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After baby’s birth prompts rent increase, B.C. dad wants more guidelines in place

Click to play video: '‘Troubling situation’: Nanaimo couple faces rent hike due to new baby'
‘Troubling situation’: Nanaimo couple faces rent hike due to new baby
A Nanaimo couple is facing a rent hike because of an additional occupant in their home - a baby. But as Christa Dao reports, a government minister calls this a "troubling situation" which he promises to investigate with an eye to possible changes in legislation – Mar 24, 2022

When Patrick Marston moved into his new Nanaimo, B.C., home with his wife, daughter and dog in the summer of 2018, he didn’t know they would be adding to their family 2.5 years later.

Their second daughter was born in December 2020, and the family stayed in the home on a month-to-month lease, paying $1,100 plus hydro.

More than a year later, he said he received a surprising email.

“Last week, we received an email from the landlord stating that our rent would be increasing by $100 a month because of the addition of (our child) to the household,” Marston told Global News.

He said he started investigating their rights as renters and found there wasn’t much protection around rent increases involving an additional occupant.

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“I’m not trying to rag on my landlord here — she’s a pensioner, not a villain. Inflation hurts everybody,” he said.

“For my take, we have a government that professes to be having the back of renters and working families and this seems like an easy win to bring in some guidelines and protect people here.

“Increasing rent for an additional occupant has no restrictions. The landlord can impose on short notice, any amount of money they want that’s included in the lease agreement.”

And in the current rental market, he added, there aren’t many choices out there if you want to move to a more affordable home.

Under the Residential Tenancy Act, a landlord may include restrictions in a rental agreement about additional occupants as long as these terms “aren’t discriminatory or clearly unfair.”

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It states a landlord cannot charge a fee for guests, but they can raise the rent due to additional occupants if the agreement includes a term allowing the rent “to vary by a stated amount based on the number of occupants or the parties all agree to sign a new tenancy agreement.”

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The act recommends landlords and tenants discuss the addition of roommates to the tenancy agreement so they are clear about the terms.

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“It’s to ensure that the cost that can be incurred by having someone else additional living in the unit can be covered by an agreed-upon amount,” Hunter Boucher, director of operations with LandlordBC, said.

He said it’s included in the tenancy agreement at the time of signing.

“This clause is meant to allow a landlord to recoup those additional costs in terms of wear and tear and utility usage that might occur from an additional person living in the unit. There is no restrictions on age in that part of the tenancy act itself,” Boucher said.

This part of the act falls outside the standard annual rent increase, which is 1.5 per cent this year. The Marstons’ increase is about nine per cent, but it’s the first hike they’ve had since moving in almost four years ago.

“Certainly, the amount is supposed to be a reasonable amount, so landlords setting that amount should consider what their costs are and make sure it is tied to that. But short of that, there’s no requirement for an actual hard limit in the legislation,” Boucher added.

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Marston said he does not blame the landlord for raising the rent, but wanted to speak out about the government needing to make changes around rent increases for additional occupants, including guidelines for age restrictions, who counts as an additional occupant, how much notice has to be given, and if the landlord has to show there has been damage to justify the increase.

“I’d recommend reading over the act and letting your MLA know what you think about this,” he said.

“I’m sympathetic to landlords wanting to have some control over how many people are in the unit and guarding their property against party properties, that sort of thing.

“My problem isn’t with landlords, it’s with the Residential Tenancy Act.”

Andrew Sakamoto, executive director of the Tenant Resource and Advisory Centre, said whether a one-year-old does count as an “occupant” is a little unclear as the act does not clearly state any rules around age or dependents.

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He said the occupant could go to the Residential Tenancy Branch and dispute the raise if they wanted.

“It’s a bit of the grey area,” Sakamoto added.

The key for renters will be in the agreement they sign at the beginning of the lease, he said.

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In a statement to Global News, Attorney General David Eby said it is difficult to judge an increase in this case without knowing all the details, but said, “Landlords and tenants should try to establish relationships built on transparency and trust, and it seems bizarre that having a child would be understood by anyone as being an event that would increase your rent or cost you your home.

“We will look at provincial law and policy to consider whether amendments are required to address this apparently novel and troubling situation.”

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— with files from Christa Dao

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