Ending ‘renter bias’: The arguments for and against ending rules that limit rental housing

Soudabeh Zarrinkafsh has lived in the spacious basement of a North Vancouver townhouse, with a door that walks out onto a leafy backyard garden, for two years. And she doesn’t want to move.
But the UBC Hospital employee may be forced to look for a new suite she can afford — a daunting task during a severe housing crisis — because of long-standing rules that advocates complain have an anti-renter bias.

A provincial task force has recommended the province eliminate a policy that allows strata corporations to ban rentals, but the NDP has not acted. And some municipalities still have bylaws that restrict secondary suites and other types of rentals.
“It’s a challenge because … I love this house that I’m living in right now,” said Zarrinkafsh, who co-ordinates doctor positions in the fellowship program at UBC Hospital’s radiology department.
“This is such a big issue with the housing and availability and affordability. And this place may have to sit empty. I can’t understand the logic behind it.”
The townhouse where Zarrinkafsh lives is in a development near the base of Grouse Mountain that was built in 1985 and is overseen by a strata council that prohibits rentals. In addition, North Vancouver District bylaws forbid secondary suites in the townhouse complex, as it is zoned “multi-family.”
“The District needs to say you can have legal suites in our area, and (the province) has to get rid of the rental restrictions in stratas. If those two things happen, then we’re going to have a ton of additional accommodations,” predicted townhouse owner Jackie Ashley, who rents her basement to Zarrinkafsh under a temporary exception she fears will soon end.
Housing advocates agree these types of bans should be abolished to create more desperately needed rentals. Others insist many strata owners don’t want these rules changed, arguing it would not open up many new rentals and could even reduce affordable housing stock.
This issue was highlighted in 2018 when a provincial rental housing task force, overseen by NDP MLA Spencer Chandra Herbert, recommended government eliminate the power of stratas to ban owners from renting out their units.
Its report said, “Most Canadian provinces allow owners of strata units to rent them out and do not allow discrimination against renters.” It also said stratas should get the power to evict problem tenants.
The NDP government said it would act in 2020, after it had time to consider legislative changes and do consultation.

Three years after the release of the report, the ministry responsible for housing said nearly all the 23 recommendations had been implemented, but not the call to end strata rental restrictions. That still requires “further study and analysis,” the ministry said.
“We’re in a rental housing crisis, and I’ve had a lot of people contact me about this issue and we’re having a look at it. We’ve been doing policy work on it, given the recommendation of the rental housing task force,” Housing Minister David Eby said, although he provided no timelines.
“There’s lots of layers of barriers to rental housing, unfortunately,” he said in response to a question about municipal bylaws restricting rentals. “I think, really, it comes from a time when the majority of people weren’t renters, and the bias was obviously towards home ownership. But obviously we’re in a different situation today.”

Last year, there were 33,871 strata developments with 720,538 units in B.C., which provided homes for more than a quarter of British Columbians. It is difficult to estimate, though, how many of those units could be freed up for tenants if the restrictions were eliminated, because there is no obligation for stratas to report to the province whether they have rental bans.

Generally, strata properties built since 2010 allow owners to rent their units, while for those built before 2010, about half have some type of rental restrictions, said Tony Gioventu, executive director of the Condominium Home Owners Association of B.C.
Even if ending rental restrictions in condos provides a relatively small number of new housing options, it is better than none, said Robert Patterson, a lawyer with the Tenant Resource and Advisory Centre, an advocacy organization.

“In the midst of a housing crisis, it doesn’t make sense to have buildings that prohibit renters just as a class of people. This is something that would be a positive step, absolutely, to require stratas to permit rentals in all their units,” Patterson said.

And it would provide new housing “without having to build a single building, just with a simple stroke of a pen,” he added.

There is one source that could hints at the number of new rentals that might come onto the market with this change.

From 2018 to 2021, an average of 3,428 strata units in B.C.’s biggest urban centres were listed as vacant or underutilized under B.C.’s speculation and vacancy tax, but received an exemption from the tax because their stratas limited rentals. However, that tax exemption is set to end this year.

“We encourage strata property owners who do not want to pay (the speculation and vacancy tax) to use their units to provide much needed housing, either by working with their stratas to change their bylaws to allow for rentals or by using their strata property as their principal residence,” the housing ministry statement said.

It is not known how many rentals could be created if municipalities lifted laws that restrict secondary suites in certain types of homes. North Vancouver District, like some other Lower Mainland cities, is gathering opinions from residents about whether to create more secondary suites, short-term rentals, and infill housing in single-family neighbourhoods.

“Like many other places in the region, it’s become more and more challenging, if not impossible, for a lot of people to live here,” said Coun. Mathew Bond. “More options, especially in a lot of our existing neighbourhoods, means that more people can stay. I think that’s really important for our community.”

A report to council is expected this summer, but it is too soon to know when any changes will happen or if they will include multi-family neighbourhoods like Ashley’s, he said.

Ashley, who along with her husband owns the 3,000-square-foot townhouse where Zarrinkafsh lives, provided Postmedia with correspondence from the District that indicates it has no regulations restricting a tenant in her home, as long as she isn’t providing meals (as “lodging” is prohibited) and as long as it’s not in a secondary suite.

The district “understand(s) that rental restrictions may be contained by your strata bylaws,” its email added.

Three years ago, when the couple’s three sons were in university, they received a “hardship” exemption from their strata council, allowing them to rent out their basement.

This year, after two of their sons graduate (sic)(d), Ashley believes the majority of council members no longer intend to continue their hardship exemption. That means the couple will lose their rental income, and will have to evict Zarrinkafsh.

“It’s just terrible for Soudabeh,” Ashley said. “How are people going to be able to afford to live in this community if they can’t rent or, even if you buy, if you can’t have a tenant to subsidize your mortgage?”

Ashley said many owners in her complex have told her they would support overturning the rental ban. But not everyone agrees.

Heather Peacock, who owns a townhouse in the same development, said renters were allowed when the community was first built but “due to significant issues with tenants not conducting themselves according to our bylaws, owners voted to end rentals.”

Peacock, who sits on the strata council, argues only a handful of the owners in the 32-townhouse development would want to have tenants. While she is aware that there are good tenants, she says she witnessed numerous problems with renters in a North Vancouver building where she owns a condo and also sits on the strata.

“The rest of us want to live peacefully, not have the issue of dealing with renters … or any noise or lack of care that may come with them,” she said of her fellow townhouse owners.

“Our type of accommodation will not help with the rental situation. It is too expensive. More apartment buildings need rentals or, at least, not allow vacant suites.” David Hutniak, CEO of the industry group LandlordBC, and Gioventu, of the condo owners association, also do not support the province ending strata rental restrictions, and believe the government’s focus should instead be on more purpose-built rental housing.
A 2017 survey by Gioventu’s organization found developments built before 2010, which had rental restrictions, had vacancy rates of less than one per cent. Buildings constructed after 2010 with no rental restrictions had far higher vacancy rates because, he said, many units were purchased by speculators who sometimes rented them out but sometimes didn’t.

Gioventu fears that removing rental restrictions from pre-2010 buildings would make those units attractive to speculators. He said there is a recent pattern of speculators buying several units in the same building, then wielding their votes to prevent the strata from doing necessary maintenance, and then ultimately pushing for redevelopment.

“So the assumption here is that by eliminating rental bylaws, we were going to solve the rental problem. Well, it wouldn’t change anything,” he said.

NDP MLA Spencer Chandra Herbert speaks with tenants who received eviction notices in 2014.© Arlen Redekop NDP MLA Spencer Chandra Herbert speaks with tenants who received eviction notices in 2014.
However, Herbert, the NDP MLA who oversaw the task force report, maintains removing the bylaws could be beneficial.

And while the rental task force heard from some strata members who were concerned about having to manage renters, “others pointed out there are owners who are troublesome,” he added. “Renters are people, they’re no better or worse than people who own. So I completely reject any notion they would be worse neighbours.”

From Zarrinkafsh’s perspective, she simply doesn’t want to leave her affordable home and believes her landlord, Ashley, should have the right to rent out her basement.

“We know life is getting more and more expensive,” said Zarrinkafsh, who moved to Canada from Iran in 2011.

“I really don’t understand why, under the circumstances, this should be something that they make landlords and tenants do. … It’s very disappointing. It’s very stressful.”

About admin

Red Seal Journeyman Horticulturist, Landscaper, Horticulturist
This entry was posted in News for Strata/Condo owners. Bookmark the permalink.

Comments are closed.