Vancouver renters propose big changes to how B.C. treats tenants

The dreaded annual rent increase. Getting the boot so your landlord’s brother can move in. Finding a decent place to live in the first place.

These woes are all too familiar to the more than 50 per cent of Vancouverites who rent their homes in a town where the vacancy rate hovers at a wretched one per cent.

But the city hopes to address some of the problems with a new report on how to fix B.C.’s renter system governed by the Residential Tenancy Act. Suggestions include basic technology upgrades, closing rent increase loopholes, tougher fines on dishonest landlords, extended notice before evictions and special protection for low-income renters in single-room occupancy hotels.

Created by the newly minted Renters’ Advisory Committee, the report’s recommendations won’t automatically be adopted by the province or the city, but the authors hope it’s a starting place for advocacy to strengthen protection for renters.

It recommends finally allowing renters and landlords to legally communicate by email. This would solve befuddling problems such as a landlord not being legally required to return a tenant’s security deposit if they are asked via email, but having to return the cash if a tenant asks via fax machine.

It suggests closing the loophole that allows a landlord to increase the rent above the legal maximum (two per cent plus inflation) by insisting tenants sign fixed-term leases instead of allowing them to go month to month.

It advocates for tough, minimum penalties for landlords that don’t go through the proper channels to evict a tenant. This aims to deter owners who claim to renovate so a family member can move in, but really just want to vacate the unit and advertise it at a higher rent.

“It should never be cheaper for a landlord to just ignore the law rather than follow it,” the report states. It also includes provisions for low-income tenants, adding it is sometimes cheaper to lock out low-income tenants and leave them homeless than go through the dispute resolution process.

If a landlord is genuinely evicting a tenant for renovations or a family member, the report suggests extending the notice to three months from two months in order to give the person time to find a new home in the overheated market.

It also suggests special protections for renters in single-room occupancy hotels largely concentrated in the Downtown Eastside. Borrowing a recommendation from the Carnegie Community Action Project, the report advocates that rental rates should be attached to a specific SRO room, not a tenant, to stop the rent from being jacked up once a person leaves.

Council will receive the report and discuss it next week.

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