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B.C. nixes Victoria vacancy control plea, group says rent hike stop-gap needed

Anti-poverty group doubts government claim that the rent-increase limits would deter new building
The B.C. government has rejected implementing vacancy controls as prospective Greater Victoria tenants face high comparative costs when units turnover.

A Greater Victoria renter seeking a new place to live last year would be poised to pay 41 per cent more on average than those who didn't have to leave their unit. 

That figure marks the gap in affordability between Capital Region units that experienced turnover and those that stayed occupied in 2023, according to the Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC). 

It also shows how the market could be getting even costlier for renters having to move. The CHMC reported that in 2022, a vacant Greater Victoria two-bedroom apartment was being rented at 33 per cent higher than an occupied unit in the same building. 

Despite that erosion of affordability, the province has once again shut down a call from Victoria to implement some sort of limit to how much rents can increase between tenancies. 

In response to questions from Black Press Media, B.C.'s Ministry of Housing says it has no plans to implement vacancy controls. 

It's the third time in as many years the province has rejected Victoria council's request for such a policy. Most recently, the capital city voted to endorse a Union of B.C. Municipalities resolution imploring the province to impose vacancy controls on "financial landlords," such as real estate investment trusts and other corporate actors. 

"Government has considered vacancy control and determined that it would have the unintended consequence of reducing affordable rental stock as it will discourage new development," a ministry spokesperson said. 

The ministry initially said it was following its rental housing task force's 2018 recommendation not to implement controls, and added that it's supporting renters through moves like capping annual allowable rent increases below inflation and cracking down on illegal renovictions. 

Asked if the province has looked into vacancy controls since 2018, the ministry said it constantly monitors opportunities to provide the rental market with more housing and affordability. It added the government is committed to a balance that ensures renters have stable homes and landlords can confidently rent out their units. 

"Our approach is focused on making the rental system work better for everyone involved. Landlords own their property and are within their rights to rent out units at selected rates," the ministry spokesperson said.  

One Victoria-based anti-poverty agency says, contrary to the province's claims, it's the lack of vacancy controls that's hurting the affordable housing stock. 

B次元官网网址淗aving such a strong rent control during tenancies but no rent control whatsoever in between tenancies has actually created an environment where we incentivize landlords targeting their most stable and long-term tenants, and often that turns out to be seniors who canB次元官网网址檛 afford a change in their rent,B次元官网网址 said Douglas King, executive director of Together Against Poverty Society's (TAPS). 

That's led to a situation where the supply of subsidized housing can't keep up with the amount of low-income people being pushed into a market that's too expensive, he said. TAPS helped a low-income client this month who was forced from her Esquimalt apartment days before new provincial rules restricting no-fault evictions came into effect. 

After the building was bought by an owner who decided to move into her unit, King said the single mother has had to couch surf for over two months B次元官网网址 to avoid homelessness that would result in her child being taken B次元官网网址 as she waited for a subsidized housing space. The case shows how those having to leave their lower-priced units can't afford market rent, but also aren't being captured by public housing like they were just a few years ago, King said.  

B次元官网网址淲eB次元官网网址檙e just seeing the system not work the way it used to,B次元官网网址 he said.  

TAPS sees vacancy controls as a stop-gap measure to deter "catastrophic" rent increases, like costs jumping 20 per cent in a year. King said it's been frustrating that the province hasn't considered the regulation even as an interim tool while B.C.'s myriad of home-supply-boosting policies take hold over the next few years. 

B次元官网网址淰acancy control would be the linchpin that would really be the most effective way at trying to keep rent where it is and prevent it from rising,B次元官网网址 he said. 

Some housing advocates, the B.C. Green Party and groups like the B.C. General Employers Union have called for tying allowable rent increases to units rather than tenants B次元官网网址 a move the B.C. NDP made in the '70s when inflation was high and vacancy rates were low. 

The Greater Victoria-based housing advocacy group Homes for Living doesn't support vacancy control as it says the policy would only be a band-aid solution for a few that would come at the expense of everyone else, including future renters.     

B次元官网网址淚t doesnB次元官网网址檛 address the cause of the problem, which is that housing is incredibly scarce,B次元官网网址 the group's Jack Sandor said. B次元官网网址淚t would make the problem worse long-term and would only help a small number of people in the short term.B次元官网网址 

The larger issue lies in the market's extremely constrained supply, Sandor said, adding that per-capita home-building trails far behind what it was decades ago when housing was abundant, and therefore affordable. While saying the solution is to massively increase supply across the housing spectrum, he acknowledges that current shortages offer a financial incentive to hike rents as high as the market will bear. 

B次元官网网址淲hen we talk about B次元官网网址榃hy are landlords able to kick people out and jack the rent up,B次元官网网址 well they couldnB次元官网网址檛 do that if there was a whole bunch more housing,B次元官网网址 Sandor said. B次元官网网址淭he only feasible way to stop them from doing that is giving people enough other options that (landlords) canB次元官网网址檛 pull that off.B次元官网网址

Asked about the impact of vacancy controls, LandlordBC said such regulations would "sound the death knell" to purpose-built rental construction in Victoria. The policy would "place existing rental housing providers in the untenable economic position of being unable to undertake anything more than basic maintenance to what is already very old rental stock," the group's CEO David Hutniak said in a statement, adding that the ability to provide seismic and energy efficiency upgrades would also be compromised. 

After the sector faced large increases in operating costs, eviction moratoriums and rent freezes in recent years, Hutniak said landlords need certainty from the government to continue providing and building rental housing. 

Black Press Media asked LandlordBC if it would support a limit on rent increases between tenancies if no upgrades or renovations were made to the unit in question. Hutniak said they wouldn't support such a proposal. The housing ministry ignored multiple questions asking how it would address large rent spikes between tenancies when little or no upgrades are made to the unit.       

King, of TAPS said his group has seen landlords reap record profits as they continue to claim that vacancy controls would lead to inoperable drops in revenue. The issue is made possible by the province doing little oversight into property owners' profits, he said, contrasting that with how poor and low-income folks have to disclose every detail of their earnings to receive government supports. 

B次元官网网址淲hat weB次元官网网址檝e been saying to government is vacancy control is a necessary step to flip the balance of power in the relationship between the landlord and the tenant,B次元官网网址 King said. 

It also raises fundamental questions around the costs tenants are being charged, he added. 

B次元官网网址淚f the purpose of rent isnB次元官网网址檛 to actually cover operating expenses and also allow for profit B次元官网网址 then this whole system doesnB次元官网网址檛 seen to make any sense. What weB次元官网网址檙e hearing from landlords is they want their rent but then they want additional measures on top of rent to cover their operating expenses as if rent wasnB次元官网网址檛 supposed to do that in the first place,B次元官网网址 King said. 

With an election looming, King said the province's firm stance against vacancy controls will be interesting as TAPS constantly hears it's a top issue for 18- to 30-year-olds. 

B次元官网网址淰acancy control is the thing that they continually have asked for and I donB次元官网网址檛 think government is listening to them.B次元官网网址

Jake Romphf

About the Author: Jake Romphf

In early 2021, I made the move from the Great Lakes to Greater Victoria with the aim of experiencing more of the country I report on.
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