VANCOUVER - The British Columbia government has chopped the annual rent increase that landlords are allowed to charge by two per cent but an advocacy group is calling for more changes to protect tenants in heated markets.
As of January, the rent hike will be limited to 2.5 per cent, based on the rate of inflation, instead of an extra two per cent per year.
Premier John Horgan told a news conference Wednesday the change strikes a balance between providing relief for tenants and encouraging landlords to maintain their properties by applying for higher increases for improvements.
The changes follow early recommendations by a task force appointed by Horgan, and are in line with policies in Ontario and Manitoba. A final report to be released soon will contain more recommendations following widespread consultations across the province. The current policy was brought in by the former Liberal government in 2004.
Liberal MLA Todd Stone said landlords will have little incentive to improve aging housing stock in cities like Vancouver and Victoria if they have to go through a bureaucratic application process to afford renovations. He also called on the government to focus on improving the housing supply.
Housing Minister Selina Robinson said the province is expected to review the approval process because developers face a "big hurdle" when it comes to costs.
"It hasn't been reviewed in decades and decades so that's another place where we're going to be looking to identify ways that we can speed up approval processes so that we can get these developments to fruition much sooner," she said.
Recent changes have seen the province close a loophole that allowed landlords to evict tenants while renovations were underway.
However, Andrew Sakamoto, spokesman for the Tenant Resource and Advisory Centre, said while renters now have the first right of refusal in renting their former unit, their rent could be hiked significantly following a so-called renoviction.
He said renters need more protection and he's hoping the task force's recommendations will include them.
"The criticism we have is that it's quite a weak right of first refusal in the sense that currently, a tenant can move back to the renovated unit but under a brand new tenancy agreement. So rent it for whatever the landlord wants. What tenant is going to be displaced for a couple of months and then come back at a 30 per cent increase?"
Sakamoto said the same right of first refusal exists in Ontario, where the policy is much stronger for tenants.
"Now it exists in B.C., but almost just on paper. I don't know how many tenants would actually use that right of refusal."
Horgan also addressed the concerns of residents in his constituency on Vancouver Island, where homeless people have been living in a campground at Goldstream Provincial Park for over a week after they were evicted from another park following a court order.
"I share the concern of residents in my community, that provincial parks are not an appropriate response for the hard-to-house," he said.
In a statement Wednesday afternoon, Housing Minister Selina Robinson said a plan is now in place to provide housing and shelter to all of the homeless campers at Goldstream, including transportation to housing and storage for the campers' personal belongings.
Robinson says the goal is to have the campers leave voluntarily before the 14-day maximum stay at provincial parks is reached on Tuesday, but those who choose to remain longer will be evicted according to parks policy and in co-ordination with the RCMP, other ministries and outreach workers.
"We've had significant housing challenges, certainly for the hard-to-house but also for people looking for rental accommodation that's affordable and people looking for homes to purchase," Horgan said.
"We're far from perfect but we've made every effort to bring on more supply, to bring on more options for people who are having difficulty finding a place to live. And I think that we're going to do our level best in the time available between now and the end of the two-week period that camping is allowed."
— Follow @CamilleBains1 on Twitter.