Vancouver to appeal ruling that struck down bylaws limiting rent increases for single-room housing

·2 min read
Vancouver Mayor Kennedy Stewart pictured during a meeting at city hall in 2019. 'I am hopeful the Court of Appeal will side with the city and the important work we are doing to protect our neighbours from living on the street,' said Stewart in a statement announcing the appeal. (Ben Nelms/CBC - image credit)
Vancouver Mayor Kennedy Stewart pictured during a meeting at city hall in 2019. 'I am hopeful the Court of Appeal will side with the city and the important work we are doing to protect our neighbours from living on the street,' said Stewart in a statement announcing the appeal. (Ben Nelms/CBC - image credit)

The City of Vancouver will appeal a ruling by the Supreme Court of B.C. that quashed bylaws meant to limit how much property owners could increase the rents of single-room occupancy (SRO) housing between tenancies.

A ruling issued in early August by Justice Karen F. Douglas found that the city, under the Vancouver Charter, did not have the authority to decide how a property owner changes rent when a tenant moves out because of conflicts with the provincial Residential Tenancy Act.

The city enacted the rules late last year in an attempt to keep rents low in housing designed for affordable accommodation for people who have very low incomes and face significant barriers.

As of 2019, there were approximately 6,680 open single-room accommodation units across 157 buildings in the downtown core, according to the city.

Ben Nelms/CBC
Ben Nelms/CBC

In January, two property owners independently brought lawsuits against the city, arguing that the city had over-reached its authority. The two petitions were heard jointly in April.

The crux of their legal arguments against the rent increase was that the city did not reasonably interpret its legislative authority to areas already regulated by the province.

The owners described hardship in affording maintenance and upgrades for their properties.

This week the city filed a notice with the B.C. Court of Appeal to have the lower court ruling set aside and to uphold the bylaws.

Mayor Kennedy Stewart said in a release that the bylaws are needed to protect against the risk of homelessness.

"We need to use every tool we have to protect this fragile housing stock, and I am hopeful the Court of Appeal will side with the city and the important work we are doing to protect our neighbours from living on the street," said the release.

The city said demand for the type of housing was far exceeding supply, despite the opening of 1,600 new social housing units in 2021.

Stewart said recent fires in several of the buildings has made the problem worse.

He said the original bylaws constituted "landmark vacancy control."

Coun. Jean Swanson brought the original motion to council and said the measures were meant to stop landlords from doubling or even tripling rent for what are mostly three-by-three-metre rooms with no kitchen and shared bathrooms.

Under the bylaws, in rooms renting at or above $500 per month, rent could only be increased at tenancy turnover by the current inflation rate for Vancouver, while for rooms renting between $375 and $500 per month, rent could only be increased at tenancy turnover by the current inflation rate plus five per cent.

The city is also applying for a stay of the court's requirement to destroy data collected from property owners.