B.C. court upholds ruling quashing Vancouver rent control bylaw

The City of Vancouver had its appeal for rent control on Single Room Occupancy units denied by the provincial court. Angela Bower reports.

A City of Vancouver bylaw that sought to control rents at single room occupancy buildings is facing another legal defeat.

The BC Court of Appeal upheld a previous ruling that found the city didn’t have the jurisdiction to limit rents in the SROs.

In the initial ruling, a Supreme Court judge found the city’s decision to adopt the bylaws was “unreasonable,” and it was subsequently quashed.

The city appealed this initial decision, but the court found, once again, that provisions in the Vancouver Charter prohibited the city from imposing the bylaw.

City Councillor Pete Fry calls the court’s decision “disappointing” and says the vacancy control — tying rent to the unit, not the turnover — the city is pushing for is necessary to help ease the city’s housing crisis.

“We’re disappointed that this one tool we were trying to introduce to stem some of that tide of displacement and homelessness has been thrown out by the courts,” Fry said. “Without vacancy control, without some kind of tool or massive investment into housing… we’re in a bit of a bind.”

Had it been approved, the 2021 bylaw would have required landlords to increase rent at the rate of inflation for rents at $500 a month, and for rents under $500, it would have increased at the rate of inflation plus five per cent.

SRO operators successfully argued that the power to control rents lies with the province under the Residential Tenancy Act and the city bylaw would have just duplicated existing regulations.

But housing advocate Jean Swanson says the court’s decision is a “disaster for people that are homeless.”

“The SROs are the housing of last resort for people who are homeless, so if we lose them to high rents, we’re going to have a lot more homelessness,” Swanson said.

“There isn’t enough social housing, there’s thousands of people on the waitlist for social housing.”

Fry says the city is currently assessing its next steps in its fight for vacancy control, but for now, he’s just disappointed.

“SROs are a rapidly diminishing stock of the most affordable housing in Vancouver for folks who are most at risk of homelessness, and we’ve seen the steady erosion of the stock escalate in the years leading up to COVID and then during COVID,” he said.

“Without SROs, we’re left with tents on the street and shelters.”

-With files from Cole Schisler and Angela Bower

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