OPINION: Stemming the renoviction tide in Squamish

The cities of New Westminster and Port Coquitlam have brought in new municipal bylaws to tackle the issue of “renovictions” in their communities. Vancouver, among others, has also passed motions that set similar policies in motion to help put a stop to the practice of a landlord evicting long-term tenants on the pretence of a renovation only to put the unit on the market for significantly higher rents.

These bylaws follow on the heels of provincial task force recommendations in December that prioritized renovictions among 23 recommendations intended to significantly update the province’s tenancy legislation.

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These specific bylaws and policy directions are a good start in creating greater security for renters that could help suppress exponentially rising rental rates and should be adopted by council in the future, however they do not address the preponderant challenge we have in Squamish today.

To put the issue into context, New Westminster, a city about three times Squamish’s size, has 305 purpose-built rental buildings. Squamish has a serious lack of purpose-built rental units, only 309 units in 12 buildings. And according to the 2016 Census, there are 1,990 (or 27 per cent) households that rent in Squamish leaving a vast majority of renters living in privately-owned homes and therefore outside of both the provincial recommendations on renovictions and the proposed bylaws above that do not include private rentals.

Municipalities have essentially no jurisdiction to deal with residential tenancy issues.

There are calls for the provincial government to give municipalities more tools to help address these issues however municipalities should be wary of assuming responsibility for legal issues and enforcement of provincial government regulations; it is a money pit download without proper funding. If the province wants help from municipalities in educating landlords and tenants of existing rights they should also fund it appropriately.

Municipalities are also critically important in the overall solution to affordable housing and already have some relevant legislative tools. Clear covenanted market and affordable rental targets for all new developments is one part of the solution and Squamish has been progressively moving that bar for several years and will hopefully continue to increase that percentage expectation from developers. More partnership with BC Housing or forward-thinking community-minded developers or non-profits to deliver purpose-built rental buildings like the BC Housing project in Dentville or Squamish Helping Hands’ Under One roof downtown, should be acted on expeditiously.

And, as was presented in an excellent report by staff to council at the committee of the whole meeting Feb. 19, the District should adopt the newly provincially legislated rental tenure zone as soon as possible to not only help retain existing rental stock but ambitiously and proactively increase the amount of purpose-built rental in the community.

This will take political courage because landowners will push back, but only then will renoviction bylaws have an effect and rental prices be moderated.

 

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