To the editor:
When the B.C. Rental Housing Task Force travelled through the province last summer seeking input into possible policy changes, the top priority of housing activists was vacancy control.
Vacancy control refers to the need to limit rent increases between tenancies. The B.C. Residential Tenancy Act allows rents to be raised only once a year – unless there’s been rental turnover. Because rents are currently tied to tenants, not to rental units, landlords are able to increase rents whenever tenants move out.
A lack of vacancy control results in rent increases far exceeding the annual allowable increase. For instance, the average rent for purpose-built rental housing in Kelowna has increased 8.5 per cent across each of the last two years. The allowable rent increase was 4 per cent in 2018 and 3.7 per cent the year before.
A lack of vacancy control also results in a financial incentive for unscrupulous landlords to unfairly evict renters in order to create the vacancies they so badly want. Evictions often take place under the pretext of a need to displace tenants for renovations, leading to a crisis of renovictions, particularly in Vancouver and the Lower Mainland.
Astonishingly, the Task Force did not recommend tying rent increases to rental units. Even more astonishingly, the Task Force cited landlords and developers who said the current model of rent increases was required for business to succeed and rental units to continue being developed. The government buckled to this blowhard ultimatum that business must continue as usual or else landlords and developers will pack up and steal away.
Upon release of the Task Force’s final report, an array of eight organizations that advocate for affordable housing and anti-poverty measures again called for vacancy control. “Vacancy control is the most pressing policy need of our time,” said the Victoria-based Together Against Poverty Society. “Eliminating the incentive to renovict and displace tenants would create housing stability for renters, especially elderly tenants, and effectively prevent further escalation of the housing affordability crisis.”
The Vancouver Tenants Union said that “without vacancy control, any investments made in public housing, financial support for tenants, and new supply will not keep pace with the loss of affordable rental stock.”
Renters United Kelowna added that the intention of landlords to continue boosting rents whenever there’s rental turnover “obviously contradicts public policy to limit rent increases to once a year. Renters of British Columbia need vacancy control to bring fairness and security back to the rental market. We need it now.”
Dianne Varga and Marianne Côté
Renters United Kelowna