Carol-Ann Lang’s longtime home has suddenly become embroiled in a larger debate.
For almost 36 years, Lang has lived at Manoa Yew, a Kitsilano apartment building where new landlords recently offered residents cash payouts to vacate their homes and allow for renovations. The situation at the Manoa Yew and other buildings recently acquired by the same landlords, as reported last week in The Vancouver Sun, has been cited by tenants’ advocates as an example of the need for tougher rules, as Vancouver council considers a motion this week intended to protect tenants from “renovictions and aggressive buyouts.”
Lang doesn’t approve of the tactics used by her new landlords, both at her building and others around town. But still, she believes parts of this week’s “anti-renoviction” motion go too far and could “cause more harm than good.”
Vancouver’s rental landscape is set for big change, with Coun. Jean Swanson’s anti-renoviction motion set to be debated by council Tuesday, and the B.C. government’s rental housing task force expected to deliver a report imminently recommending changes to residential tenancy legislation.
Anyone who’s a renter or a landlord — which is to say, most Vancouverites — has an interest in what happens next. And various stakeholders have a range of opinions about how far the municipal and provincial governments should go.
On one end is Swanson, who wants her motion passed in its entirety. Among other things, the motion calls for Vancouver to allow tenants to temporarily move out during renovations without their tenancies ending or rent increasing.
Advocates like Swanson say this could reduce the financial incentive which has driven a recent increase of “renovictions” in Vancouver. Senior city staff wrote, in a recent letter to the provincial government, that “one of the top concerns we hear is the risk of being evicted due to minor renovations to their unit or building, with the primary motive being to turn over the unit and increase rents up to new market levels.”
Lang’s building was bought in September by a B.C. company related to local firm VS Rentals. Within weeks of the building’s sale, Lang and her neighbours received offers of buyouts if they left their homes. Some residents said they felt pressured by the landlords’ employees to accept the buyouts and leave, rather than stay through renovations or temporarily vacate and return.
A representative of VS Rentals told the Sun last Wednesday the company planned to change its business model as it was becoming more difficult to get tenants to leave their homes and bring in new renters. On Monday, the company declined a request for a followup interview.
Two tenants at a West End building owned by the same landlords had been, since June, fighting a series of eviction notices after they refused buyouts. But one of the tenants, Sarah Mayer, said Monday: “Over the past few days, communication channels have finally opened up” with the landlords, adding “we’re hoping to resolve this dispute soon so that we can forego the ordeal of a second arbitration hearing and spend the holidays without worrying about our housing security.”
Lang doesn’t think renovictions should be part of a company’s business model. And she agrees with the first part of Swanson’s motion, proposing tenants should be allowed to return to renovated suites without rents increasing.
But, Lang said, this right has already been upheld in a B.C. Supreme Court decision earlier this year. That April decision, in favour of West End tenant Vivian Baumann, was cited in a May policy guideline from the Residential Tenancy Branch, stating a landlord cannot end a tenancy if the tenant is willing to temporarily vacate the unit during renovations or repairs, and then move back in once they are complete.
But the Baumann decision is now under appeal. And with the appeal’s outcome uncertain, Lang questioned the need for council to consider Swanson’s motion now.
Lang disagrees with other proposals in Swanson’s motion, like expanding the city’s Tenant Relocation and Protection Policy and requiring landlords to provide compensation to displaced tenants. Extending that policy from purpose-built rentals (like Lang’s current home) to include secondary rentals (like basement suites and rented condos) could make homeowners decide it’s not worth the hassle of renting out their basement, she said.
“That’s completely unrealistic,” Lang said. “Adding more cumbersome regulation is only going to take more units off of the market.”
David Hutniak, CEO of LandlordBC, agreed the secondary market — estimated to make up more than half of Vancouver’s rental housing — “would be even more challenged by these changes.”
Swanson’s motion also asks Vancouver’s council to “immediately and forcefully call” on the B.C. government for “effective vacancy controls,” meaning maximum rent increases are tied to the unit, not the tenant.
Lang and Hutniak agreed the “vacancy control” proposal would have unintended consequences of reducing the stock of rental housing, a point which advocates like Swanson have disputed.
On Monday, Hutniak said: “Council needs to hit pause and take the time to do an in-depth analysis of the unintended consequences.”
Hutniak then added one observation upon which everyone — from Swanson to Lang to every other stakeholder across that spectrum — might find agreement: “The stakes are very high.”
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