving this, he added.

'Out of whack' rental market

Sakamoto said his group has hesitated to speak out about these schemes in the past lest it inspire other landlords to copy these tactics.

"But it's sort of hit that tipping point where we feel like we do have to speak publicly against it," he said.

"What we need to remember, as a society, that housing at its core should be about housing people," he added.

"That balance is a little out of whack right now."

With files from The Early Edition

To hear the interview, click on the link labelled More protection for renters needed in Vancouver's hot rental housing market, tenant advocate