North Cowichan will ask the province to regulate rent increases by landlords when one tenant moves out and another moves in, council decided at its meeting on Sept. 7.
The issue was discussed after the municipality received a letter from a local renter in an apartment building in North Cowichan who saw rents in the building increase dramatically.
The renter pointed out that Victoria’s city council has asked the province to regulate rental increases between tenancies.
“If your council wants to help prevent homelessness, asking the province to cap rental increases between tenancies would be a great help,” they said.
The two per cent rent increase cap for 2023 in B.C., announced by Premier John Horgan last week, one of the new measures announced with the goal of helping British Columbians navigate high costs of living, does not apply to rent increases between tenancies.
Coun. Kate Marsh said the province used to regulate rent increases between tenancies and stopping the initiative has contributed to the current housing crisis.
“When rents can go up 25 per cent to 50 per cent, I think this is part of the housing problem,” she said.
Coun. Tek Manhas said he can’t support rent controls.
He said that for the past three or four years, landlords have been having a difficult time keeping to 1.25 per cent rent increases while property taxes are going up as much as 10 per cent in some jurisdictions.
“I think the market will dictate what the rents will be and any new builds right now will be required to have some affordable housing, so I can’t support the government telling people what’s best for them,” Manhas said.
Coun. Rosalie Sawrie said that the issue of regulating rents between tenancies is part of a resolution at the upcoming Union of B.C. Municipalities meeting, and the North Cowichan councillors who will attend the meeting will be voting on it.
Mayor Al Siebring said the City of Vancouver tried to regulate rent increases between tenancies with a municipal bylaw and the BC Supreme Court threw it out because the issue is not regulated by municipalities, but by the Residential Tenancies Act.
“Let’s not go down that road because the courts have already said that’s a ’no’, although that ruling is being appealed,” he said.
“Given that this is coming at the UBCM meeting, and I expect it will pass, I would hesitate to add more redundancy to the issue. The voice of the UBCM should be strong enough on this.”
But Marsh said she believes there is a role for the municipality on the issue.
“Aside from the UBCM, it helps when individual councils ask the province to have a look at something like this, and given the fact that we have one of the highest poverty rates for children, I think we’d be remiss not to ask them to address this in some way,” she said.
The motion passed with Siebring and Manhas opposed.
A statement from the Ministry of Attorney General and Responsible for Housing said that like much of the rest of Canada, British Columbia does not have vacancy control tying rental limits to the unit, not the tenant.
The ministry said that in addition to capping the 2023 annual rent increase amount to two per cent, the province has made several significant changes to provide relief to renters in B.C., including limiting annual rent increases to inflation, addressing the issue of renovictions, strengthening penalties for breaking the law, expediting the return of security deposits, and allowing email as a way of serving documents.
“Changes to the Residential Tenancy Branch, including the creation of the compliance and enforcement unit, are helping to improve education and awareness and protect renters from unlawful renovictions,” the ministry said.
The ministry said that in 2018, Horgan appointed a Rental Housing Task Force to better understand what further changes may be needed to modernize British Columbia’s tenancy laws.
“The task force, after consulting with renters and rental housing providers, did not recommend implementing vacancy control in its 2018 report to government,” the ministry said.
“Government accepted the task force recommendation to maintain rent tied to the renter and not the unit, while lowering the annual allowable rent increase.”