A local landlord group asked Nelson council Monday to endorse a letter to the provincial government pointing out how a proposed law discriminates against landlords in smaller cities. The group also proposed some changes to Nelson Hydro billings to help landlords.
Trevor Jenkinson and John DeVries of the West Kootenay Landlords Society said Bill 16 will disallow a type of rental they call “fixed-term-must-vacate.” They said the new law, while useful in big cities, would have unintended consequences in small cities like Nelson and make the rental housing shortage worse.
“A surprising number of local landlords have expressed that if they are no longer able to use fixed-term-must-vacate agreements, they will no long offer their units for rentals,” said Jenkinson.
The government is planning to ban fixed term leases because in some large urban B.C. centres it’s turned into a scam, in which some landlords require tenants to sign fixed-term-must-vacate leases.
That way the landlord can rent to a new tenant when the term is up, and raise the rent more than if they had stayed with the same tenant. A rent increase to an existing tenant cannot be raised more than two per cent plus inflation per year.
But Jenkinson and DeVries says that does not happen here.
“The issue of local landlords using the fixed-term-must-vacate clause to raise rents beyond the legal limit is virtually non- existent in our area,” Jenkinson, who is a Nelson realtor, told council.
He said landlords should be allowed to rent to tenants for a trial period, to try them out, and fixed-term leases make that easy.
“Landlords live in fear that they will get a tenant they can’t get rid of,” he told council. “The legislative framework for getting rid of a bad tenant is difficult, arduous, and sometimes not possible. A lot of (landlords in Nelson) are seniors trying to age in place with a suite in their house, that kind of thing.
“It is used to give a break to people who might need a leg up, they may have come from a recent divorce, they may have may be getting off alcohol or drugs, or overcoming a mental health issue, and without being able to give them that chance, a lot of landlords just won’t rent to them.”
DeVries said he rents to such people and uses the current law to give them a trial period and it works well.
Jenkinson enumerated a number of other reasons why small landlords might ethically want a tenant to sign a short-term rental agreement:
• A property is used as a vacation rental, or as accommodation for family, for two or three months and rented out the rest of the year.
• The owner plans to sell the property or renovate it at a per-determined date.
• A long-term tenant plans to leave and then return to the same unit.
• The owners want to travel for a specified time and wants to rent the house while they are away.
• Someone buys a house and can’t move into it until some months later and want to rent it in the meantime .
“The fear of becoming stuck with a bad tenant who cannot be gotten rid of is what will cause these small-time landlords to withdraw their units from the markets,” Jenkinson said. “Keeping the rental housing stock we have, is just as important or more important than the pursuit of new housing stock.”
Jenkinson and DeVries then turned council’s attention to an aspect of rentals that the city has control over: hydro connections, billing and disconnections.
Jenkinson said Nelson Hydro sometimes puts a delinquent tenant account on the taxes of the building owner.
“This often leads to unforeseen and some times exorbitant expenses that the landlord should not have to deal with.”
He would like to see Hydro help landlords by notifying them when tenants close their accounts or when they are disconnected, taking a deposit when the account is opened by a tenant but allowing it to be paid in installments, and sending delinquent accounts to a collection agency before adding it to the owner’s taxes.
The presentation was made to a committee of the whole meeting at which council hears presentations but does not make decisions. Council will vote at a future meeting on whether to endorse the landlord group’s letter to the Minister of Housing and the director of the Residential Tenancy Branch.
The letter council was asked to endorse is attached below.