“No vacancy” sign outside of a building on Dogwood Street, Campbell River, Feb. 22, 2019. File photo

Campbell River family’s ordeal prompts calls for more housing supply and protection for renters

Discrimination against renters on social assistance common in B.C., advocates say

The story of a family’s struggle to find a place to live in Campbell River points to the need for more housing and protection for renters, according to tenants’ advocates.

“With the shortage of rentals now, landlords are looking for the top renters,” said Valerie Puetz, executive director of the Campbell River and North Island Transition Society (CRNITS). “So they’re doing credit checks and whatnot, and if you’re not one of the top renters, you’re not going to get the place.”

Discrimination is widespread against potential tenants with kids, disabilities or income from social assistance, and particularly against Indigenous people, she said.

“There’s all sorts of discrimination that goes on,” Puetz said.

She was responding to an article in the Mirror describing the ordeal of a Campbell River family of five that relies on social assistance. They’ve been struggling to find rental housing before an eviction takes effect on March 1.

In the article, a local woman, who spoke on conditions of anonymity, said that at least one landlord rejected the family’s application for rental housing because he wanted someone working – instead of receiving social assistance – and someone with credit. In other cases, their applications were rejected by landlords who said they don’t accept kids, including at places not advertised as 55-plus.

It’s a problem that’s cropping up elsewhere in B.C. amid the ongoing housing crisis.

“We often see and hear of folks who are experiencing the same difficulties,” said Megan Billings, a tenant legal advocate with the Victoria Together Against Poverty Society (TAPS). “There are landlords that are discriminating against people, prospective tenants… even though they’re not allowed to under the BC Human Rights Code.”

READ MORE: Campbell River’s Rose Harbour planning for more housing

Landlords can limit the number of people living in a rental unit and can assess the suitability of residents, including for the ability to pay. But they can’t discriminate on the basis of race, sex, disability or lawful source of income and other factors under provincial human rights legislation.

Billings previously worked as a housing outreach worker, and would accompany renters – including those with disabilities – as they searched for housing.

Although discrimination is sometimes blatant, it’s usually hard to prove, she said. And it’s difficult to pursue cases of alleged discrimination at the BC Human Rights Tribunal when you’re struggling against homelessness, Billings said.

“Somebody who’s looking for housing, they’re trying to get their basic needs met, and yet they’re the person that also has to prove that they’ve been discriminated against,” she said.

Billings said prospective tenants should always have someone with them as a witness when meeting a landlord. She also suggested they get responses in writing and contact local groups that advocate for renters.

Examples in Campbell River include the John Howard Society, CRNITS and Sasamans Society.

READ MORE: Stop ‘renovictions,’ B.C. housing task force says

TAPS and other tenants’ rights groups have called on the B.C. government to put in place so-called vacancy control, which would tie rent hikes to the unit, not the renter.

In B.C., landlords are allowed to raise rent by the rate of inflation plus 2 per cent – this year, that number is 4.5 per cent – but they can ask any price for a vacant unit. This gives landlords an incentive to evict tenants, Billings said.

“They know that as soon as the tenants are out, they can escalate that rate to whatever they want,” she said.

More legal protections against evictions are needed, she said, along with an increased supply of housing available at rates affordable to those on social assistance.

There’s a major lack of affordable housing, she said, noting that some people wait for years before obtaining a rental unit through BC Housing.

The need for an increased housing supply was echoed by Andrew Sakamoto, executive director of the Tenant Resource and Advisory Centre (TRAC) in Vancouver.

“It would help to reduce the power imbalance between landlords and tenants,” he said.

“Tenants are desperate,” he said. “They’re lining up for housing.”

The provincial government has described its housing initiatives as the largest investment in affordable housing in B.C. history. On the Island, 1,500 units of housing are planned, including 40 mixed-income rental homes on Fir Street in Campbell River.


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