The City of New Westminster is attempting to put an end to the “heart wrenching” renovictions that have forced hundreds of local residents out of their homes.
On Monday, city council endorsed a new rental housing revitalization initiative that includes several components: a rental replacement policy to slow the redevelopment of older purpose-built market rental buildings; a rental revitalization tax exemption to incentivize the maintenance and protection of existing rental buildings; and new business licensing requirements to prohibit renovictions. If approved, New Westminster will have the first municipal bylaws in the province that impose restrictions and fines for renovictions.
Emilie Adin, the city’s director of development services, said renovictions are becoming more commonplace in New Westminster, and staff is aware of renovictions occurring in at least 15 rental buildings, affecting at least 315 units, in the past two years.
Mayor Jonathan Cote said rental housing is an important piece of the housing stock in New Westminster, where just over half of residents are renters.
“In many regards, our past policies have been successful and we have been leaders in the region, but I think the one area that our community has really struggled with is renovictions,” he said. “Having over 300 households be evicted through the process of renovictions, I think has been really heart wrenching on the community and something that we as a local government have really struggled with.”
While renovictions should be governed through the province’s Residential Tenancy Act, Cote said New Westminster has faced “considerable frustration” in recent years because the recommendations it’s put forward to better protect renters have not led to changes to the Act. He said a provincial task force recently recommended putting an end to the practice of renovictions, but provided few specifics on how that will be achieved or a timeline.
“I think the urgency from New Westminster’s perspective, it’s almost like every month we hear about another building that is faced with renovictions,” he said. “I really do applaud the staff for what I would say is out-of-the-box thinking in terms of the policy approach that is being presented here. The reality is there is no other community that has policies already in place to address these issues. We are the only community in British Columbia, and potentially even beyond, that has looked at this kind of policy work to help address this particular issue.”
The proposed rental housing revitalization initiative includes two components:
* The rental replacement policy would require redevelopment of existing purpose-built rental buildings to replace existing rental units as a condition of rezoning.
* The rental housing revitalization program would reduce the incentive for renovictions and promote the maintenance of purpose-built rental buildings through revitalization tax exemptions for securing, maintaining and revitalizing of existing rental units. It would also create business licensing restrictions against renovictions.
In addition, the city will introduce fines for actions such as imposing an excessive rent increase, and evicting tenants without permits or without relocating tenants.
“This would empower the city to revoke business licences and to put fines in place for multi-family property owners that do not comply with the bylaw,” Adin said.
Council has endorsed the draft policy as a starting point for consultation with the public and stakeholders, and directed staff to apply the policy as an interim guidelines when the city is considering applications to redevelop existing rental buildings. Staff expect to report back to council about the feedback and provide recommendations for council’s consideration in the spring.
Details about the consultation, as well as documents about the rental housing revitalization initiative, can be found at www.newwestcity.ca.