Councillor Jean Swanson wants Vancouver to regulate rent increases and end tenant buyouts

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      On May 17 this year, new measures protecting renters in British Columbia took effect.

      One of these gives residents in properties with at least five units the right of first refusal to enter into a new tenancy agreement if their occupancy is ended for renovations.

      However, tenants cannot return with their old rents. It will be at rates set by the landlord.

      That’s a familiar story for Vancouver city councillor Jean Swanson, who is calling for additional means to safeguard renters.

      “The owners’ business plan is they’re relying on the fact that they can get rid of the tenants and raise the rents as much as they like,” Swanson told the Georgia Straight by phone.

      Swanson also said that landlords employ another tactic: tenant buyouts. On Tuesday (November 27), council will take up a motion by Swanson that provides steps to protect renters’ rights in relation to renovations and buyouts. Her motion includes exploring ways to “regulate and publicly register all tenant buyouts”.

      Another measure is to require landlords to offer tenants the opportunity to “temporarily move out for the necessary duration of the renovations without their leases ending or rent increasing”.

      However, the city’s chief planner has informed council that Vancouver does not have the power to do these things.

      In a memorandum, Gil Kelley, general manager for planning, urban design, and sustainability, wrote that the city is “only able to exercise jurisdiction within the specific powers allocated to it by the Provincial government in the Vancouver Charter”.

      “At present the City has no authority to regulate and publicly register private agreements such as tenant buyouts,” Kelley stated.

      Kelley also wrote that although the city has a tenant relocation and protection policy for cases involving redevelopment or major renovation activity, it “cannot require that landlords offer tenants the opportunity to temporarily move out for the duration of the renovations without their leases ending or rent increasing”.

      Kelley explained that these leases are governed by the Residential Tenancy Act, provincial legislation, and that the city has “no authority to impose additional requirements on those agreements”.

      Responding to Kelley’s points, Swanson said that her motion also calls for the city to ask the province to implement “vacancy controls” across B.C. Or, as the motion states, give the City of Vancouver the power to “regulate maximum rent increases during and between tenancies”.

      “If we have vacancy controls, landlords couldn’t raise rents as much as they want when tenants leave or are forced out,” Swanson explained. “And it would be good for everybody because it will help preserve the stock of affordable housing.”