Tenant-rights advocate Martha Lewis doesn’t see any good reason why all municipalities shouldn’t have a standards-of-maintenance bylaw.
Generally, the way this statute works is straightforward. It gives a city the power to compel property owners to keep their buildings in a good state of repair. According to Lewis, executive director of the Vancouver-based Tenant Resource & Advisory Centre, having this bylaw not only ensures that renters reside in safe premises but it also helps to maintain rental stock.
“Maybe the landlord has bought the property just for the land value and really wants to redevelop it and just has no interest in the building that’s there now,” Lewis told the Georgia Straight in a phone interview.
The absence of such a bylaw in Surrey, for example, was one of the things noted in a tenancy dispute that started in February last year.
Susan Collard wanted her landlords, Waterford Developments Ltd. and Gurdyal Singh Sahota, to undertake general repairs in the building she lives in. But the Residential Tenancy Branch ruled that it can only order restorations in specific rental units and common areas.
Collard sought a judicial review of the decision. In a ruling handed down by the B.C. Supreme Court on February 4, 2011, Justice Grant Burnyeat ordered a new hearing by the RTB on the tenant’s application for structural repairs in the building.
According to Burnyeat, the Residential Tenancy Act and its related regulations provide for a “mandatory obligation on the part of a landlord to maintain ”˜residential property’ in a state of decoration and repair”.
“The term ”˜residential property’ is not limited to a particular ”˜rental unit’ as that term is defined under the Act,” Burnyeat wrote. “Rather, ”˜residential property’ encompasses the building or buildings in which one or more rental units are located, the parcel or parcels on which the building or buildings sit and where the common areas are located, the rental units themselves, and the common areas as well as any other structures located on the parcel or parcels.”
Collard’s lawyer, Scott Bernstein, noted in a phone interview that tenants in municipalities with a standards-of-maintenance bylaw have an easier means to demand repairs because the statute is specifically crafted to address those needs.
“For tenants that are in a jurisdiction without a standards-of-maintenance bylaw, it’s going to be a little bit difficult,” Bernstein told the Straight. “They’ll have to show that some other statute was breached, whether it’s the health code or the fire code.”
As far as TRAC staffer Tom Durning can tell, only Vancouver, the City of North Vancouver, and New Westminster have standards-of-maintenance bylaws. He also said that Richmond has a similar statute, although not as comprehensive as the other municipalities. A study prepared for TRAC a few years ago indicated that the District of North Vancouver also has one.
Durning said he expects other cities to follow sooner or later. “They’re going to have to eventually because it’s coming to a critical mess one day; not mass, mess!” Durning told the Straight, laughing.
Surrey councillor Marvin Hunt explained in a phone interview why the city is seen as having no such statute.
“I think the reason we don’t have a standards-of-maintenance bylaw is because we don’t use those words,” Hunt told the Straight. “But we have the same concept in our unsightly-premises bylaw. It’s the same sort of thing. We just don’t use the same set of words.”
Hunt said that Surrey can also tell property owners to fix their assets. “If it’s a mess, they have the option of cleaning it up,” he said. “Or we go on to the site and do it ourselves and put it on their tax bill.”
If Durning had his way, the province would start considering how to make possible the civil forfeiture of properties by negligent landlords. “We’ve got to look at taking the buildings off these guys,” Durning said.