Changes to B.C.'s Residential Tenancy Act (RTA) could prove tricky for the Whistler rental market.
The elimination of fixed-term tenancies with a vacate clause means fluctuating seasonal rents may be a thing of the past.
"That's something that is going to be very difficult to contend with ... there's definitely going to have to be a change in business model," said Hunter Boucher, director of operations for Landlord BC, at an information session at the Whistler Public Library on Thursday, March 15.
Under the new rules, brought into effect in December, all fixed-term tenancies automatically become month-to-month tenancies at the end of the initial agreement, with rent increases tied to the annual allowable rate (four per cent in 2018).
Whistler landlords wanting to offer summer discounts would have to average the rate out over an entire year rather than change the rental rate each season.
"The Residential Tenancy Branch (RTB) is aware of the fact that this change to the legislation is affecting this specific industry, and they're looking at what they can do to address that," Boucher said, noting that exceptions to the rule can still be added and changed. "Definitely seasonal housing is something that is on their mind, they are very aware that it's an issue, and it's something that they are considering. As to what will happen with that, we don't know at this point."
The changes were enacted to protect renters from being evicted without good reason, and to keep rental rates from skyrocketing year over year.
"We have heard the feedback from the industry saying, 'Well the reason I used fixed term with a vacate clause was because if I didn't like the person after a year, I could get rid of them,'" said Kimberly Lachuk, director of member engagement with Landlord BC. "That's not why fixed terms with a vacate clause were designed in the first place. Unfortunately, the industry started adopting that mentality and that's why they were pulled, because they were using it wrong."
Without the vacate clause, renters can essentially occupy a space indefinitely until they are served an eviction notice.
"That's why it is so important that you're doing the proper screening process from the onset," Lachuk said, adding that landlords should use a rental application and do their due diligence—calling references, verifying employment, credit checks—before signing anything.
"If you get a tenant and you sign the agreement with them right there, you are contractually bound to rent to that person, and you could find out the next day that they're wanted for murder in Saskatchewan, but you're still contractually bound to rent to them," Lachuk said.
The changes could discourage local landlords from renting their spaces, said Alejandro Marangoni, a Whistler landlord since 2014.
"I think this kind of thing will just scare people off. They'll say, 'OK, maybe I'll just sell this thing ... I don't want to deal with renting,'" Marangoni said. "I had to spend a lot of money renovating the place, and I'd love to find some good people to live there forever, but there is no protection for the landlords. I mean, there's bad people on both sides, so how do you get rid of somebody who may have trashed your place or is not taking care of things?
"And then people get afraid, right? In any kind of investment, you get afraid and pull money out."
Both landlords and tenants should be looking for solutions together, Marangoni added, rather than taking sides and polarizing the issue.
For landlords, there are three ways to end a tenancy: a 10-day notice (for unpaid rent or utilities), a one-month notice (when the tenant is breaching the rental agreement) and a two-month notice (landlord wants the unit for personal use).
If the tenant disagrees, they can file for dispute resolution.
One problem plaguing B.C.'s rental market in recent years has been a lack of dispute resolution arbitrators at the RTB, leading to lengthy wait times for hearings.
The RTB recently hired 11 new arbitrators to bring the total to 33.
"This is going to help them get those hearing wait times down to a much more reasonable time, and they hope to have hearing wait times for order of possession to about three to four weeks," Boucher said.
Find more resources for landlords at www.landlordbc.ca.