VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) – Many people in B.C. may be paying more for rent next year, as the province announces it’s lifting the rent freeze brought in to help support British Columbians through the COVID-19 pandemic.
The province says the maximum allowable rent increase amount for 2022 will be set at 1.5 per cent, based on inflation.
The increase cannot take effect until Jan. 1, 2022, and landlords are being reminded they have to provide tenants three months’ notice through the appropriate means if they plan to raise rates.
After implementing a rent freeze due to the pandemic, the BC gov't says landlords can raise it in 2022. The maximum it can go up is 1.5 per cent (based on inflation). The increase can't take effect before New Year's Day and renters have to get a three months head up. @NEWS1130
— Sonia Aslam (@SoniaSAslam) September 8, 2021
The rent freeze was first brought in at the beginning of the pandemic. It came in response to mass business closures and sweeping job losses, leaving many British Columbians scrambling to make ends meet. The freeze was extended until the end of this year.
The Vancouver Tenants Union feels this is still not the right time to make plans to lift the rent increase.
“It’s important to note that we’re still in the middle of a pandemic and tenants continue to be struggling financially. With the ever-changing public health orders, our incomes are going to continue to be precarious throughout this pandemic, and really, until the province gets serious about preserving affordable rental homes and providing non-market public rental stock, tenants will continue to struggle in this city,” explained Mazdak Gharibnavaz with the group.
He says the union has been calling for a rent freeze to remain in place until the pandemic is over. Because of the current uncertainty driven by the Delta variant, Gharibnavaz says the group will continue to push for the freeze to continue.
“The Vancouver Tenants Union has been calling for a rent freeze for years, and it really took a pandemic for [the province] to take a look at that seriously. It’s a small tool in actually trying to address the very unaffordable housing policies that have been in place for years,” he explained.
He claims the province has done little to support renters throughout the pandemic, noting many measures have fallen short.
Regardless of the cap, Gharibnavaz believes now is just not the time.
“The pandemic is still continuing. That means incomes continue to be precarious. With schools opening, we don’t know where the case numbers are going to be and where hospitalizations are going to be. These are all concerns that continue,” he told NEWS 1130. “On top of that, the decision to lift the eviction ban much earlier in the pandemic has meant that people continue to lose their homes.”
LandlordBC applauds plan
While some are criticizing the move to lift the rent freeze as of New Year’s day, LandlordBC says it’s a positive update.
CEO David Hutniak notes landlords across the province have had to deal with stagnant rents all while being hit with rising expenses, like property taxes and insurance rates.
“This is an important step along the process here to help our sector begin to continue to move forward and make the investments we need in our assets,” he told NEWS 1130.
Hutniak says the 1.5 per cent cap is “woefully inadequate,” saying the percentage falls below what’s needed. However, he notes landlords will continue to work within the regulations.
“Obviously there are a lot of challenges for everybody. Our industry weathered the pandemic storm probably better than many, many others, to be honest with you. And certainly many in our sector — and I would say the smaller landlords, in particular — it was a tough challenge,” Hutniak said. “Obviously, it’s great to see the rent freeze being lifted, but it’s still a long way from being able to stabilize the operation of a rental business, particularly for smaller landlords.”
Many landlords have been looking at their expenses and treading more cautiously over the past 18 months, Hutniak explains, adding a number of them will likely continue to do so until they feel more comfortable financially.
‘We’re kind of in this all together’
The rent freeze proved to be quite a challenge for many landlords, he says, adding even a number of landlords may have lost their jobs due to the pandemic, too.
“For many of them, [rentals are] the primary source of income, it’s the way many of them retain their own housing through secondary suites,” he told NEWS 1130. “When you look at where they were pre-pandemic to where they are today, I think many of them are really challenged and concerned about the viability of their rental business.”
When asked about the uncertainty the fourth wave of the pandemic is creating, Hutniak says he understands renters continue to be concerned about keeping a roof over their heads.
“It’s a very legitimate concern, and we’re not insensitive to that. Certainly throughout the pandemic, our organization and our members did a fantastic job in trying to respond to the challenges that their renters or tenants were facing, and that hasn’t changed. I think we have always taken a perspective and that’s always been our message to our members: we’re kind of in this all together. You need to keep things in perspective,” he said.
-With files from Martin MacMahon