A Victoria-based tenancy advocacy group is happy that renters won’t see an increase in their rent until at least July 2021 but said the B.C. government should have also extended the $500-a-month rental assistance program.
Premier John Horgan’s NDP government has extended the freeze on rent increases until July 10, 2021, one of the government’s first initiatives since being re-elected on Oct. 24,
“Certainly when you think of the most vulnerable renters right now, which is people who have lost their income as a result of the pandemic…it’s important during this time that they don’t have any kind of increase to their existing rent,” said Douglas King, executive director of Together Against Poverty Society which helps tenants protect their rights.
However, the organization has been critical that the government’s temporary rental supplement program, which gave tenants a $500-a-month break on their rent, ended in August.
Data provided to TAPS from B.C. Housing shows that as of Aug. 17, 9,308 people in the Capital Regional District had their applications for rental assistance approved. A total of 10,348 people in the region had applied for the rent assistance.
Victoria had the highest number of people receiving rental assistance with 4,164.
“We were given no logical reason why that [program] should end,” King said. “Obviously the pandemic has not ended.”
King said he’s talked to tenants who lost their jobs due to COVID and, relying solely on federal and provincial government assistance, struggled to pay rent once the province’s rental supplement ended.
The Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing said in a statement that the freeze is an interim measure to “provide stability and advance notice for renters and landlords while a new cabinet is sworn in.”
Rents have been frozen since mid-March as part of the government’s COVID-19 relief plan.
Before Monday’s announcement, landlords were expecting to be able to once again raise rents in December 2020. The province said tenants who received a notice of a pending rent hike should ignore it and continue paying their current rate.
David Hutniak, CEO of Landlord B.C., which represents about 3,300 landlords with about 125,000 units across the province, said it became clear during the campaign that an NDP government would extend the rent freeze.
Hutniak said many landlords are still trying to recoup losses from unpaid rent during the moratorium on evictions which lasted until September.
Landlords who have lost tenants during the pandemic might have a harder time filling their suite due to rising vacancy rates, Hutniak said.
“We’ve been without the ability to pass on any additional increases since April, meanwhile property taxes have increased substantially,” he said. Hutniak added that similar to rising insurance rates for strata properties, owners of multi-suite rental buildings have also seen 70 to 100 per cent increases in insurance premiums.
“It’s obviously a challenging time for renters and a challenging time for landlords,” he said.
— With files from The Canadian Press