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Bill 16: Tenancy Statutes Amendment Act

Today in the Legislature we initiated second reading debate of Bill 16: Tenancy Statutes Amendment Act, 2017. The bill makes a number of changes to the Manufactured Home Park Tenancy Act and the Residential Tenancy Act designed to:

  1. restrict the ability for landlords to use of a vacate clause with fixed term leases, except in specific circumstances that will be provided for by regulation;
  2. limit rent increases between fixed-term tenancy agreements with the same tenant to the maximum annual allowable amount;
  3. enable the residential tenancy branch to take stronger action to enforce tenancy laws with repeat violators.

Below I reproduce the text and video of my speech.


Text of Speech


A. Weaver: I rise to take my place in the debates at second reading on Bill 16, Tenancy Statutes Amendment Act.

As we’ve heard, this bill has three main goals. It makes amendments to the Manufactured Home Park Tenancy Act and the Residential Tenancy Act. The bill makes the following changes. First, it restricts the ability for landlords to use a vacate clause with fixed-term leases except in special circumstances that will be provided for by regulation. Two, it limits rent increases between fixed-term tenancies with the same tenant to the maximum annual allowable amount. Three, it enables the residential tenancy branch to take stronger actions to enforce laws and repeat violators, and also it streamlines the dispute resolution process for the return of security and pet deposits.

I rise to speak to this bill as someone who historically has both been a renter and a landlord — a landlord since 1986 in one form or another. I rise to say that I approach this bill very cautiously.

I recognize that there is a crisis facing affordability in Metro Vancouver and in metro Victoria, where vacancy rates are below half a percent or 0.6 percent.

And I recognize that there are a number of bad apples out there — I come back to the Leader of the Opposition’s term “bad apples” — who have created a crisis, in terms of fixed-term leases being used as a means of avoiding the law, the law which limits rent increases for people who are there.

Now, I approach this also from the sides of those who are landlords to recognize that the fixed-term lease often is one of the only means to actually get a tenant out of a property if the tenant is actually not responsibly taking care of that property.

I understand that there is the rental tenancy agency and the agreement. I’m concerned that without an injection of substantial funds — something I’ll explore in the committee stage, and I understand these will be forthcoming —the intent will be lost of this one tool that landlords have to ensure that they can evict a tenant in a timely fashion without having to drag through the RTA process.

Because we do know that there are some cases where we have irresponsible landlords, but we also have irresponsible renters. So I respect the need for this legislation in a basically zero-vacancy market.

We have a crisis on our hands. We need to deal with that crisis to ensure that renters, the most vulnerable in the society, are not being taken advantage of by those exploiting it. But at the same time, in the longer term, I think we need to look very carefully at how we actually move the whole Residential Tenancy Act forward to ensure that we protect good landlords.

I come to my own personal circumstance as somebody who has been a landlord for many, many years and, also, from a family of people who worked in the restaurant business, who did not have a pension. They had no pension other than by the fact that they squirrelled their savings into real estate to ensure that their pension would be the rent from this real estate in their retirement.

Now again, the single most important thing a landlord can do is get a good tenant who lives in the same place for a long time. A good tenant is more valuable than $100 a month, because you know a good tenant is one that will take care of the property and is one you do not price out of the market.

One of the means and ways that landlords use this fixed-term clause is you’ll sign a one-year agreement but not automatically go to the month-to-month, because automatically going to the month-to-month will start to invoke the RTA process.

And you view it both for protection of the landlord and the renter. This one-year period is a period to see whether the relationship…. In a tenant or renter case, for most small business landlords — not the multinationals or the big property owners but the small business ones who are really trying to get the best tenant — this is a good check to ensure that you’re a match.

In my personal case, I viewed it as a way to give back. We, for years and years, have given below-market rent in a house or two houses because we could give someone a leg-up. We could give them a chance, and we’d know that they’d be there and they’d take care of the property for a long, long time.

I mean, some members here would think it kind of odd if I said that we rented a four-bedroom house for a $1,000 a month. That is what we did here, because it covered our costs, it gave people a break, and it allowed us to protect ourselves for the future and our children in this escalating real estate market.

With that said, we can look to those bad apples. Those bad apples have taken this and made it into a crisis, and I have no sympathy for that.

People taking advantage of other people because of a difficult time in affordability is wrong at a fundamental level, which is why ultimately I support this bill, with the caveat that I’ll explore at committee stage some of the attempts that government will take to actually ensure that the rental tenancy office is resourced properly, so that delays are not there for the sake of delays, that people can get responses for concerns in a timely fashion, that landlords and renters are protected. Because ultimately, I think the collective view here is we want to make this system better.

As we know, there’s a small minority of these landlords who’ve been engaged in this business. And again, for those out there, other landlords, we really need to turn to those irresponsible landlords and say: “You know what? This is your fault.” Government has responded, as it must respond, to a crisis that was created by irresponsible landlords taking advantage of a system. For that, again, I come back to the reason why ultimately I think this is an important bill to support.

In terms of the enforcement laws, this too is important. The amendments that are being proposed will allow the branch to more strongly enforce the tenancy laws. Again, this is important because they will be able to compel the production of documents as part of penalty investigations, publish penalty decisions, refuse to accept an application for dispute resolution if an administrative penalty is owed and pursue prosecution where penalties have been levied but there is still no compliance.

This largely protects the renter, but there are clauses in here that do also protect the landlord with respect to administrative penalties if they have not been paid as well. Again, this is a good component of the legislation, which I’m very pleased to support.

Finally, when it comes to streamlining pet and damage deposits, again, this legislation…. I understand the need for doing it, but ultimately it comes back to the fact that those few bad apples out there have required such legislation be put in place.

The overwhelming majority of landlords take the return of pet and damage deposits very seriously. They follow due process. They ensure that they’re not retained for inappropriate means. To be blunt, the process, if the renter knows — going through the rental tenancy branch and the whole adjudication process — is very, very cumbersome, and nobody wants to do that. So the majority of landlords have been following process appropriately. But again, those bad apples have made this necessary.

I come to the compelling arguments put forward by the member for Vancouver–West End, who is in an area of Metro Vancouver with a very low vacancy rate, very high rental accommodations — frankly, a whole bunch of vacant places as well — and I hear his concerns. I hear his concerns, and I support the amendments, as we’ve seen fit to ensure that the retention of security deposits is not done inappropriately.

In conclusion, I support the intent of this bill to end the abuse of the current act by a small number of landlords who skirt rent controls and evict people from their homes if they won’t agree to large rent increases. I look forward to discussing the bill in committee stage and, in particular, exploring the means and ways the tenancy branch will actually be funded and the means and ways that will allow disputes to be dealt with in a timely fashion, and I look forward to listening to others in this second reading debate.


Video of Speech


Provincial funding for Public Libraries

Today in Committee A (which sits simultaneously with the main Chamber), Education Budget Estimates were being addressed. I took the opportunity to ask the Education Minister about funding for public libraries.

As you will see from the exchange (reproduced in text and video below), the BC Liberals cut the budget for public libraries by 20% in 2009. Since 2010, public libraries have received about $14 million from the province on an annual basis. There has been no cost of living adjustment since that time and increasing costs have been downloaded to local governments.

What’s worse is that historically there was a line item in the Budget that noted funding specifically set aside for public libraries. That line item recently disappeared and now Provincial funding is buried within the general education budget.

I was very pleased with the thoughtful responses I received from the Minister of Education.


Video of Exchange



Text of Exchange


A. Weaver: I’m going to switch topics slightly. Oak Bay–Gordon Head is not pressing for the building of new schools. We have thanked the previous government, actually, for the new high school that was built in Oak Bay quite recently.

I’d like to ask a couple of questions on public libraries, if I may. I don’t know whether that requires staff to change. It’ll be a few questions on public libraries. I do apologize for not providing my questions in advance, but it’s been crazy today. I’m actually supposed to be speaking right now in the main House at the same time, but clearly, I’m not. Can I proceed? Thank you.

A number of years ago, back in 2010, public libraries lost about 20 percent of their funds. Public libraries were cut to $14 million provincewide, and it’s remained flat ever since. In previous budgets, there used to be an actual line item that said “Public library funding, $14 million.” Now that line item no longer exists at all.

I’m concerned, in light of the fact that public libraries play such an important role in any democratic institution, that this line item is hidden somewhere, and it may be subject to future cuts. I’m trying to get a sense from the minister whether or not public libraries are protected in this budget update, and I’ll follow up with a couple of questions after that.

Hon. R. Fleming: I thank the member for his question. We haven’t gotten to libraries yet in this set of estimates. He may know that there has been some advocates for library funding for many, many years who have passed resolutions at the Union of B.C. Municipalities and other places specifically asking the library funding to come out of the Ministry of Education.

After I was sworn in, I endeavoured to meet with all of the four major library associations in the province to ask them if that historic position was still, indeed, the case. I’m happy to say they are giving us a chance, as a ministry, to do more with public libraries.

I certainly understand how critically important they are in communities. We’ve heard that loud and clear. I had at least a dozen or a dozen and a half meetings with mayors and councillors at the recent UBCM conference specifically about libraries and how important they are in all communities but rural communities especially.

Their utilization rates are growing all the time. There are a couple of communities — Trail is one that comes to mind — where they’re investing significant capital dollars in state-of-the-art library facilities. So there are good things happening out there.

In specific reference to the member’s question about the cut that the previous government brought in in 2008, when library funding was reduced from $17 million to $14 million, and where it’s at currently. In this budget update, the $14 million is protected. I’ve made that clear to anybody that is working in local government or in the library sector that that is the case.

We’re having some interesting conversations about what a new vision might look like for libraries in B.C. As the member understands, this is the budget update, so it was not a lengthy opportunity to engage in budget-making, but to his question, specifically, the $14 million in funding is protected.

A. Weaver: Thank you, minister. There will be a lot of people very happy to hear that answer on record.

I do recognize, and I have some sympathy, that public libraries are coming out of the Ministry of Education. It’s a difficult jurisdiction for whether it should be advanced ed. You could make the argument that it could be advanced ed, or it could, who knows, span many ministries.

I think the key aspect, though, is the shared importance of protecting these for public good. These are a public resource that is critical to the betterment of society. Many of the municipalities are concerned, as the minister knows, because of the fact that, since the funds have been stalled are at $14 million with no cost of living increase, costs have been downloaded onto municipalities.

The concern is that some of their budgets are going to getting some shocks, pretty soon, when the new public library budget comes in.

My question to the minister. I know this is a budget update. It’s if the minister is thinking — whether it be through his ministry or other ministries — about, perhaps, actually putting the libraries into a base budget somewhere and giving them the opportunity to grow through the provincial funding, whether it be through cost of living or other. Because it’s very difficult to make ends meet with funding that has been frozen for quite a number of years.

Hon. R. Fleming: Thank you to the member for that follow-up question. There has been some contemplation about where libraries might best fit in the structures of government. I think there’s a strong case to be made that the Ministry of Education is the right place for it. We have terrific partnerships all across British Columbia with local libraries. We’ve been asked to look at whether broadband access that we provide to rural and remote schools might be possible for libraries to benefit from. Lots of exciting discussions and literacy programs that happen between our local libraries and school districts.

Having said that, what the issue I think he’s getting at here is, is the frustration from, essentially, the erosion of library funding over the last ten years, nearly, since that cut was introduced to library funding. Then it was frozen against inflation — a bit of a double hit. It has led to a decline in the overall percentage share of provincial contribution to libraries. It’s meant that local governments have faced tax pressure on their ratepayers to make up for that state of affairs.

I heard mayors loud and clear and have been lobbied directly by a lot of city councillors, as well, and regional district directors to look at exactly that. I can say it’s a conversation that’s happening within government. I did not fail to note that the Union of B.C. Municipalities passed a resolution as well.

I think I will just conclude by thanking the member for raising it. It’s an important issue, and I think there’s massive potential for libraries to provide additional life-long learning opportunities, connection to employment and just general resilience and wellbeing of individuals and the communities that they serve.

Where’s the Capital Integrated Services & Governance Initiative report?

On June 1, 2016 the Minster of Community, Sport and Cultural Development, Peter Fassbender, announced that the province had commissioned two consulting firms to

facilitate fact-finding and discussion among local governments in the region to help inform opportunities that support the efficient delivery of services needed by communities and citizens

Today in the Legislature I rose to question the Minster as to the status of the so called Capital Integrated Services & Governance Initiative report. A preliminary version of the report was completed in the fall. A final version was to be delivered by early January 2017.

I was very unsatisfied with the response I received. Below I reproduce the video and text of the exchange.


Video of Question & Answer



Text of Question & Answer


A. Weaver: The government commissioned a study on municipal shared services in the capital region in 2016. That report has been ready since October of last year.

Could the Minister of Community, Sport and Cultural Development please explain why this report has not been released and when he is planning to do so?

Hon. P. Fassbender: Indeed, the report is being finalized. It is being reviewed. I have communicated with the mayors in the region that that report will be brought forward when that final review is done, and then it will be shared publicly as well.

 

Bill M231 — Ensuring municipalities actually have residents!

Today in the legislature I introduced Bill M231 — Local Government Amendment Act.

If passed, this Bill will ensure that municipalities in BC cannot be incorporated without first ensuring that there are residents actually living in the area at the time of incorporation. This might seem like an unnecessary bill as it would seem obvious that a municipality, governed by a Mayor and two Councillors, should actually have people and property to govern. Well that’s not the case in the wild west of British Columbia politics.

Back in 2012, the BC Liberals amended The Local Government Act to allow mountain resort municipalities to be created that have no residents. In particular, this was done in support of the proposed Jumbo Glacier Mountain resort that I have written about earlier.

Given opposition to the resort by the Ktunaxa Nation, the fact that the environmental assessment certificate has expired, and that the project has not substantially started, it seemed timely to close the loophole for good as it sets a dangerous precedence.

Below I reproduce the text and video of my introduction of the Bill.


Text of my Introduction


A. Weaver: I move that a bill intituled the Local Government Amendment Act, 2017, of which notice has been given in my name, be introduced and read a first time now.

Motion approved.

A. Weaver: I’m pleased to be reintroducing a bill intituled the Local Government Amendment Act. It’s absurd that in British Columbia today a municipality exists that has no houses, no infrastructure and no people. The Jumbo Glacier Resort is designated as a mountain resort municipality, and despite not having any people, it has a salaried, province-supported mayor and two councillors.

This government created the loophole that has allowed this municipality to exist, despite there being no residents. It was created solely for the purpose of a specific pet-project that this government wants to proceed.

This bill would close this ridiculous loophole and ensure that municipalities in British Columbia actually have people living in them.

I move that the bill be placed on the orders of the day for second reading at the next sitting after today.

Bill M231, Local Government Amendment Act, 2017, introduced, read a first time and ordered to be placed on orders of the day for second reading at the next sitting of the House after today.


Video of my Introduction


Highlights from Housing & Affordability Town Hall

I would like to extend my sincere thanks to everyone who attended and participated in our recent Town Hall on Housing and Affordability. We were lucky to have a diverse range of panelists bring their own perspectives and insights to our discussion about the complex challenges facing our housing market. In the Q&A period following the presentations, audience members provided their personal perspectives on how the housing and affordability crisis has affected them, asked a number of insightful questions and offered some creative potential solutions. It was a lively and informative discussion.

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Cairine Green, a Community Housing Advocate and volunteer Board Director for Our Place Society, spoke about some of the causes and the effects of the housing and affordability crisis in Victoria and across the Province. The BC Non-Profit Housing Association defines affordable housing as requiring 30% or less of gross household income (in 2012); two other factors are suitable housing, where there are enough bedrooms for the size and make-up of occupants, and adequacy, where a home does not require major repairs. Increasingly, fewer and fewer people in Victoria live in housing that meets these criteria. Cairine highlighted the importance of affordable housing in maintaining healthy and sustainable communities, and the concerns of low-income seniors who want to be able to stay in their homes as they get older. She outlined the actions that municipalities can take to stem the tide of rising housing costs, and the need for different levels of government to work together to implement solutions.

30385634136_ff4d3d5a96_zAlex McGowan, Chairperson of the Alliance of BC Students and President at the Kwantlen Student Association, emphasized the challenges facing students looking for housing, as well as the steps that Universities can take to address student housing needs, thereby benefitting the rental market more widely. His comments were supported by Maxwell Nicholson, Director of Campaigns & Community Relations from the UVic Student Society who was also in attendance.

In the last ten years, the number of full-time students in B.C. has steadily grown and the number of international students has nearly doubled, yet very few new residence spaces have opened. There is a high demand for student housing: the Alliance of BC Students estimates that Universities in BC need to double their stock of student housing to meet the need. In 2014/2015 there were 10,900 students on waitlists for campus housing in B.C., nearly 3,000 of which were on the UVic list alone. Student housing is cheap to build, and would play an important role in easing the pressure on the rental market, creating space for those who may be currently in unaffordable housing or squeezed out of the market all together. A serious problem is that the Province won’t allow post-secondary institutions to take on the debt needed to build more student housing on their land. Yet debt undertaken to build campus housing in B.C.’s desperate market would not impact the government’s credit rating as it would be self-supporting through residence fees.

30385632556_da0cf05d74_zKyle Kerr, a licensed Realtor with RE/MAX Camosun, Associate Partner with Tony Joe and Associates, and a Director of the Victoria Real Estate Board, brought his insights from his experience in real estate to bear on the crisis in Victoria. He highlighted the factors that make Victoria such an attractive place to live and have led to an increase in net migration here, such as the industries here (including Government, military, tourism and technology), our educational institutions, and the lifestyle that Victoria offers. These strengths make it unlikely that we will see a significant housing crash or a “bursting of the bubble” in Victoria. Kyle also discussed the need to build more affordable housing, and to increase density, to meet demand.

30305066552_c036472a40_zEric Swanson, Executive Director of Generation Squeeze, showed how the odds that young Canadians face in getting into the housing market and purchasing their own home are difficult, if not impossible, to overcome. He highlighted the differences in the magnitude of the challenges faced by young Canadians today versus forty years ago, in 1976, showing that average earnings have decreased, student debt has increased, and the average housing price has more than doubled, leading to a situation where young Canadians in BC have to save more than three times as long for a down payment on a house today than in 1976.

Potential solutions to the crisis highlighted by the panelists and explored in the Q&A period include actions that different levels of government and members of the public can take.

The Provincial Government can offer support for co-housing or blended housing, to allow seniors to stay in their homes, while providing an affordable rental option for low-income individuals, families or students. As an essential step in addressing student housing needs, the Province could reverse its stance on preventing universities from acquiring debt to build more on-campus housing.

Municipalities have a number of tools at their disposal that they can use to address the housing crisis. These include:

  • Removing minimum unit size requirements;
  • Reduce parking requirements for units;
  • Removing re-zoning requirements for garden and laneway housing;
  • Reviewing housing reserve fund guidelines for grants to developers of affordable housing projects;
  • Supporting the conversions of older hotels/motels to housing units;
  • Establishing land trusts, in which municipalities contribute publicly-owned land at no cost or at a reduced market value for the development of affordable housing projects;
  • Demanding more from developers, such as higher percentages of affordable units to meet community need;
  • reducing unnecessary regulations in building codes.

The City of Victoria has already implemented some of these measures, and is considering more, such as “an inclusionary housing density bonus policy” where new housing has to represent the income distribution of the area in which it is built.

Individuals can become familiar with their official community plans and local housing strategy. An important action that individuals can take is to attend council meetings to express their thoughts on proposed projects, especially voicing their support for projects that would result in more affordable housing.

I am grateful for the commitment and ongoing concern so many in our community are giving to this crucial issue facing our Province. There are few topics of more importance facing our Province today.