B.C. Court gives ok to law saying landlords must prove renovations are necessary
A B.C. Court of Appeal decision upholding a “renoviction” bylaw passed in New Westminster two years ago should provide a level of confidence to other communities who are contemplating such measures to deal with a shortage of affordable housing, advocates say.
The April 30 decision by an appeal court tribunal rejected the arguments of a private company that wanted to evict all residents of a 21-unit building at the same time.
“There are likely some municipalities that were waiting to see what the outcome of this decision was because I think many municipalities knew this was happening and want to implement similar bylaws,” says Zuzana Modrovic, a lawyer with The Tenant Resource & Advisory Centre. The group has been tackling the issue of renovictions on behalf of tenants.
Other municipalities that already have similar bylaws — Vancouver and Burnaby — are likely happy that the court decision reaffirms their decision to do so.
“I think that the municipalities who want to put something like this in place or are already have done so will be pleased and emboldened by this decision,” says Modrovic. “And any cities which still don’t have something in place, or are thinking of it, probably don’t want to.”
On behalf of the appeal court panel, Justice Gail Dickson wrote: “The city has a long-standing concern with the need to preserve local affordable rental housing and has recently become particularly concerned with a perceived increase in the risk of renovictions in New Westminster.”
In 2017, the municipality modified its official community plan to include a policy to “[f]oster a rental housing stock in which tenants have adequate opportunities to live in healthy, safe, and secure housing.” The city then embarked on a rental housing revitalization initiative to address, among other things, renovictions.
It defined renoviction as the eviction of tenants under the guise of performing major renovations on units and significantly increasing the rent.
In a statement, New Westminster Mayor Jonathan Coté said “this important ruling supports the city in taking bold steps to directly respond to the housing crisis.
“Our hope is that the court’s decision could empower other municipalities to develop similar bold regulations as we all work to preserve and create more affordable housing in our cities.”
The mayor’s statement went on to say that “this ruling by the highest court in the province confirms that it was within the city’s powers to adopt the amendment bylaw.”
Emilie Adin, the city’s director of development services told the New West Record the amendment bylaw regulations “will continue to protect the city’s aging stock of over 9,000 purpose-built rental units, in 300-plus buildings, representing over 60% of the rental supply” He also said the city has been contacted “by municipalities across Canada who have an interest in our approach to tackling renovictions.”
The municipality passed the bylaw in February 2019 to prevent landlords from evicting tenants without permits, evicting without relocating tenants, failing to provide a relocation agreement or relocation documentation, and implementing an excessive rent increase.
Landlords caught doing so without good reason could be fined up to $1,000 a day and lose their business licences. In addition, if they want a licence to evict an entire building for repair work, they must apply to the city and prove the renovations are necessary and that it would be unlivable for tenants to stay during the renovations.
In addition to revoking the business licences of multi-family rental property owners who don’t comply with the bylaw, the city established fines of $500 and $1,000 for evicting tenants without permits, evicting without relocating tenants, failing to provide a relocation agreement or providing relocation documentation and implementing an excessive rent increase.
In May 2019, the plaintiff, in this case, purchased the building that was at issue in this case. It then applied for a judicial review of the bylaw three weeks later. According to the plaintiff, the building needs extensive cosmetic, mechanical and electrical upgrades. The building’s new owners claimed that it required all 21 units to be empty for a minimum of one year to complete the renovations, expected to cost more than $1 million.
While it had construction financing to cover the expected cost of the proposed renovations, the owner had not applied to the city for an exemption.
The company argued that New Westminster did not have the authority to pass the bylaw under the Community Charter — but the Supreme Court of B.C. found the charter “regulates the health, safety or protection of persons or property in relation to rental units and residential property subject to a tenancy agreement.”
On appeal, all three appeal court justices made the same conclusion. The panel also found that the bylaw did not contradict the province’s Residential Tenancy Act.
Justice Dickson wrote that so long as complimentary local laws do not frustrate other legislation, “in an area of jurisdictional overlap, the level of government that is closest to the matter will often introduce complementary legislation to accommodate local circumstances.”
It was “reasonable for the City to conclude the Community Charter authorized it to enact the bylaw to regulate renovictions,” she wrote, adding the Residential Tenancy Act and the Community Charter “contemplated overlapping and complementary jurisdiction.”
Modrovic says that changes to the Residential Tenancy Act, expected to go into force July 1, are a good start but still don’t deal with some fundamental issues that impact tenants who face renovictions.
The B.C. government, on March 1, announced that it would extend the freeze on rent increases and proposed a new policy that would have landlords apply to the Residential Tenancy Branch to evict people for renovations. They would have to show renovation permits, demonstrate that renovations are significant enough to require vacancy and prove that renovations are necessary.
However, Modrovic says more is needed to protect affordable rental stock, given that many of these units are in buildings that probably need renovations.
“There is a shortcoming in the provincial legislation is that there is no rent control between tenancies, so when one tenant leaves the tenancy, and then the landlord renovates the unit, they can re-rent it for a much higher amount,” she says.
“That also happens where a landlord evicts somebody for renovation. The way the system works now provincially, whenever a landlord successfully evicts a tenant for renovations, they get to set the price for that unit once the renovations are complete. They don’t have to offer the evicted tenants anything even close to the price they were paying before.”