The “right of first refusal”, which Tim Stevenson is suggesting, is used in Ontario to combat evictions for unnecessary renovations designed to gouge profits and take advantage of a tight rental market. It has effectively removed the financial incentive for landlords to evict tenants for unnecessary renovations. Despite popular belief that this law will result in slums, landlords are still required to maintain their properties.
By Mary Frances Hill
December 11, 2008
VANCOUVER – A Vancouver city councillor says he plans to push for changes to B.C.’s Residential Tenancy Act to allow tenants displaced for renovation work to return to their homes and pay the same monthly rent.
While Coun. Tim Stevenson’s proposal, known as “first right of refusal” is popular with renters’ advocates, the head of the B.C. Apartment Owners and Managers’ Association says it could lead to the deterioration of apartment buildings across the city.
It is likely the first of many proposals from the city’s new council, which meets for the first time on Tuesday, that reflect its new centre-left orientation.
Stevenson has given notice that he will move to ask the province to amend the Residential Tenancy Act to allow evicted tenants “to reoccupy their units once renovations are completed at the same rent as they were paying prior to the renovations.”
The motion also calls for extending eviction notices from 60 to 90 days and to require that landlords report turnovers, rent increases and reasons for evictions to the Residential Tenancy Branch annually.
But Marg Gordon, CEO of the B.C. Apartment Owners and Managers’ Association, said she’d call Stevenson today and tell him, “You’re forgetting a big huge piece of the equation.
“First right of refusal for a tenant to come back is fine, but first right of refusal to come back at the same rent is not reasonable,” she said. “It will shut down any renovations.
“To renovate a building – we’re talking new carpets, bathtubs, sinks – it takes a major capital expenditure.”
Gordon said the average age of rental buildings in the West End is about 56 years.
“There are some buildings in great disrepair. We want safe secure rentals for our tenants, but obviously an owner has to recoup his capital costs.”
Tenants and housing advocates have charged that property owners have abused the Residential Tenancy Act, which allows landlords to evict tenants when major renovations require a vacant space.
Sharon Isaak, co-founder of the tenants’ rights group Renters at Risk, said many landlords have been using the legislation to evict tenants for renovations and then charge much higher rents.
She said Renters at Risk has identified about 30 Vancouver apartment buildings whose tenants have been evicted for renovations.
Gordon said her association’s members follow a code of ethics and “aren’t doing cursory renovations.”
But Isaak said right of first refusal “is at least a start.”
“This at least might provide some balance between landlords and tenants so that landlords are doing renovations legitimately, and not just to evict people and bring in higher-paying tenants,” she said.
Gordon said owners could use different means to recoup their costs, such as staggered rent increases over several years.
“Another option would be to charge a dollar amount per square footage to renters once their suites are renovated,” she said.
Stevenson also intended to ask city staff to study a bylaw under which the city could order repairs of badly maintained low-income housing and single-room-occupancy units, and bill the owners.
Also lined up for Tuesday’s meeting are Vision councillors George Chow and Heather Deal, who want city staff to write a report on lane reallocation on the Burrard Bridge.
Deal and Coun. Geoff Meggs will ask for a report on models for grant-dispensing municipal arts councils.
The new council and the mayor’s new Homeless Emergency Team will ask the city manager to allocate $300,000 for immediate shelter openings.
Stevenson said under the tenancy changes he is proposing, an inspector would be able to gauge whether renovations really require a vacant apartment.
“By far, the majority of landlords in the city are excellent,” he said.
“They maintain their buildings and … the management is excellent, but the issue is with the minority … who are trying to gouge the market and kick out tenants just because they want new tenants to pay higher rent.”