VICTORIA — The B.C. government wants to close a loophole that allows landlords to bypass annual rent controls by flipping tenants and imposing larger rent hikes between leases.
Housing Minister Selina Robinson introduced changes to the Residential Tenancy Act in the legislature Thursday that she said would protect renters who have been vulnerable to higher rent increases and housing instability.
She said the act has allowed landlords to impose a vacate clause on leases, forcing renters out of their homes and allowing landlords to exceed rent controls for the next tenant.
"This is unacceptable, and the undue stress and anxiety this caused renters has gone on for far too long," Robinson said.
There are about 1.5 million renters in the province and in Vancouver, vacancy rates hover near zero per cent.
Robinson said the challenges facing renters is not exclusive to Metro Vancouver and is being felt across the province.
Changes to the law would restrict the use of the vacate clause and protect tenants renewing fixed-term agreements so they are covered by rent control, which currently allows increases of two per cent plus inflation. The changes would apply to existing rental agreements, Robinson said.
"This will give renters the security they deserve and help bring integrity to the rental industry, which is good for landlords," she said.
David Hutniak, chief executive officer for LandlordBC, said his organization has condemned the abuse of vacate clauses and fixed-term agreements.
The proposed changes would prevent bad landlords from taking advantage of renters, he said.
"Landlords who are abusing this form of tenancy are damaging our industry and really their behaviour is unfair to responsible and professional landlords," he said.
Andrew Sakamoto, executive director of the Tenant Resource and Advisory Centre, said it receives about 8,000 calls from tenants annually and has noticed a spike in complaints about fixed-term tenancies and vacate clauses in recent years.
"Today represents a huge step forward, towards better balancing the rights and responsibilities of tenants and landlords," he said. "Prohibiting the vast majority of vacate clauses and doing so retrospectively will go a long way toward improving housing affordability across the province."
Robinson said the law would also streamline the dispute resolution process for the return of security and pet deposits, and ensure tenants would no longer have to wait months to get their money back.
As well, a funding increase for the Residential Tenancy Branch previously announced by the government will increase its ability to enforce laws and go after repeat offenders, Robinson said.
Whether that funding increase has improved wait times for tenants filing complaints is still unclear but Robinson said the government is monitoring the situation.
— By Linda Givetash in Vancouver.