Finding An Apartment is Hard. Keeping It May Get Harder
Hot Rental Market Spurs Increase in “Renovictions”
With housing prices once again climbing in most metropolitan Canadian cities, the rental market in these cities is being pushed to the limit and vacancy rates are at historic lows due to series of circumstances. First, millennials as a generation are much more likely to rent than to buy (Financial Post), adding to the already crowded queue for apartments. Second, increased immigration has affected the number of available units (Huffington Post) and lastly, the cost of home-buying has put that particular Canadian dream out of reach for many, adding thousands more to the roster of folks seeking rental accommodations. These conditions, combined with Provincial rent control regulations, have created a ‘perfect storm’ in the rental market which makes finding, and keeping, rental accommodations a difficult task for many Canadians.
Rent Control Aggravates the Situation
While rent control regulations differ somewhat between provinces, the one area where they all agree (for now) is that rent increases are tied to the tenant, not the unit. This means that landlords must hold annual increases to a limit, until there is a change in tenant, when they can increase the price to anything the market will bear. And this is precisely what is creating the relatively new phenomenon of “renovictions”. A renoviction occurs when a landlord provides a tenant notice of eviction because they must renovate the unit, then rents the unit out at a much higher price once the tenant moves out. So finding a rental unit is just the first hurdle. Keeping that unit may be another hurdle entirely.
There is real financial incentive for landlords here. Imagine a landlord is renting a unit in a desirable area for $1900 a month. They understand that based on demand, the unit could probably rent for $2300 a month. Perhaps more if some updates were made. So, they provide notice of a renovation to the present tenant, maybe update the flooring and add some new kitchen cupboards and put the unit back on the market at the higher rent. While legally, the prior tenant is supposed to have the first crack at the newly renovated unit without a large rent increase, this seldom happens and no regulatory body monitors this process. In reality, the displaced tenant has probably found another place to live at a rent they can afford and have settled into their new place.
Is Resistance Futile?
Another tactic used by unscrupulous landlords is eviction for “personal use” where a landlord claims family is moving into the space or they are reincorporating the space (often a basement suite) into the primary residence. Stories abound where tenants have found their old apartments listed for rent in a matter of days with little or no changes made to the unit. There are even some unlucky individuals who have been renovicted more than once in a year. Meanwhile, displaced tenants may spend months trying to find a new place that suits their circumstances. Tenants have had some success taking their cases to Landlord and Tenant tribunals in their province. In many cases where tenants successfully fought a renoviction, they’ve enlisted or created tenant associations, sought the assistance of local advocacy groups and even publicly demonstrated against the eviction. But most tenants simply comply with the eviction notice and that’s what landlords are counting on.
Where’s the Solution?
Many cities are trying to address the rental housing crunch locally. Vancouver formed a rental housing task force to hear proposals and suggestions from tenant associations and advocacy groups, though their final report in December 2018 is said not to have gone far enough to help stabilize the market. Toronto regularly debates creating alternative rental housing such as laneway housing (converted garages and carriage houses) and incentivizes the development of purpose-built rental buildings. But until supply and demand are more in balance, the situation is a complex one, fraught with pitfalls for cities, landlords and tenants alike. Until better protections are in place, the best defence is knowing your rights. Here is a table of regulatory bodies in the nine most populous provinces, where you can turn to for information.
|British Columbia||Residential Tenancies British Columbia|
|Alberta||Alberta Landlord Tenant Information|
|Saskatchewan||Office of Residential Tenancies|
|Manitoba||Residential Tenancies Branch|
|Ontario||Social Justice Tribunals of Ontario|
|Quebec||Régie du Logement|
|New Brunswick||Landlord and Tenant Services|
|Nova Scotia||Residential Tenancies Nova Scotia|
|Newfoundland||Landlord and Tenant Services|
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