A zero per cent vacancy rate has led the Town of Ladysmith to work on a bylaw to prevent renovictions — an informal term coined to describe a scenario where a landlord evicts tenants to carry out renovations. Town council discussed a draft bylaw at its Nov. 9 Committee of the Whole meeting.
“Because renovations are one of only two ways in which a landlord can take possession of a unit from a complying tenant, often renovations that are accused of being unnecessary are undertaken for the purpose of a landlord vacating a unit and then re-renting the unit after the renovations are complete so as to charge a higher rate,” said Jake Belobaba, director of planning services.
Ladysmith has a zero per cent vacancy rate, according to Belobaba, and a single building being vacated for renovation could essentially double the homeless population.
“This affects both the quality and quantity of rental housing. We see obviously as vacancy rates lower, it tends to push people into housing that is undesirable or even in some cases unsafe,” he said.
The draft bylaw is comprised of two main parts.
The first, which applies to all rental units, ensures basic livability. Town staff said this is to prevent landlords from deliberately neglecting maintenance in order to be able to justify a renoviction.
The second applies to building with five or more rental units. It prohibits renovictions, but includes exemptions.
Coun. Duck Paterson questioned why it applies to only five or more units, noting that a four-plex being vacated could have a large impact also. The committee decided to direct staff to lower the threshold to three or more units before the bylaw comes to council.
With the draft bylaw, landlords will be left with three options for evictions: pay tenants 13 months rent, along with four months notice; provide a rental unit for the duration of renovations on-site; or provide the same off-site. To provide an alternate unit, the tenant and landlord would have to have an agreement.
“A zero per cent vacancy rate will continue to drive rapid rent escalation in Ladysmith, creating a powerful incentive for landlords to renovict tenants or profit from substandard housing,” reads the staff report to the committee.
One exemption to the draft bylaw would have meant it would only be in effect when the vacancy rate in Ladysmith is below three per cent. The committee voted to remove that exemption.
Permissible exemptions would be able to be granted by council under the draft bylaw. Belobaba said this would not be discretionary. Instead, council would look at evidence provided and decide whether the landlord is eligible in a process that would require a public hearing.
Mayor Aaron Stone expressed concern that an exemption allowing landlords to justify a renovation for financial reasons, could provide a loophole. He also said he is concerned an over-regulated market could discourage potential developers from creating more housing in town.
Coun. Marsh Stevens commented that the bylaw is not aimed at the general person, but aimed to stop landlords will bad intentions.
After a lengthy discussion, the committee carried a motion to refer the bylaw back to staff for revisions, included modifying and removing exemptions. The bylaw will come to a council meeting for further consideration after staff revisions.