Vancouver to take SRO vacancy control to Supreme Court of Canada

The City of Vancouver says it is asking the Supreme Court of Canada to review a court decision that struck down the city’s efforts to control rents at Single Room Occupancy (SRO) Hotels.

The move comes after the BC Court of Appeal ruled in February that the BC Supreme Court was correct in saying the city does not have the jurisdiction to limit rents in SROs.

The initial bylaw was passed in 2021. It would have required landlords to increase rent at the rate of inflation for rents at $500 a month. For rents under $500, it would have increased at the rate of inflation plus five per cent.

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

In the initial ruling, a BC Supreme Court judge found the city’s decision to adopt the bylaws was “unreasonable,” and it was subsequently quashed. The city appealed this decision, but the courts found, once again, that provisions in the Vancouver Charter prohibited the city from imposing the bylaw.

In an update Tuesday, the City of Vancouver said it filed an application to the Supreme Court of Canada “seeking permission to appeal [the] recent judgment.”

The city says the Supreme Court will now decide whether it intends to hear the appeal.

After the latest legal defeat in February, coun. Pete Fry called the court’s decision “disappointing” and said the vacancy control — tying rent to the unit, not the turnover — the city was pushing for is necessary to help ease Vancouver’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.”

“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 continued.

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

More to come.

With files from Pippa Norman

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