Vancouver approves vacancy control on single-room accommodation

Vancouver's Downtown Eastside is home to many of the city's single-room accomodations. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward

Landlords of single-room accommodation (SRA) housing in Vancouver are now limited on how much they can increase rent for a unit when a tenant leaves.

City council voted 10–1 Wednesday evening to approve a vacancy control motion that largely ties rents to the unit, rather than the tenant.

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The motion states that when a tenant leaves, SRA landlords will only be able to increase rent at the rate of inflation if the unit is $500 a month or more, or at the inflation rate plus five per cent if rent is less than $500.

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The increase rates were recommended by city staff in a report to council. Some advocates and tenants had been pushing for stricter options, including a proposal where no rent increase would be allowed when a tenant leaves.

Still, those who had been pushing for SRA vacancy control for years consider council’s decision a major victory.

For many, SRA housing is the last option before homelessness and removing landlord incentives to push long-term residents out while banning spikes in rent is expected to help keep people off of the streets.

“The SROs (SRAs) aren’t good housing, but they are better than tents and umbrellas”, Coun. Jean Swanson said.

“We need to stop the loss of housing that’s affordable to low-income people to prevent more homelessness. We’re not building nearly enough social housing to meet the need.”

The one dissenting vote came from Coun. Melissa De Genova, who did not come out strongly against the motion, but ultimately chose not to support it because of concerns over enforcement.

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For landlords worried about bringing in less revenue amid rapidly rising property values, the staff report pointed to options through the province, where they can receive exemptions to issue larger rental increases if they incur major or unexpected expenses.

To further assuage landlord concerns, an amendment was added to the motion asking Mayor Kennedy Stewart to urge the federal government to bring back a program that helps landlords pay for necessary repairs.

There is also a funding request attached to the motion for about $500,000 to implement the new bylaw, which will be up for approval when the city finalizes its budget in December.

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