Petition aims to cap rent hikes in B.C. housing units after tenants move out

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      Housing activists are renewing the campaign to bring back vacancy control in B.C.

      Vacancy control is a policy that ties rent to the premises, not to the tenant. With this regulation, landlords cannot increase rents beyond what is allowed after an occupant moves out.

      “It’s a simple fix that would protect affordability, fight poverty, and end renovictions!” states a petition prepared by the Real Rent Control B.C. campaign.

      Signatures are being gathered for the petition in the joint campaign by the Vancouver Tenants Union (VTU) and Raise the Rates B.C., a coalition that is calling for higher welfare and disability benefits.

      Sara Sagaii, a member of VTU’s steering committee, indicated that her group is ramping up its drive for vacancy control.

      “The reason a lot of renovictions happen is because once a tenant is evicted, the rents can go up to any level,” Sagaii told the Georgia Straight in a phone interview Tuesday (June 25).

      The campaign’s website recalls that B.C. had vacancy control from the early 1970s into the 1980s.

      “Research suggests that rent-control measures can even lead to increased building maintenance because landlords under rent-controlled tenancies appreciate the stability of their tenant base and develop more positive relationships to their tenants,” according to the campaign.

      Vacancy control was rejected by a provincial rental-housing task force formed by Premier John Horgan’s NDP government.

      In its final report, released in December 2018, the task force recommended maintaining the current policy of tying rent to the tenant and not the housing unit.

      The task force explained that landlords have indicated that vacancy control would “make it challenging for them to cover their costs, with some considering selling and, therefore, removing their property from the rental stock”.

      “Rental housing developers said that they would cease developing needed rental units if this change was brought in, as it would make their developments unaffordable to build,” according to the provincial body’s final report.

      Vacancy control was brought in by the B.C. NDP government of former premier Dave Barrett.

      A VTU policy paper notes that some form of vacancy control exists in Quebec, Manitoba, and Prince Edward Island.

      “Studies in Manitoba have shown that this has no negative effect on vacancy rate or construction,” according to the VTU. “Rent controls are frequently accused of having negative effects, however B.C.’s own experience with vacancy control from 1974 to 1984 showed no discernible impact on new rental construction, nor did it incentivize the neglect of buildings.”

      LandlordBC, an organization representing rental-property owners, is opposed to vacancy control.

      “What this means is that the landlord would unfairly lose the right upon tenant turnover to try to move rents to market in hopes of recovering over time a portion of the cost of improvements to their asset, to offset their steadily increasing operating costs and, perhaps most critically, try to recover some portion of the increased costs that are entirely outside their control,” the group stated in a letter to the City of Vancouver last year.