Tenants in illegal suites might have difficulty accessing rental subsidy

VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) – Just a few days after the province began offering subsidies for renters, a problem has cropped up.

Tenants who are in illegal suites may find their landlords refusing to fill out their portion of the application.

That’s the case for Akash Kohli and his wife, who live in a basement suite in Surrey.

He tells NEWS 1130 when he recently approached his landlord with the subsidy application, his landlord refused, telling him he couldn’t do the paperwork, because his is an illegal suite.

Kohli says the landlord was verbally abusive, telling him borrow the rent money from his parents or leave the basement suite. He says the landlord has now denied access to his parking spot, and to an outdoor water hose.

It’s not known how many illegal suites exist in BC, so there’s no indication how many tenants may encounter this problem.

Illegal suites are an important part of the housing equation, says Justin Fung, with Housing Action for Local Taxpayers.

“A lot of affordable rentals – those which are under market rates, a lot of them on Vancouver’s eastside – fall into that category,” he says.

“They may not be up to code, the rent might be paid under the table, the suites might be rented to family and friends under an informal agreement.”

But landlords are dependent on the suites for rental income.

“That helps them supplement their mortgage payments. It may not be income that’s been declared. Definitely there will be hesitation from these landlords to participate in the subsidy process. It presents a problem for the provincial government.”

Given there maybe thousands of people living in these suites, Fung says adjustments should be made to make the program work for all renters.

“We have to find a solution to it, maybe that’s going to be an amnesty for the landlords and their illegal suites,” he says. “Ultimately, whether a tenant is in an illegal suite or not, everybody is finding themselves having difficulty paying rent or becoming unemployed.”

He says another way around the problem is to put a pause on rents and mortgage payments altogether, something also advocated by the Vancouver Tenants Union.

“That’s the way we can ensure this is all equitably dealt with.”

The CEO of Landlord BC says he’s not aware of any landlords refusing to fill out their portion of the application. In fact, David Hutniak says he’s heard from some who are still waiting for their tenants to initiate the subsidy process.

He says he’s asking “all landlords to support the process and complete their portion of the application promptly. These rent supplements are critically important to help renters retain their housing.”

He says he anticipates the province will take corrective action to get hesitant landlords on board, but he has no knowledge of what its plans might be.

The rental subsidy, rolled out last Thursday, offers up to $500 a month for eligible households and will be in place at least until June.

BC Housing spokesperson Deneka Michaud has told NEWS 1130 it will “monitor the application process and if there are circumstances where the landlord will not cooperate, it will determine if an alternate process is required.”

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