Vancouver Tenants Union issues 50-point plan to protect renters and return affordability to B.C. real estate

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      The Vancouver Tenants Union (VTU) has issued a list of 50 recommendations it hopes the provincial government's Rental Housing Task Force will take into account as it reviews and prepares to reform tenancy laws and regulations in B.C.

      "The Residential Tenancy Act (RTA) has not been updated since the early 2000s, and does not reflect the reality of the housing market," reads a May 28 VTU media release. "Housing market conditions have over time shifted more powers from tenants to landlords within a relationship which at its very foundation is one of unequal bargaining power.

      "A housing strategy that is primarily concerned with avenues towards middle class home ownership ignores the people who are most negatively affected by climbing property values and the speculative housing market," it continues. "Low-income renters experience the housing crisis by living in fear of losing their homes and their communities. These recommendations are rooted in the belief that if we protect people’s housing and their housing rights we can make a huge impact on poverty and the quality of life in this province."

      The VTU's recommendations are presented in a 19-page document that's available on the organization's website.

      At the top of its list is a call for the provincial government to implement a type of "vacancy control" that only allows landlords to implement rent increases once every 12 months regardless of any turnover in tenants.

      "Rental rates should remain the same for a subsequent tenant, unless the landlord can demonstrate increased operating costs or expenses that  require a rent increase to recoup these costs within a reasonable period of years," the document reads. "Landlords should be able to apply to the Residential Tenancy Branch (RTB) for rent increases, which must be supported by documented increases in operating costs."

      The VTU's second recommendation for the Rental Housing Task Force is for eviction notices to go through an automatic dispute-resolution hearing.

      "Landlords should have to contact the RTB to be issued a dated eviction notice, and the RTB should create a registry for all eviction notices they issue to landlords," the document reads. "This system would serve to insure that eviction notices without any substantive evidence do not end up in arbitration, deterring the frivolous service of eviction notices which currently serves as a common intimidation tactic.

      "This would reverse the existing onus on tenants to dispute any and all evictions issued to them and acknowledge the existing imbalance of power between landlords and tenants and that receiving an eviction notice can be a traumatic event," it continues.

      The VTU's third suggestion relates to the retention of existing affordable-housing stock in B.C.

      "Where a rental property is demolished to make way for a new rental property, a displaced tenant should have a right-of-first-refusal on a unit in the redeveloped property at the same rent," it reads. "Where a rental property is converted or subdivided in some fashion (for example a single family home being subdivided into four units) affected tenants should have a right of first refusal on those units at a rate proportionate to their existing rent."

      The VTU also outlines a plan for the sales of residential properties consisting of five or more units to be converted into housing co-ops via government support for the tenants' purchase of a property.

      The organization's other 47 recommendations include measures such as a temporary rent freeze, improved tenants safeguards that would minimize opportunities for renovictions, and increased penalties for wrongful evictions.

      "The VTU wants a clear, fair and easily-applied RTA [Residential Tenancy Act]," the document reads. "We are proposing amendments which will more substantively protect tenants and critically examine the ease with which landlords can use the current system to evict people in order to charge higher rents."

      The NDP government announced the formation of the Rental Housing Task Force last April. Vancouver-West End MLA Spencer Chandra Herbert is leading the group.

      "One-and-a-half million British Columbians rent,” Chandra Herbert said on April 10. “For too long, issues of security, affordability and fairness have been ignored, with the voices of renters and landlords sidelined. We need to bring renters, landlords and all those who care about rental housing to the table to improve our tenancy laws so they work better for everyone. It's time."

      In October 2017, the Straight reported that the average rent for a one-bedroom apartment listing in the city of Vancouver hit $2,000 a month.

      According to Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation, in 2016, Metro Vancouver's vacancy rate for purpose-built rental housing was just 0.7 percent.­

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