Health risks from Covid not enough to warrant ban on evictions: housing minister

By Shannon Waters December 15, 2020

The NDP has no plans to bring back a moratorium on evictions, even as Covid cases soar.

That’s according to Housing Minister David Eby, who told BC Today the economic and public health risks that prompted the spring’s eviction ban are not as significant now.

He also said public health hasn’t pegged moving as a “significant vector of transmission when protective measures are taken.”

“As for economic harm, we recognize that there are a lot of people that are struggling — not just renters — as a result of the pandemic, so we put the pandemic benefit in place, we put a renters’ benefit in place,” Eby said in an interview.

The housing ministry is “closely monitoring” orders of possession filed by landlords to see whether September’s lifting of the eviction ban opens the floodgates for evictions. So far, the “number of applications are well within historical ranges,” according to the ministry.

However, those orders do not “necessarily directly correlate with actual evictions,” Eby noted. They do not account for tenants who don’t challenge eviction proceedings or landlords who don’t follow through on the order.

90,000 rental households are in arrears, tenant group says
There is little in the way of solid data on evictions in B.C., but Mazdak Gharibnavaz, a member of the Vancouver Tenants’ Union’s steering committee, said his organization estimates 90,000 households in B.C. are dealing with rent debt as a result of the pandemic.

Tenants who missed rent due to the pandemic had to start repayment plans in October and — unless a landlord agrees to an extension — they must pay their outstanding arrears in full by July 2021.

While Gharibnavaz concedes that the NDP instituted a rent freeze, he argued that any unpaid rent should be forgiven as adding it to the monthly rent now puts people at risk of eviction if they miss a repayment installment.

The housing ministry maintains it is in “a landlord’s best interest to keep a good renter,” and Eby said there are signs of softening in some B.C. rental markets that could further incentivize landlords to retain reliable tenants

“In areas like my constituency around UBC, we’re seeing more rentals available than normally would be the case,” he said. “So during this period, landlords that might be used to tight rental markets and think that there would be an advantage to be gained by evicting a long-term, reliable tenant may be quite mistaken about that.”

But Gharibnavaz maintains that the financial incentive for landlords to shift tenants remains high, especially among those who own the most affordable units, since there is no cap on the amount rent can be raised once a tenancy ends.

“It’s a golden business opportunity for landlords to evict renters in some of the cheapest supply,” he said. “Whether it’s due to what happened during the pandemic and people missing rent … or if it’s the renovictions and demoevictions crisis that was already existing before the pandemic.”

While there is no plan to cap increases between tenancies on a broad scale, Eby said the government is currently looking at unit-based rent control for single-room occupancy hotels.

No rush to enact campaign promises to help renters
On the campaign trail, the NDP committed to keeping rents frozen through 2021 and then permanently tying the annual allowable rent increase to the rate of inflation.

The means-tested renters’ rebate — another NDP campaign promise — will likely require legislation to implement, Eby said. With no bill on the order paper for the December session, the rebate — a maximum of $400 per year — will likely not be available for months.

But the rebate was never “meant to pay your rent for you,” according to Eby.

“It’s not meant to do anything other than recognize that many, many people will rent for their entire lives,” he said. “The intention behind the policy is to recognize that for many years government has favoured homeowners with various tax breaks — like capital gains exemption on your primary residence and a credit in relation to the property tax that’s due on your primary residence — and that similar policies have not been in place for renters.”

The policy work to eventually implement the rebate has already begun, Eby said.