Should the City of New Westminster charge apartment owners for costs it incurs related to renovictions? Could the city slow down the time taken to process building permits for apartments that are evicting tenants so they can do renovations?
On Monday, council received a staff update on New Westminster’s renovictions action plan, which was adopted in 2016 and includes a number of actions, including providing tenants with information about their rights and available resources, tracking renovictions and using stop-work orders and tickets in cases where property owners haven’t received the permits and approvals to do renovations. The city knows of at last 215 units in nine rental buildings in New West that have been impacted by renovictions, but acknowledges there may be others that haven’t come to its attention.
“As a council, we still have a lot of work to do,” said Coun. Jaimie McEvoy. “The provisions that have been adopted by the provincial government are a good step forward but some of them are not really accessible to most people. I think a right of refusal to come back to a renovated place with a dramatically increased rent is just a provision that most people won’t be able to take advantage of.”
Since the provincial election, the NDP government has made some changes to the Residential Tenancy Act, such as requiring landlords to give tenants four months’ notice to end tenancy for demolitions, renovations or repairs, and giving tenants the right of first refusal to enter into a new tenancy agreement at a rent determined by the landlord if the landlord ends their tenancy to renovate or repair the rental unit. The City of New Westminster has urged the provincial government to allow renters the right of first refusal to return to their unit at a rent that is no more than what the landlord could lawfully have charged, including the allowable annual increase, if there had been no interruption in tenancy.
“The new provincial government has made some positive steps in the right direction, but they are half steps,” said Mayor Jonathan Cote. “One of the big things the City of New Westminster was advocating for is the right for tenants to be able to return at, if not the same rate then a reasonable increase. That is an important component that is missing from the changes, which I think is a critically important part of this discussion. I think as a city we need to continue to push and advocate on that.”
Because renovictions result in “huge volumes” of calls to city hall, Cote is interested in knowing whether there’s a way of requiring property owners to pay for those services, given that the city now has to assist residents put into “difficult circumstances” by renovations. Staff will look into the issue.
McEvoy said the city can’t deny permits for renovations, but wondered if there are tactics the city could adopt internally as a way of being less accommodating and slowing down approvals of those permits.
Meanwhile, the city is still working on a plan to hire a housing and social services coordinator who could handle the increasing number of housing and social services inquiries to city hall. The proposal is that a pilot project be funded by the province, as the city has taken on responsibilities previously handled by the provincial government.
In March, council endorsed a proposed pilot project for a housing and social services coordinator and directed staff to approach a neighbouring municipality to determine interest in potentially participating in the project. Staff hope to return to council with an update in the fall, after making inquiries to the province and Port Coquitlam, which has been identified as a potential partner.
“It has a lot of rental housing, similar to New Westminster. It is a small municipality. We see a lot of similarities between those two municipalities so we will be reaching out,” said John Stark, the city’s acting director of planning. “The whole idea was that it could be done in New Westminster with a half-time position or … we could look at a full-time position that would be shared between two municipalities.”