By Ben Ger, Rebecca Kantwerg, and Steph Langford
David Eby, B.C.'s attorney general and minister responsible for housing, and MLAs like Spencer Chandra Herbert have recently been promoting their changes to the Residential Tenancy Act.
These changes relate to the eviction method of choice for landlords wanting to get around the limitation on raising rents of current tenants.
Now when a landlord wishes to evict a tenant for renovations (known commonly as “renovictions”), they must first apply to the Residential Tenancy Branch (RTB)—the province’s landlord-tenant dispute body—for approval.
Though a welcomed step in the right direction, these provincial changes will not end the displacement of working-class people from what little affordable housing is left. Profit will continue to motivate the eviction of tenants; renovictions will move forward; and other evictions will occur for similarly questionable reasons, such as moving a caretaker into a suite.
A major concern is with the method of enforcement itself. Despite rhetorical boasting by the B.C. NDP, these reforms do not prohibit a landlord from renovicting a tenant. Although the RTB is promoted as a neutral body, the most recent data available (from 2016) showed that tenants win their cases an abysmal 13 percent of the time.
The RTB has issued only seven penalties to landlords in a province of more than 1.5 million renters during the past two years, and the department responsible for enforcing landlord penalties for noncompliance with its rulings is horribly understaffed. Tenants should have no confidence that the RTB will side in their favour or enforce their rights.
The B.C. NDP’s reforms amount to tinkering around the edges of the broken system their party helped build. Prior to 1974, tenancy disputes were regulated by municipalities, including the local Vancouver Rental Accommodation Grievance Board, a body fought for by renter organizations. In 1974, the B.C. NDP eliminated the municipal regulation of tenancies in favour of provincially centralized dispute resolution, which is what we have today: the RTB.
The introduction of the provincially centralized system was criticized by tenant advocates who were enjoying some success at the municipal boards—in part because it is much more difficult to lobby provincial bureaucrats and politicians than local municipalities, mayors, and city councillors.
In fact, limiting what renters could fight for at the city level added insult to injury, as the B.C. NDP had run on a platform that included recognizing collective-bargaining rights for tenants.
Not only did the party fail to live up to that promise of empowering renters and their unions but the government turned around and took away the municipal regulations that renters had fought for.
The current provincial system is a continuation of that introduced by the B.C. NDP in the 1970s, one that has failed to empower tenants, level the inherent power imbalance between renters and landlords, or protect and promote affordable housing.
More recently, during the 16 years of B.C. Liberal rule, housing prices skyrocketed by a blood-curdling 130 percent. In the wake of the Liberal government’s damage to housing, much more must be done to ensure tenants do not continue to be priced out of safe, healthy, and affordable homes.
What is desperately needed, and what tenants have been calling for for years, is real vacancy control. Presently, rent increases are limited on a yearly basis for the duration of a single tenancy. When a tenancy ends by eviction or otherwise, the landlord is free to jack up the rents as high as they would like.
This system of leaving the cost of housing between tenancies to the “market” creates a profit incentive to evict tenants—and one that only grows stronger the longer a tenant lives in a home. This is a glaring error in policy motivated by an apparent commitment by the B.C. NDP to treat housing as a money-making business rather than a human right.
There really is no excuse for the refusal of the B.C. NDP, which advertises itself as “progressive”, to introduce vacancy control.
The B.C. NDP’s inaction on housing can only be taken as a deliberate decision to support landlord profits over people, likely influenced by an aggressive and monied landlord lobby. Though not perfect, the B.C. NDP of the 1970s took on bold fights and ultimately gave us vacancy control in place of collective-bargaining rights for renters.
It is clear that this iteration of the party under John Horgan & David Eby has no ambitions of strong, meaningful action on housing. Tenants will only see real change in housing policy, and be able to access and remain in affordable homes, through collective demands and direct action.
It’s been done before; we can do it again.