A tenants union representative is asking B.C. to extend the provincewide rent freeze which is set to expire on Dec. 31.
The province first introduced the rent freeze in response to the pandemic in March 2020. It was subsequently extended multiple times.
From Jan. 1, 2022, however, rents can be increased once again in B.C., with the rate of increase tied to inflation. Landlords cannot raise the rent by more than 1.5 per cent under the rules.
Any rent hike in 2022 cannot take place before Jan.1 and must be preceded by three months' notice from the landlord provided to the tenant. Landlords in B.C. can only increase rents once per year.
Neil Vokey, a member of the Vancouver Tenants Union (VTU) steering committee, says the incoming rent increases will further squeeze out tenants in the province.
"We were calling for [the rent freeze] to remain in place until the end of the pandemic," he said. "The fact is pretty clear the pandemic isn't over. But the rent freeze is."
B.C.'s landlords have argued that rent needs to be increased to help cover property taxes, insurance, maintenance costs, and increased costs due to the pandemic.
Vokey says, however, that the proposed increase is "totally detached" from the average wage increase over the same period, making costs tougher for low-income tenants.
There are more than 600,000 renters in B.C., about a third of all households in the province.
Voley says data shows renters will end up paying more under the proposed rent increase than landlords will pay with increased property taxes.
"The total average [rent] … is $1,415 for a one-bedroom home in Metro Vancouver," he said.
"For that average one-bedroom, that's a $250 annual increase over the course of the year."
While the City of Vancouver hiked property taxes by as much as six per cent in the latest budget, the actual dollar amount to be paid by homeowners is lower than the average rent increase highlighted by Vokey – at around $72 for the average condo in the city or $178 for the average home.
Vokey says there is a disconnect between the government and renters, pointing to the province's eviction moratorium ending earlier than other jurisdictions including the U.S.
He also says that though rent increases are tied to inflation, market rents for new tenants are not, with average rents increasing throughout Metro Vancouver.
"We're seeing this trend more and more where the term 'affordable' is tied in some way to the … definition of market rates," he said. "If market rents are already detached from income, then affordability really loses all meaning."
Vokey and the VTU say the province should prioritize building social housing to make life easier for renters, as well as passing vacancy control – regulation forbidding landlords from raising rent in between tenancies.