BC NDP’s Fake Renoviction Ban: Band-Aids, Bullshit & Brutality

All tenants know the first of the month as the day in which we have to fork over a good portion of our income to a landlord, just to have a roof over the head. This first of this month we were also treated to more government bullshit and half measures as well. On March 1st the BC NDP announced some proposed changes to their housing policy. Chief among them was a rent freeze until 2022 and a pledge to end “illegal” renovictions. Missing from the announcement was any mention of the uptick in evictions these past months or the looming eviction crisis on July 1st, the deadline for tenants to finish paying back any unpaid rent from last year’s eviction moratorium. 

Far from representing a major shift in housing policy, these superficial policy reforms amount to bandaids, bullshit, and brutality.

The Band-Aid

While it’s good to know that rents on ongoing tenancies have been frozen until the end of 2021, on its own this continued moratorium on BC’s relatively minor annual allowable rent increase comes nowhere close to addressing the crisis tenants face. Before the pandemic rent was already too high, with 22% of tenants paying more than half of their income on rent and with unpaid rent being the most commonly cited cause for an eviction. Freezing rents at already unpayable levels is cold comfort, especially when we know rents will start to rise again in less than a year’s time. 

But the biggest problem with the rent freeze is that it does nothing to actually stop rent hikes by landlords. In BC, rent is tied to the tenant not the unit. Therefore the best way for a landlord to get around rent controls is to kick out tenants or threaten us with eviction unless we sign a new lease. When a new lease is signed, the sky’s the limit to how much they can charge. It is the signing of new leases at higher rates, not the annual allowable increase that is the real accelerant of rents in BC. By refusing to tie rent to the unit, the BC NDP’s “rent freeze” is phoney. 

The Bullshit

While the BC NDP’s rent freeze is a band-aid on the open wound of high rents, its renoviction policy is bullshit. The statement from the Minister of Housing, David Eby, claims the NDP will introduce legislation to end illegal evictions. But if these evictions are against the law already, how will more laws stop them? 

Monday’s announcement focuses on one specific form of eviction: renovictions. Renovictions are when landlords evict tenants to renovate a suite and rent it out at a higher rent. Generally they are two-month evictions for landlord use of property. The new policy doesn’t ban renovictions, but adds a bit more red-tape on the landlord’s end. Currently it is up to the tenant to challenge an eviction order at the Residential Tenancy Branch (RTB). The new policy would require the landlord to apply to the RTB for an eviction order, which would still be granted as long as they can demonstrate that the repairs are substantial and require the tenant leave the suite. 

Given that the RTB generally reflects the interests of landlords, there is no reason to expect that landlords will have any problem getting eviction orders whenever they want to renovate. The NDP’s proposed policy reform does nothing to meaningfully restrict landlord powers of eviction or get rid of legal eviction incentives. As long as landlords can increase their profits by evicting tenants and signing new leases they will continue to do so. 

Landlords can legally evict tenants by claiming “landlord use of property” either for a renovation or for a relative who mysteriously never moves in. They can also run buildings into the ground, harass tenants, threaten us with illegal evictions or physical violence; whatever it takes to get us out. The new policy blunts one tool in their tool kit, but they have plenty more at their disposal. 

The Eviction Defence Network saw this first hand during the eviction moratorium. Evictions didn’t stop – tenants were just evicted for different reasons. Instead of being evicted for failure to pay rent, tenants were evicted due to unsubstantiated COVID violations, for being too loud, or for the suite being dilapidated. In some cases the landlords would issue their own eviction notices regardless of the moratorium, figuring that tenants either didn’t know or would be too scared to contest it. As long as landlords can make money off evicting a tenant, they will find a way. 

The Brutality

This gets to the biggest gap in the government’s announcement. The BC NDP does not mention the eviction crisis, which already throws so many tenants out on the street and is only set to get worse this summer. Last year, at the start of the pandemic the BC NDP declared a five-month moratorium on evictions for unpaid rent. In September, just as the second wave of the pandemic began, they lifted the moratorium. 

Rather than cancel back rents, the BC NDP told tenants they had until July 1st, 2021 to pay back any unpaid rent in full, giving a government-ordered rent hike to tenants most likely to be unable to pay. While the short moratorium on evictions may have ended, the hardship that leaves so many tenants unable to pay rents has not. Thousands of us have lost jobs, been unable to access CERB or EI, or have had to take on additional unpaid work caring for others. Those who couldn’t pay rent last year are mostly in the same boat. Chances are, when July 1st comes around the wave of evictions we have seen will become a tsunami, as thousands unable to pay their back rents are thrown out of their homes and onto the street.

The NDP’s meager reforms to the Residential Tenancy Act will not end the eviction crisis. 

Instead we need to immediately reinstate a moratorium on evictions, cancel last year’s rent debt, and institute real rent control by legally tying rents to the unit. To achieve these basic reforms we cannot rely on capitalist politicians, but our own collective power. The bigger fight is to end the rental market altogether. As long as housing is a commodity to be bought and sold by landlords and developers, their profits will come before our safety and wellbeing. The BC NDP won’t stop evictions or create universal housing. Only an organized, militant tenants’ movement can. 

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