A Vancouver city councillor says it’s time for the city to revise its bylaws to let groups of tenants take advantage of large houses that are being returned to the market.
It comes as some massive Vancouver-area homes are becoming subject to Vancouver’s Empty Homes Tax and the province’s Speculation and Vacancy Tax.
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Those big houses also carry big tax burdens, leaving owners with the choice to sell, pay, or alternatively, to find renters.
A quick look at Vancouver’s Craigslist page shows that dozens of such homes are listed in the Metro Vancouver area.
But there are few single families who can manage the $7,000 monthly rent for a six-bedroom home. A group of renters, on the other hand, is a different matter.
“If you divide that among 10 people it may even be more affordable than rents for a one bedroom,” said Non-Partisan Association (NPA) Coun. Melissa De Genova.
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However, there’s a catch. Group rentals of this nature would actually violate City of Vancouver bylaws dating back to 1956.
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While those bylaws aren’t actively enforced, De Genova said it’s time to give them a second look.
“That includes a bylaw that defines what a family is, that it has to be five people that are related either by marriage, adoption or blood, or two unrelated adults and a child. I think it is important that we do update those bylaws, including the bylaw that proscribes currently that more than five women can’t live together,” she said.
“People can use these bylaws, unfortunately, just as they can with collective homes, to end tenancies, to evict people and not to pay tenant relocation fees if they’ve been renting to tenants long term.”
De Genova adds that rewriting those bylaws will be a complex process, and that the city needs to be able to draw a line between collective houses and boarding houses — for-profit enterprises that “warehouse” tenants and often violate city codes.
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Supporters of the tax measures say they will bring exactly these types of rentals onto the market.
But not everyone is convinced. Prof. Andrey Pavlov with SFU’s Beedie School of Business says the city’s own budget projections show the tax isn’t working.
“If that was supposed to improve affordability, it would put homes on the market so there would be fewer vacant homes, and that tax would be expected to decline,” he said.
City of Vancouver figures show that with the tax in place, the number of empty homes in the city dropped by 15 per cent — or 160 properties.
“Is that better than nothing? Yes,” said Pavlov. “But that pales in comparison to the huge backlog they have in city hall of people who want to build stuff.”
As for groups of mansion-dwelling students and renters, they’ll likely still look to stay under the radar until the city reviews the grey areas around collective living situations.