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British Columbia Rent increase causes divide as B.C. housing minister, task force search for solutions

B.C.'s housing minister is asking her rental task force to come up with a way for renters to avoid a potential 4.5-per-cent rate increase this year.

The rise is the highest since the formula for annual rent hikes – 2 per cent plus the increase in the consumer-price index – was devised in 2004. Minister Selina Robinson has been the target of widespread criticism because her NDP government campaigned on a slogan of making life more affordable in B.C.

Ms. Robinson said Thursday that whatever the task force recommends, the province could issue a three-month alert to landlords warning that they should not be expecting the extra revenue.

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She said she hopes a change will provide relief to a large proportion of renters because few landlords will be able to put through the 2019 4.5-per-cent increase in the next few months. A landlord can only raise rent once a year as leases come due, so if someone has already been given notice of a jump in 2018, any new increase can’t be requested until 12 months after that.

According to the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corp.’s most recent rental statistics, the average rent for a one-bedroom apartment in Vancouver in 2017 was $1,326. A 4.5-per-cent boost would be $60 a month or $720 for the year.

This year’s increase is the highest since 2004, largely because inflation has gone up. Last year, the allowable rent increase was 4 per cent. The lowest it has ever been is 2.2 per cent in 2014, and 2.3 per cent in 2011.

David Hutniak is the CEO of LandlordBC, whose organization was the site of a Thursday protest by the Vancouver Tenants Union against the rent jump. He said he fully understands the problems of renters, but he said landlords are also stuck with rising costs, from property taxes to building repairs to the soaring price of real estate.

“We feel pretty strongly that the formula has to remain intact,” Mr. Hutniak said.

“Renters are struggling here in this city and I’m not happy about that. The question is: Is it fair to have a small cohort of our society – landlords – have to compensate for all this?”

He said a change in the annual allowable increase will also potentially slow down the supply of new purpose-built rental units.

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The rent rise, announced last Friday afternoon, has prompted a number of candidates running in the municipal elections to demand the formula be changed.

Vancouver independent mayoral candidate Kennedy Stewart said he’s already written to Ms. Robinson saying the rate should be tied to inflation and no more.

In Burnaby, mayoral candidate Mike Hurley – who is challenging longtime Mayor Derek Corrigan – said the province needs to re-think the formula.

Vancouver Green Party candidate Pete Fry said the province should possibly look at using the revenue it is collecting through the new “school tax” on high-end properties to provide rent subsidies.

COPE candidates have called for a complete rent freeze.

One Vancouver mayoral candidate who is taking a slightly different tack on the issue is independent Shauna Sylvester. She said she thinks the formula should stay as it is, otherwise it will discourage landlords from building new rental units or even continuing with existing ones.

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But she’d like to see the law changed so that landlords have to stick to that formula for all of their units, without the option of bumping up the rent any time a tenant leaves, which is currently allowed.

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