Renters in British Columbia face the highest eviction rates in Canada, but it’s through no fault of their own, according to a new report from researchers at the University of British Columbia.
UBC’s Housing Research Collaborative found that B.C. continues to have the highest eviction rate in the country. Between 2016 and 2021, 10.5 per cent of renter households in B.C. reported being forced to move by their landlord, nearly double the 5.9 per cent national average.
Craig Jones, the co-author of the report, says B.C.’s elevated eviction rate is driven by higher rates of no-fault evictions, which involves tenants being forced to move so landlords can sell, renovate, demolish or move into the unit.
About nine per cent of renters experienced a no-fault eviction in B.C. between 2016 and 2021, compared to 4 per cent nationally.
“It tells me that having residential stability as a renter in B.C. is hard,” said Jones, who recalled his own experience with two no-fault evictions more than a decade ago.
“An eviction is a potentially traumatic event. It’s a difficult thing to go through.”
The report analyzed results from the 2021 Canadian Housing Survey, which collected self-reported data from 41,000 tenants in private rental units.
No fault-evictions made up about 85 per cent of evictions in B.C. but only 65 per cent nationally.
Meanwhile, B.C.’s rates of at-fault evictions for late rent, property damage or excessive noise were similar to the rest of Canada.
Late or non-payment of rent accounted for 5.5 per cent of evictions nationally, while about 20 per cent of evictions were related to tenants’ behaviour.
‘Great precarity’, says housing expert
High housing prices and rapidly rising rents incentivize landlords to evict longer-term tenants through sale or renovation so that they can rent to someone who will pay more, said Andy Yan, director of Simon Fraser University’s city program.
It creates a “certain level of great precarity,” for renters, Yan said.
“And that talks to the type of hostile cities we are developing for those who want to set roots.”
Rents in B.C. are approximately $500 per month higher than the national average and house prices average $300,000 more than elsewhere in Canada, according to the study.
There is rent control when a tenant is living in a unit, but no limit on what a landlord can charge a new tenant moving into the same unit.
Yan says governments are no longer building as many purpose-built and non-market affordable rental units, leaving tenants in condos, houses and laneway homes owned by individuals particularly vulnerable to their units becoming short-term rentals.
“It underlies a level of instability for those who are new and young Canadians,” Yan said.
Smaller unit, pricier rent
Vancouver renter Fiona Scott has experienced three no-fault evictions in the last decade, but it was losing her unit of seven years in 2022 that “absolutely gutted” her.
The owner of Scott’s Kitsilano apartment above Nelly’s Grill on West 4th Avenue said she needed to move out so he could completely renovate the older unit.
“You have an emotional connection to your house, it’s your safe space… and then all of a sudden it’s gone,” said Scott, a travel writer. “It wasn’t an emotional journey I was prepared for.”
Through a friend, Scott eventually found a much smaller apartment in Kitsilano where she cares for the home’s garden in exchange for a discount on rent.
But she still pays about $500 more in rent each month and has taken on extra work to cover the cost.
More than a year since she was evicted, Scott says her old unit still appears to be vacant when she passes by.
“It’s so hard to lead a life of luck in finding the next accommodation,” she said.
Vancouver is Canada’s eviction capital, a 2021 study by Jones found, with double the rate of evictions as Toronto.
Calls for action
Eviction is “devastating” for tenants and communities, Yan said, particularly for seniors and Indigenous tenants whom the study found are twice as likely to be evicted than white tenants.
Some housing advocates have called for vacancy control to limit the allowable rent increase for a new tenant in the same unit. As well, there’s a push to require landlords to apply to the Residential Tenancy Board for an eviction order rather than placing the onus on tenants to fight them.
Yan says tenant protections are one important tool, but that governments at all levels need to focus on building more non-market affordable rental units and stabilizing the rental market by limiting short-term rentals.
Landlords, he says, also need to recognize they have a responsibility to the health and safety of their tenants, just like other businesses do.
“There is this type of underlying social contract that ought to be enforced by government,” said Yan.