Eviction of hundreds from B.C. RV park prompts call for clarity on tenancy rules
Advocates say mobile home parks provide affordable housing and are in high demand
Advocates say the province needs clearer rules and rights for the people who live in RV and manufactured home parks, after hundreds of people in Surrey, B.C., were given notice to leave their RV lots by May.
A lawyer for the Peace Arch RV Park say the owners didn't know about a Surrey bylaw that forbids recreational RV sites from having guests for longer than 182 days. Many of the residents are seniors and have lived there for years.
Paul Lagace, a coordinator at the Employed Action Centre in Prince Rupert, says he has noticed an increased number of these types of cases as more people live in RVs as an affordable form of housing.
"It's a serious poverty issue," Lagace said. "And it just shows you the nature of rental markets out of control across B.C."
The Peace Arch RV Park's decision follows a ruling from the province's Residential Tenancy Branch for 16 residents who filed a complaint seeking to clarify their status as tenants or licensees.
Despite some of the complainants having lived at the park for as long as 12 years, the RTB said they are not covered by the Manufactured Home Park Tenancy Act, and as such have no rights as tenants.
'That's what makes it crazy'
Lagace and other people who specialize in manufactured home parks say the rules and rights for long-term residents aren't always clear and depend on myriad conditions that tenants and landlords aren't always aware of. These include GST on monthly fees, a frost-free water hookup and ongoing yard maintenance.
The ambiguity is partly caused by the fact that many residents at places like Peace Arch are living full-time in their RVs, which they have established as permanent residences that function more like a manufactured home.
But places like Peace Arch were meant for tourists, and weren't necessarily established or zoned for permanent residents. They are essentially hotels that are being used as homes because of the housing crisis.
Even RTB adjudicators sometimes interpret the same situations differently, Lagace says, based on his experience defending multiple residents of a now-closed site in northern B.C.
"This could go to a different arbitrator and there could be a different decision — that's what makes it crazy," he said.
Al Kemp, executive director of the Manufactured Home Park Owners Alliance of B.C., says there is ambiguity around long-term residents regardless of their type of accommodation.
"If I'd been in the RV park for three months, is that a manufactured home or is that a recreational vehicle?" Kemp said.
Lagace says the Manufactured Home Park Act was developed in 2004 and needs to be updated because so much has changed since then — namely, the cost of housing and the number of people depending on RV and manufactured home parks.
Some changes that the NDP government implemented last year have benefited those who qualify as tenants, he says, but complicated matters for those who don't.
The changes make it more difficult and costly for RV and manufactured home parks to evict people, Lagace says, and as a result, many parks are hesitant to have residents qualify as tenants.
Phil Dougan, lawyer for the Peace Arch RV Park, says he recommended his client not apply to become a manufactured home park because it would be a "legal quagmire" and a "bad business decision."
"You're never going to get the return on investment and you're never gonna be able to change the zoning after that," Dougan said.
Much-needed affordable housing
Kemp says mobile homes are a greatly-needed form of affordable housing that provide privacy, home ownership and independence.
There are about 900 manufactured home parks across B.C., he says, but in crowded markets like the Lower Mainland, availability is virtually nil. And some municipalities across B.C., like Surrey, have restricted people from sleeping in RVs overnight on city streets.
Others say manufactured home parks in those areas are closing because the land is more valuable for denser housing options like condos. In the case of Peace Arch RV Park, the site sits on Agricultural Land Reserve and it can't be developed.
Lagace says he would like to see cities build RV parks for the rising number of people who can only afford to live in mobile homes — much like the City of Vancouver has built modular housing for the homeless.
"It makes sense," he said. "That would be a great idea."