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City Holler

Trish Kelly explores the issues and challenges that face our growing city.

Is a renters strike in Vancouver’s future?

Renters are at the mercy of landlords and the market and for those looking to rent homes in Metro Vancouver, conditions are worsening.

Apartment buildings line English Bay in Vancouver.

Jennifer Gauthier/Metro File

Apartment buildings line English Bay in Vancouver.

It’s been two weeks since the province enacted its new 15 per cent foreign buyer tax. It’s still too early to tell if the tax will really give locals enough of an advantage to make homeownership more affordable in our Metro area.

While we don’t know if the tax will work, at least those with a gripe about the real estate market have seen the government respond. Renters, who also struggle with a lack of affordability in our region, have not been so lucky.

For those looking to rent homes in Metro Vancouver, conditions are worsening. With a vacancy rate in the region below 1 per cent , renters are at the mercy of landlords and the market. They make desperate moves.

Landlords are entertaining multiple offers on apartments and taking the highest bidder, and it’s completely legal.

Many landlords are choosing to list their suites on Airbnb, removing hundreds to thousands of suites completely from the local rental market.

More recently, stories have been surfacing of a new loophole landlords are using to get around the Residential Tenancy Act’s (the RTA) annual 2.9 per cent rent hike cap. Tenants are being asked to sign fixed term leases with a stipulation they’ll move out at the end of the lease. When the agreement expires, tenants are offered a new lease, at a much higher rent-- as much as 10 times the allowable 2.9 per cent. Tenants can accept the new lease, or try to find a new place to live.

In some new rental towers downtown, fixed term leases with a move out clause are becoming common or even standard practice.

Renters can hope that the provincial government will consider closing the loophole. But the provincial government’s official line is that the RTA adequately protects renters; anyone who signs such a lease is aware of their move out clause and it’s their own fault for signing it. But it takes no more than an ounce of empathy to see a place to live for 12 months could feel like the only option for someone experiencing the brutally competitive rental situation.

While we wait for the province to start caring about the plight of renters, what else can renters do?

For centuries, in big cities with long histories of unaffordability like New York City and London, fed up tenants have banded together into renters unions, refusing to pay rent hikes and demanding proper upkeep.

It’s hard to make it an effective protest if you’re one tenant with an individual landlord, but if a whole building of renters on fixed term leases united and said no to a rent hike? Maybe that would make opportunistic landlords think twice. Maybe that would force our provincial government to prick up their ears.

Trish Kelly lives and writes in East Vancouver. Follow her on Twitter @trishkellyc

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