The City of Burnaby has beefed up its renter protections, which are already some of the strongest in British Columbia.
Approved in 2019 and adopted in March 2020, Burnaby's Tenant Assistance Policy protects renters in the City from displacement as a result of redevelopment that requires rezoning approval. The four main aspects include assistance in helping renters find a new place to rent, financial support for moving, rent top-up payments that cover the gaps between the tenant's current rent and the rent of their new unit, and -- most significantly -- the right to return to the redeveloped building at the same rent (in a unit with the same number of bedrooms).
These renter protections were introduced after Burnaby started developing a reputation for "demovictions", where renters would be forced to move due to redevelopment projects, particularly in the transit-oriented Burnaby-Metrotown area. Older -- more affordable -- rental buildings would often be demolished to make way for newer buildings which typically commanded higher rents, primarily because they were new and in a desirable location.
At the time, Mayor Mike Hurley -- who retained his seat in the October election after no other candidate emerged -- addressed the renters in Burnaby who were skeptical about what was then only a proposal. "I fully understand their suspicions and their fear that these tenants aren't going to be looked after but I'm very confident these are going to be the best looked after tenants that Canada has ever seen," Hurley said.
The Tenant Assistance Policy only applied to "privately-owned multiple-family rental buildings with five or more dwelling units" and "does not apply to community housing that is operated as below-market rental by non-profit housing societies, housing co-operatives, the Provincial government, the City, regional government authorities, or Indigenous nations."
On Friday, the City announced further enhancements to the policy, based on feedback from the community, which were approved in an October 24 council meeting. They included specification that developers are the ones who should appoint a third-party to serve as the Tenant Relocation Coordinator, and a new option for eligible tenants to receive rent top-up payments as either a lump sum or on a monthly basis. The policy was also expanded to cover caretaker units, as well as secondary-market and purpose-built rental buildings with less than five units, if they're being consolidated into a larger redevelopment rental project.
"Two years ago, City Council approved a landmark set of protections for renters, which guaranteed the rights of Burnaby tenants when their buildings are slated for redevelopment," said Hurley. "But our work didn’t stop there – these updates provide important changes to ensure equitable treatment of all tenants facing displacement as a result of redevelopments requiring rezoning."
The City also noted that 883 households have received the benefits of the Tenant Assistance Policy to date.
After Burnaby introduced the renter protections, the City of Vancouver began discussions of its own about similar measures. Protections were then included in the Broadway Plan, which was approved this June. Like Burnaby, the City of Vancouver's protections include the same kind of rent top-up payments and the right for tenants to return to a new unit of the same size in the new building at their current rent, or a 20% discount on city-wide average market rents.
It remains to be seen if Vancouver -- and other municipalities -- can get it done, but if they plan on it, they could do worse than to look over to Burnaby.