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Draft rental standards bylaw a hot topic at District of Port Hardy meeting

Mayor Dennis Dugas wants the bylaw to pass so they can “protect the people.”
The exterior of infamous Port Hardy apartment building Highland Manor. (Zoe Ducklow photo)

Port Hardy’s mayor and councillors were all in attendance at a committee of the whole meeting on April 13 to discuss a draft rental standards bylaw for the district.

Mayor Dennis Dugas opened the discussion by welcoming Ross Blackwell, Port Hardy’s Director of Corporate & Development Services/Deputy Chief Administrative Officer, to speak on where staff is at with the bylaw.

Blackwell thanked council for giving him the opportunity to speak, and then passed the mic to Chief Administrative Officer Heather Nelson-Smith to relay the background details behind the reasons for the implementation of the bylaw.

Nelson-Smith said it was actually Coun. Fred Robertson who had brought rental standards issues to staff’s attention, noting he had told them there were some serious problems with the district being able to enforce basic rental standards when tenants would bring up complaints.

She added the district has had one apartment building in particular with numerous issues, including no hot water or no water at all going into units, some units that didn’t have any heat, and that the tenants were struggling to file residential tenancy complaints to get the issues fixed.

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“The Residential Tenancy Board was unable to do any kind of enforcement, because the way they hold their hearings is they rely on the ability to revert to enforcement within the community,” said Nelson-Smith, adding that unless the tenants want to take the landlord to small claims court, “there’s a whole pile of other processes they would have to go through, which are quite costly, after a residential tenancy hearing is held.”

Nelson-Smith added staff started researching bylaws in other communities, and they noticed Williams Lake was having similar issues, so staff thought this was a good opportunity to bring in a similar bylaw for council to look at.

She noted if this draft bylaw passes, tenants will have to file through the Residential Tenancy Branch as well as the district, “so that we always make sure we have that continuity,” before passing the conversation back over to Blackwell to talk about the specifics behind the creation of the draft bylaw.

Blackwell added where he picked up the ball was “with respect to essentially crafting a bylaw that didn’t overreach on the issues - I tried to find the sweet spot if you will, with regard to addressing the issues that Heather talked about.”

He noted the draft bylaw will address various aspects of building maintenance that could reasonably be managed by the district, and it will have a “fairly robust set of provisions” and will “establish a very simple baseline for what people should expect around a liveable unit. The counter point to that is, through the building permit process of course, we make sure these standards are established prior to occupancy… it essentially bookends the process from the building and construction part, to make sure everything from a health and safety perspective is provided.”

The draft bylaw will ensure landlords follow the BC Building Code, and will also ensure that buildings are reasonably maintained with regard to most health and safety issues.

Blackwell then spoke about how they will be able to fine landlords for infractions, stating the maximum fine would be $10,000.

“Hopefully this $10,000 maximum will motivate building owners to resolve any issues or deficiencies that are being identified.”

So how will building maintenance be enforced by the District of Port Hardy?

Blackwell said there needs to be a system in place to effectively handle the issues, and he and Nelson-Smith agreed there needs to be a policy around how it gets enforced and how priorities are set “because we don’t have the capacity to deal with every little issue that pops up, so we have to establish some fundamental criteria around how to prioritize complaints based on staff time, but at least this gives council the ability to have a material effect on the longstanding issue around the question of liveability of many of the housing units in the district.”

Blackwell finished speaking, then welcomed questions from council.

Coun. Leightan Wishart asked if the bylaw will cover all residential rentals, not just the notorious apartment buildings in town.

“If there is a significant concern, I think there is the latitude to address that,” said Blackwell, adding this draft bylaw has quite the scope to give council the ability to manage all kinds of issues with various properties, but right now it’s primarily aimed at multi-family residential buildings.

Robertson stated the reason for the bylaw being drafted in the first place was for it to be aimed at derelict rental accommodations, because that’s clearly where all the issues are in town. He then asked if the district’s building inspector is going to be doing all the bylaw enforcement, how the bylaw will coincide with strata’s that have their own rental policies, and then asked if the public should be allowed consultation on the bylaw.

“I’m not convinced there would be great value in a consultation around this, because it’s largely focused on code and legalistic components that define the bylaw,” answered Blackwell, who then deferred to Nelson-Smith.

“In terms of getting out the word ahead of time, we could definitely be contacting the property owners of major apartment buildings and letting them know this is coming so that they are very well aware, and what the reasoning is behind why we are putting it in place,” she said, adding everything addressed in the draft bylaw is just basic miminum standards. “You wouldn’t want to open it up to someone to say ‘I want to offer less than the minimum standard.’”

Coun. Pat Corbett-Labatt thanked staff for putting the bylaw together, then asked about the generic title of it (rental standards bylaw) and whether it could be made to be more specific.

“Absolutely we can do that,” said Blackwell. “The more generic title I think is intended to provide council with the latitude to expand as necessary should other issues pop up… But your point is well taken, and should council prefer that, it’s an easy change.”

Coun. Janet Dorward wanted the title left as is, as she’s not aware of any single or duplex homes or trailers that are problematic, “but if they were I can’t see why we can’t apply this, because it is really minimal standards.”

Wishart said he supports Dorward’s position, noting that leaving the title as is will help them cover different issues that might come up once the bylaw is in place.

Robertson then asked if the buildings in town that are in disrepair end up getting fixed to meet the minimum standards, will the landlords be able to raise the rent and “renovict” certain tenants. “I’m hoping I’m just overthinking it and it’s not an issue, but I’m not sure.”

Blackwell confirmed there are enough provisions under the Rental Tenancy Act to ensure that such an issue would hopefully not happen.

He added there is an ability for the tenant to address issues like that with the Residential Tenancy Branch. “Renovictions come with a one-year price tag, so a landlord has to provide one year’s worth of rent as a punitive payment for a renoviction.”

The Residential Tenancy Act also specifices how much per year rent can go up, which is capped at a two per cent increase per year.

Council discussed other minor parts of the draft bylaw before Dugas was given final word, stating the bylaw will to go future meetings to be approved in order to “protect the people.”


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Tyson Whitney

About the Author: Tyson Whitney

I have been working in the community newspaper business for nearly a decade, all of those years with Black Press Media.
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