Municipal Affairs and Housing Minister Selina Robinson (Black Press)

B.C. to give renters a break on deposits, rent increases

Short-term lease loophole to be closed, Selina Robinson says

The NDP government is moving to give B.C.’s 1.5 million renters a break, making it easier for them to get damage deposits back and increasing penalties for landlords who take advantage of a tight urban rental market.

Municipal Affairs and Housing Minister Selina Robinson introduced legislation Thursday that is expected to address a promise that was made by the previous B.C. Liberal government but not delivered before the spring election.

The NDP also promised a $400-a-year rebate for renters in their spring election platform, but Finance Minister Carole James has said that will have to wait for the minority government’s first full budget in February.

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The legislation is designed to plug a loophole in B.C.’s rental housing restrictions that allows landlords to demand additional rent increases by signing short-term leases with tenants. It also contains measures to protect tenants in mobile home parks, which are not covered by the Residential Tenancy Act that governs apartment and house rentals.

The current law restricts annual rent increases to no more than two per cent plus the rate of inflation, a maximum of 3.7 per cent for increases that take effect in 2017. Some landlords have been signing fixed-term leases as short as a year, then using the “vacate clause” to force the tenant out and return at much higher rent, Robinson said.

She said the new legislation, expected to pass by the end of November, will be retroactive for existing tenancy agreements, so the “vacate clause” could not be used.

Under the new legislation, “the rent [rate] stays with the tenant, so when the fixed term ends, it rolls into month-to-month unless the tenant chooses to end it,” Robinson said.

Andrew Sakamoto, executive director of the Tenant Resource Advisory Centre, said the problem of vacate clauses and excessive rent increases is no longer confined to Metro Vancouver and Victoria, but his office has received calls from as far away as Kitimat where rental vacancy rates are low. TRAC receives about 8,000 calls a year from tenants seeking assistance.

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David Hutniak, CEO of LandlordBC, said he supports the changes, because a few bad landlords have hurt the industry’s reputation. He said he is relieved that Robertson is not moving to reduce the allowable annual rent increase, because that would deter investors from building new rental housing capacity.

The legislation also allows for the names and penalties of landlords and tenants to be published.