As Dan Garrison acknowledges, Vancouver is a city of renters, but discussions and debates about affordability in the city more often focus on the high costs of homeownership in the city rather than the problems renters face finding affordable housing or discussions of their rights in the face of escalating rental costs and attempts to evict them from their homes. And initiatives to make housing more affordable are unevenly implemented.
In recent years, one initiative has been the provincial government’s 2018 “rental-only” zoning legislation. The legislation was heralded by housing minister Selina Robinson as “a powerful tool to deliver homes people can afford,” and it is being upheld by both judicial levels. The legislation gives municipalities the power to zone properties for rental-only developments, and it gives them the power to ensure that existing rental properties cannot be torn down or redeveloped for another use, such as high-priced condos. The legislation is potentially powerful, but, to date, it has only been used by New Westminster, which used it to create a limited rental-only zone to protect existing rental buildings from being knocked down.
In February 2019, New Westminster passed a renoviction bylaw to prevent landlords from increasing rents by evicting tenants under the guise of renovations. The bylaw survived a legal challenge in both levels of provincial court. On April 30, 2021, the BC Court of Appeal unanimously upheld a previous ruling by the BC Supreme Court, which decided in favour of the bylaw. The court protected renters, rejecting a challenge by a private limited company that sought to evict all residents of a circa 1959, twenty-one-unit building.
Vancouver has not taken advantage of the rental-only zoning legislation. But on June 11, 2019, Vancouver City Council did amend the Tenant Relocation and Protection Policy and took other actions to protect renters forced out of rentals units due to redevelopment. The new measures include changes to how tenants should be notified and how much they should be compensated. Rather than two months’ notice, everyone must now be given four, and compensation is based on the length of tenancy: six months = two months’ rent, one to five years = four months’ rent, and so on.
In general, though, the Residential Tenancy Act governs rental agreements, which are signed as a business contract between the tenant-renter and the landlord. The legislation lays out certain rights for tenants:
- Creating an inspection report with your landlord that details the state of the property when you move in and will be used when you move out to determine how much of your security deposit your landlord can keep.
- Receiving a fair evaluation of your Residential Rental Application and being treated fairly by your landlord (and any staff) while you’re renting.
- The right to not be charged more for a security deposit than is allowed by law.
- The right to occupy the property without being unreasonably disturbed by the landlord, property manager, staff, or other tenants.
- Protection from unauthorized rent increases or evictions.
Landlords must keep the rental unit in a condition of repair that complies with health, housing, and safety standards and do emergency repairs without delay. Tenants must keep the rental unit clean and sanitary; repair any damages they cause; and inform the landlord in writing of needed repairs.
A landlord can legally renovict if upgrades must be done to make a suite habitable and if there is no possibility that a tenant could remain living in the suite during the repairs. In compensation for the inconvenience, renters get right of first refusal to move back in at a fair market rental rate. They are also entitled to the equivalent of one month’s rent. Renters who have lived for twenty years in the same suite should be paid one years’ rent (at the current rental rate). Tenants who have been in the same suite for forty years should be paid two years’ rent.
As my personal story illustrates, an illegal renoviction has taken place if these conditions have not been met and if the landlord has failed to get the necessary permits. In these cases, disputes are taken to the Dispute Resolution and the Residential Tenancy Branch, where the tenant files a form.
Tenants who decide to dispute an eviction claim have a number of resources available to them:
- Tenant Resource and Advisory Centre (TRAC). TRAC is a non-profit organization that provides free legal education, representation, and advocacy on residential tenancy matters. A leader in tenants’ rights since 1984, TRAC’s mandate is to enhance legal protections for all tenants living in British Columbia.
- City of Vancouver Permit Search. This resource allows tenants to search by address to see whether the renoviction is legal. If it is not, they can fill out a complaint form and get a “stop-work order.” The landlord will be fined.
- Community Legal Assistance Services (CLAS). CLAS provides legal assistance and addresses the critical needs of those who are disadvantaged or face discrimination.
- MLAs. In my case, my MLA was the attorney general and minister responsible for housing. His constituency office workers were extremely helpful, guiding me through the process of “staying put.”
- Expert Opinion. If the landlord claims the building requires maintenance, tenants can get a second opinion in writing and ensure that the person is willing to stand by their invoice by testifying at an eviction hearing with the Residential Tenancy Branch.
- Patrick Condon, “We Could Zone Whole Areas for Rental Only. Why Don’t We?” The Tyee, January 25, 2021, https://thetyee.ca/Analysis/2021/01/25/Rental-Only-Zoning-Areas/. ↵
- “B.C. Court of Appeal Upholds New Westminster’s Anti-Renoviction Bylaw: City of New Westminster Hopes the Ruling Will Give Other Municipalities Confidence to Strengthen Their Own Bylaws,” CBC, May 4, 2021, https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/british-columbia/renoviction-new-west-2021-appeal-1.6012790 ↵
- Vancouver City Council, “Vancouver Relocation and Protection Policy: Housing Vancouver Strategy,” amended June 11, 2019, https://vancouver.ca/files/cov/tenant-relocation-and-protection-policy-amended-june-11-2019.pdf. ↵
- https://www2.gov.bc.ca/gov/content/housing-tenancy/residential-tenancies/calculators-and-resources/quick-tips-for-landlords-tenants ↵
- BC Government, “Dispute Resolution,” https://www2.gov.bc.ca/gov/content/housing-tenancy/residential-tenancies/solving-problems/dispute-resolution ↵
- https://tenants.bc.ca/ ↵
- https://plposweb.vancouver.ca/Public/Default.aspxPossePresentation=PermitSearchByAddress ↵
- https://clasbc.net/ ↵