Tenant Power and Rent Control: By Connor Donegan
The Social Housing Coalition BC is demanding that the province outlaw renovictions and slumlording and begin enforcing maintenance standards that landlords now make a mockery of. Renovictions happen when landlords renovate an apartment and then raise the rent beyond what existing tenants can afford, effectively evicting the tenant. By evicting tenants, and changing the cabinets and carpets, landlords seem to be able to raise the rent to whatever they like. These renovictions are an attack on the right of low- and modest-income people to live in Vancouver and they threaten tenants across B.C. The first step to ending renovictions is to remove the renovictions clause from the Residential Tenancy Act. However, in a province where landlords and developers trample over tenant rights with impudence, legal recognition of tenant unions is needed to shift the balance of power towards renters.
Just as labour unions can use their members’ collective leverage to protect and improve working conditions and wages, tenant unions can bargain–and strike–for fair rents, utilities, security of tenure, and housing conditions. In Sweden, widespread collective bargaining in the housing market is a highly effective form of rent control. According to the Swedish Union of Tenants, “about 90% of all housing rents in Sweden are established following negotiations between a tenants’ association and the landlord.” Sweden’s 1978 Rent Negotiations Act is a model for protecting and regulating the collective bargaining process between tenant unions and landlords, effective both in the private and public housing sectors. Ultimately, tenant unions are a means for residents to manage their own housing and to fight for their interests.
The Residential Tenancy Act includes a form of rent control that limits rent increases each year. Yet the RTA contains loopholes for landlords to increase rents above the legal annual rate. Rent increases are currently regulated across single tenancies, leaving units themselves open to rent increases of any amount between tenancies. Further, the renovictions clause in the RTA (section 49(6)(b)) gives landlords the legal right to evict tenants at any point in their tenancy for the purpose of gaining vacant possession to undertake renovations. Removing the renovictions clause from the Residential Tenancy Act and applying rent-increase controls to housing units will close the loopholes and protect renters from profit-hungry landlords.