Big city complaints about renovictions have crept into the smaller B.C. community of Vernon.
The issue has some calling for more government action to clamp down on the practice of using renovations as an excuse to evict tenants and raise rents.
Calls for Change
Tenant Keven Hogan believes laws should change to protect other renters from the practice.
The Vernon man is staying with a friend and struggling to find a new place to live after he was forced out of his previous unit when the landlord wanted to renovate.
He believes he was renovicted, an allegation his landlord denies.
Hogan isn’t alone in facing evictions or calling for action.
Vernon legal advocate Tish Lakes, who regularly advises tenants, said since the area has seen “the crunch of the tight vacancy rates,” there has been an increase in many types of evictions — including evictions for the sake of renovations.
The issue also caught the attention of a provincial rental task force.
Chaired by NDP MLA Spencer Chandra Herbert, its number one recommendation when it presented its findings in December 2018 was for a ban on renovictions.
The province’s housing ministry says it’s made a number of changes, including increases to the amount of notice landlords are required to give when evicting tenants for renovations and giving tenants more time to challenge the eviction.
However, it concedes more changes are needed.
“We’ve made a start, but we know there is more work to do,” said the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing.
“We’re reviewing the recommendation of the Rental Housing Task Force, and our focus now is on the recommendations around taking further action against renovictions.”
This ministry did not make anyone available for an interview on this issue.
Industry group LandlordBC agrees that in many cases, evictions are not needed for renovations.
“When a landlord is looking to upgrade their building unfortunately there are times where ending tenancies is required.”
The head of the professional association cautions it’s not reasonable to expect tenants will be able to move into newly renovated units and not pay more.
“We live in a rent controlled environment to start with and if they wish to have our industry continue to invest in improving and enhancing rental buildings, that is just simply not economically viable for us,” Hutniak said.
Too challenging to challenge evictions?
In Hogan’s case, he filed paperwork at a Service BC office to challenge his eviction and waited almost two months for his Residential Tenancy Branch hearing which was scheduled just nine days before his eviction date.
He ended up losing the case because the arbitrator found he didn’t file the dispute paperwork on time.
“It’s not conducive to the tenant,” said Hogan of the process.
“There is so much paperwork and bureaucratic stuff.”
The province did not directly respond to a question about whether the eviction dispute process is too difficult for tenants to navigate.
However, it said it has created a website to provide tenants with information about renovictions, among other issues.
Lakes believes more arbitrators should be hired so tenants don’t have to wait till the last minute for a decision on their case.
The province said it is spending millions more on the Residential Tenancy Branch — an investment, the housing ministry said, that has already reduced wait times.
Hogan questions why he was allowed to pay the $100 filing fee, which he couldn’t afford, and file the paperwork to challenge his eviction, if he was past the filing deadline.
The provincial ministry that oversees Service BC said it can’t comment on specific cases for privacy reasons.
It said Service BC staff don’t provide advice to clients on specific cases as they “don’t have access to individual files and are not adjudicators of this process.”
1.9 % Vacancy Rate
Rather than tinker with the minutia of rental laws, some believe the solution is simply more available housing.
The latest data from the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation shows purpose-built rental apartments in Vernon had a vacancy rate of just 1.9 per cent in October 2019.
“As soon as you get more vacancy, a lot of these others problems start to diminish,” said Lakes.
“Part of the leadership there has to come from the federal government, they have the big dollars.”
On that front, the province said it’s working to help get more than 114,000 homes built in the span of 10 years, while an expert panel has been convened to make recommendations to the federal government on how to address B.C.’s tight housing market.