Fraser Forum

B.C. government ‘task force’ misses key contributor to rental woes

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The Horgan government’s “Rental Housing Task Force” set up in the spring to “advise on how to improve security and fairness for renters and rental housing providers” throughout British Columbia recently released its findings and recommendations.

Many of the 23 recommendations included in the final report are common sense updates to the Residential Tenancy Act, such as recognizing email as a legitimate channel for tenants and landlords to convey official documents, or bringing clarity to the range and enforcement of tenant and landlord rights and responsibilities. These measures will undoubtedly help renters and landlords at the margin, but the report omitted any meaningful recommendations to encourage more rental construction.

A lack of new units entering the market remains at the heart of B.C.’s rental woes. With a provincewide rental vacancy rate of 1.4 per cent (the lowest of any province, barring P.E.I.), the supply of rental housing is not keeping up with a growing number of would-be renters. When such an imbalance emerges, renters inevitably lose. Why? Because scarcity in the face of strong demand gives landlords far more leverage over tenants, leading to higher rents while increasing the likelihood of renters feeling stuck with non-compliant (or even exploitative) landlords.

Conversely, consider the situation in Calgary. With rental vacancy rates reaching highs unseen in decades, many tenants have been able to negotiate their rents down, with landlords needing to offer such incentives to retain tenants (who have many alternatives). Whereas B.C. has a housing shortage, Alberta appears to have a tenant shortage, leading to a better overall climate for renters.

This isn’t to say that Alberta’s ongoing economic woes are enviable—quite the opposite—but Calgary’s case underscores the economic fundamentals driving renter experiences with landlords, for better or worse. Unfortunately, the Horgan government’s task force does little (if anything) to tip these fundamentals in favour of renters.

If the B.C. government wants to meaningfully improve renters’ lot, it must tackle the low vacancy rate head-on. By focusing on the removal of barriers to rental construction such as municipal red tape, the high cost of land and onerous rent controls, it will likely get a lot closer to making B.C. a better place for renters.

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