Tenants in BC need better legal protections

Preventing “bad faith” evictions should be a priority

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Vancouver skyline in afternoon light with the Burrard Inlet and skyscrapers in the foreground. In the background are the North Shore mountains with a dusting of snow.
PHOTO: Alejandro Luengo / Unsplash

By: Peter Runn, SFU Student

There’s a saying I’ve heard in Vancouver: “You can’t put a price on those mountains.” But landlords can and do. It costs two full-time minimum wage jobs to afford a bedroom in the Lower Mainland, and rent across BC “increased 30% from 2016 to 2021,” the largest jump of any province in Canada. While BC landlords’ yearly rent increase cap is 3.5% while tenants are living in a space, they can use loopholes to evade it. Rent caps don’t apply when a unit is vacant, so landlords make use of the only “legal” ways to evict contract-abiding tenants. 

Housing is the last thing anyone facing the current affordability crisis should have to worry about — and yet, this is what many of BC’s vulnerable residents are facing. There has been meaningful movement from the BC government to prevent “bad faith” evictions, and more coming to effect this summer. However, more needs to be done to urgently shut lingering loopholes and protect renters. 

One of the most common loopholes used by landlords is saying they or a family member is moving in, which is one of the only remaining ways to evict tenants. They either say this to evict them or have an excuse to coerce them into paying a much higher rent. The only condition is there is a penalty for bad faith evictions: landlords could owe tenants 12 months of their rent money if they’re found to have evicted them in bad faith — for example, lying that they’re going to move into the unit, then renting it out for a higher profit.

I was told by my landlord that if I didn’t agree to a substantially large (and illegal) rent increase, they would move their family member into my unit. While tenants have a right to refuse an illegal rent increase, I had no way to guarantee my landlord wouldn’t evict me if they didn’t get the price they wanted. Applying to file a complaint costs $100 and according to tenancy lawyer Robert Patterson, landlords have been able to evict tenants without “showing up for hearings.” The increase was way beyond my budget, but still slightly better than anything I could probably find in Vancouver’s outrageous rental market. My hands were tied. This brings me to one of the main issues with existing legal protections: they fail to consider the unequal power dynamic between tenant and landlord. 

We are just trying to survive and keep a roof over our heads, which is a basic right that shouldn’t be commodified in the first place.

I’m not saying homeowners can’t legitimately have family members who need a place to stay. As it stands, though, there needs to be measures in place that require accountability for their intentions so they can’t rely on empty threats. Increasing the penalty for bad faith evictions wouldn’t hurt, but Patterson’s recommendation is that there should be a “standard of proof” of a family member moving in before issuing an eviction. This could involve requiring official documentation stating a landlord’s intention for the space, and following up to ensure they’re being honest. Doing so would put more responsibility on the landlord, rather than putting the burden on renters to go through the work of educating themselves on their rights and paying the $100 fee to file a dispute within a 15-day period. 

There is a financial penalty for evicting tenants deceptively. However, it’s not enough to stop it. Threatening the roof over someone’s head gives landlords the upper hand in negotiations, as most people would rather suffer another expense than find themselves at risk of being displaced. As lawyer Phil Dougan points out, “A landlord loses an investment; A tenant loses a home.” 

Enforcing stricter regulations worked to reduce renovictions, which were previously done frequently to tenants when the landlord empties their unit just by saying they’re renovating. The law now requires much more thorough documentation. Yet, the burden of proof often falls on tenants when it comes to ensuring landlords are following through on their claims.

If renters are going to be displaced by no fault of their own other than not having the privilege of owning property, there at least needs to be better protection for vulnerable groups. One meaningful change in this direction that will be implemented this summer is households with babies cannot receive rent hikes. However, things are also especially dire for long-term renters like seniors, who are more likely to become houseless after an eviction. Unstable and unaffordable housing also significantly impacts disabled people, who have fewer housing options to meet their needs.

Landlords try to garner sympathy from their tenants by presenting their requests as something they had no choice in, because property taxes have increased and they have mortgages to pay off. However, it isn’t the responsibility of tenants to pay off your mortgage or property costs. We are just trying to survive and keep a roof over our heads, which is a basic right that shouldn’t be commodified in the first place.

Ultimately, preventing bad faith evictions is one piece in the puzzle of the disaster that is privatized housing. Systemic change is necessary to solve the housing crisis, like investing in more social housing and implementing harsher market restrictions. Ensuring affordable living should be a priority our government urgently addresses on numerous fronts. There are free resources available, like tenants.bc.ca or Housing BC. Vancouver tenants can also get involved with Vancouver Tenants Union, a group that brings tenants together to leverage their collective power to advocate for their rights. Learn more about your rights as a tenant through their accessible resources, available in six languages. 

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