Yesterday in the Legislature I had a very productive exchange with the Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing during committee stage of Bill 16: Tenancy Statutes Amendment Act, 2017. As noted in my second reading speech, I felt it was important to highlight some potential unforeseen consequences of passing this important piece of legislation. In particular, I focused on the issue of short, fixed-term leases that are sometimes used by landlords to protect not only landlords from bad renters but also other tenants (in the same building or suite) as well.
More details are developed in the exchange reproduced in video and text below. I appreciated the thoughtful responses from the Minister.
A. Weaver: I thank the member opposite for raising this issue at this particular section. I was going to raise a similar issue at a subsequent section, as it does come in at numerous places.
I want to start by commending government for actually addressing an issue that clearly is an important issue and for providing additional resources to the rental tenancy process, because it is a very burdensome process.
I do want to bring forward the concerns that were just expressed. It is an issue that I raised at second reading too. The problem is that, I suspect, there are a lot of unforeseen consequences that might arise if this is not thought through in its entirety.
I give an example, and the member opposite, the member for Vancouver–False Creek, highlighted a number. One is, let’s suppose hypothetically, that you have a rental agreement with a number of renters, and these renters are living in the same quarters. The problem is that when you sign an agreement, you’re actually protecting other renters as well as the landlord. By signing a short-term agreement, you might have multiple people with tenancy agreements sharing rooms in a basement suite, and in fact, what’s critical is that you ensure that there’s a relationship not only between the landlord and the tenant but between the tenants themselves.
Now, we understand that there is a process to go through this by appealing, etc. But it is so burdensome, it is so impossible…. I mean, those who have had to try to remove a tenant, even with damage or not paying rent, can issue all the eviction notices they want, but the reality is that it’s very, very difficult to evict a bad tenant as it stands.
The beauty of a short term…. When I’m talking a short term — I think the member for Vancouver–False Creek and I have discussed this — we’re talking three months, four months. What we’re thinking here is that you’re giving a short-term contract — this would be all done in a regulatory fashion, obviously — which would allow for renewal but no increase in rent attached to the unit.
What this does is…. The advocacy groups were trying to attach rental increases to a unit. That, obviously, is not going to work, for a variety of reasons. However, you could take what they’re suggesting for a short-term lease of three months, say, and say that the rent cannot increase if the tenancy is a fixed-term lease for three months. Then, in fact, the rent increase is attached to the unit.
I’m wondering if the minister might consider this, as she discusses with civil servants, as a means and ways of protecting not only landlords from bad renters but other tenants as well. By having — pick a number; say, three months…. You will allow three-month fixed-term leases, but there can be no rent increase if a lease is terminated after three months. The rent must remain fixed at the previous value. This would allow landlords and other tenants to be protected in the case of an inappropriate relationship or a tenant who’s created some issues.
Hon. S. Robinson: Part what I’m hearing, actually, makes things more unstable for renters in terms of this idea that unless they’re on their best behaviour and no one complains about them, then they don’t know for three months whether or not they actually will have a place to live after 90 days. That creates more instability and, I think, more terror for the more than 1½ million renters in British Columbia.
There are provisions in the act that allow a landlord, should there be a problem tenant…. Even if it is with other tenants in the building or in the basement suite or whatever the arrangement is, there is an opportunity to have that tenant removed. That currently does exist in the act.
A. Weaver: With respect, again, I reiterate that every landlord in the province of British Columbia understands that there’s a process, but heaven forbid you actually have to enter into this process, because the process is very prejudicial, in my view and in many people’s view, against the landlord.
You could have tenants who are not paying rent for months. Try to get a tenant out if they haven’t paid rent for three months. You can get the sheriffs involved. It’s very, very difficult, even with the existing rules, because of the lack of teeth to those rules in a manner that actually allows the landlord to evict those bad tenants.
So I appreciate, again, the potential for uncertainty. But the reality is, I would argue, there wouldn’t be uncertainty because right now landlords are using such clauses for short-term reasons, and they’re using them for precisely the reasons articulated by the member for Vancouver–False Creek. It’s just to test rental situations.
The single most important thing for a landlord is to ensure that they get a tenant who will be there for a long term. Every landlord wants to get the tenant who will never move out, because when they get such a tenant, they’re not painting the walls again, they’re not replacing this. They’ve got a stable tenant.
We’re talking about a few landlords and a few tenants in all regards here, but we’re focused entirely on the tenants who’ve been abused, frankly, by those few landlords who’ve created the need for this regulation. But I worry that if we’re not thinking about those few bad tenants as well and about protecting landlords, we could create troubles down the road.
I’m not going to belabour this, because we’re going back and forth. But I urge the minister, with her staff, to seriously reflect upon the comments made by the member for Vancouver–False Creek as well as these comments, as you move forward, to ensure that good landlords are protected — not just by having to go through this abyss of a process to get rid of bad tenants — and supported as well.
There is a danger here. In having a long conversation with the various associations and one particular association involved with landlords, there’s a lot of concern in the province of British Columbia about this from landlords, good landlords — forget the bad landlords; from good landlords — and that’s why I urge caution.
Hon. S. Robinson: I take the member’s concerns quite seriously, and our government does. That’s why we have increased funding to the residential tenancy branch significantly, with an additional $7 million over the next few years. And we are developing a compliance unit that will deal with challenging tenants and challenging landlords to make sure that is addressed, because we have heard that landlords need some teeth for the act. So we’re also making sure that we’re strengthening the administrative penalties.
We’ve heard that feedback, and we’re strengthening the act. We’re strengthening the ability of the residency tenancy branch to do its job as it’s supposed to. We’re also simplifying the process for accessing the residential tenancy branch and getting the help that it needs, and we’re going to be monitoring it closely. I have asked for feedback to make sure that it is doing what it’s supposed to do.
At the end of the day, this is about managing relationships. We know that a landlord-tenant agreement is a relationship, and we want it to work. I think they do work most of the time. When things do go sideways, it’s important to have an outside body that can either help manage that relationship or help dissolve the relationship.
The act has in it times in which you can dissolve that relationship. Making sure that we have a robust residential tenancy branch that has the capacity to do its job is very, very important, and we’re going to be monitoring it closely.
A. Weaver: I just wanted to thank the minister for her thoughtful response to the questions.