New rental rules will hurt seniors, students and poor, critics charge
   STRATAS: Owners always have a say in rules of their strata
Adrienne Tanner
The Province

Friday, December 19, 2003

New B.C. regulations pave the way for rent hikes that will gouge seniors, students and the working poor, say tenants' rights advocates.

Changes to the Residential Tenancy Act will go into effect Jan. 1, the provincial government quietly announced late last week.

Linda Mix, executive director of TRAC, a tenants' rights advocacy group, yesterday slammed the changes as "back-door loopholes the government has put in without any public consultation."

Under the changes, landlords will be able to hike rents by a maximum of 4.6 per cent a year. There is no provision for an appeal by tenants.

Landlords will also be able to ask an arbitrator for an even higher increase if the rent in a particular suite is well below market value or has not been raised for the previous three years.

That frightens Amanda Coe, a philosophy student who splits the $1,215 rent on her West Vancouver apartment with her boyfriend.

Their quiet apartment was a deal and Coe suspects rents in surrounding buildings are much higher. A typical student, Coe lives close to the financial line. "It's pretty tight some months. I, and pretty much all the friends I know, have credit-card debts." Any substantial rent increase would force her to move, she said.

And Coe said she's even more concerned about the many seniors in her building. "If something like this happened, it would throw their world for a loop more than me."

Nancy Chiavario , executive director of the West End Seniors Network, said the changes will hurt seniors on fixed incomes who have lived in one place for many years, thereby avoiding large rent increases. "We have one person who has been in our building for 30 years," she said of her own West End apartment building. Until recently, it was a family run building and rents were held low.

The new owners have so far been fair, but the new law introduces a huge unknown, she said.

Mix said she was shocked to learn of the changes because both tenant and landlord representatives had worked closely with the government while amendments to the act were being drafted. "We worked really hard with them," said Mix, adding that TRAC was assured by Solicitor-General Rich Coleman that tenants would be pleased with the changes.

TRAC tried to dissuade the government from the three-year rental catch-up and market-value increase provisions. "For long-term tenants, these are not really fair," Mix said. People on a fixed income, seniors, students, the working poor or people on welfare, will have difficulty meeting increases of 4.6 per cent, let alone more, Mix said.

Coleman, whose ministry oversees the Residential Tenancy Act, was not available for comment.

But Lynda Pasacreta , director of the B.C. Apartment Owners and Managers Association, said the new regulations balance the act, which she said had been weighted heavily in favour of tenants.

Pasacreta said the changes are a compromise: Her members lobbied for completely unregulated market rents.

She said fears that rents will jump under the new regulations are unfounded. Vacancy rates in many parts of Vancouver are sitting at about four per cent, which means landlords are competing for tenants and unlikely to raise rents, she said.

Many landlords have avoided raising rents because, until now, tenants could appeal increases of any magnitude. Without increases, landlords could not afford upkeep on their buildings, Pasacreta said .

Chris Friesen, settlement director with the Immigrant Services Society, said he is concerned about the provision allowing tenants and landlords to sign agreements for rent increases of higher than 4.6 per cent. He fears new immigrants and refugees may be pressured to sign documents they do not understand. "These are extremely vulnerable people who, for starters, are not aware of tenancy rights and are non-English speakers. Friesen said."
Key changes to the Residential Tenancy Act:
- Landlords can require a deposit for garage-door openers and access cards as long as they are not the sole access to the building.
- Rents can be raised by 4.6 per cent per year -- the consumer price index plus two per cent -- with no avenue for appeal.
- Rents can be raised by more than 4.6 per cent with the tenant's written consent. Once signed, there is no avenue for appeal.
- Landlords can apply to an arbitrator for a rent hike of more than 4.6 per cent to a) bring the rent into line with units in similar buildings in the same neighbourhood , or b) help cover the cost of significant unforeseen repairs or renovations.
- When considering an increase of more than 4.6 per cent, arbitrators must consider the rent history for the particular unit for the three preceding years.
Average monthly rents across the Lower Mainland this year:
- Vancouver : $845
- West End : $896
- South Granville: $820
- Kitsilano : $895
- East Hastings : $683
- Burnaby : $750
- New Westminster : $674
- North Vancouver City : $809
- West Vancouver : $1,175
- Delta: $720
- Surrey : $703
- Langley : $715
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