Excerpt of the Yukon NDP caucus’ submission to the Landlord and Tenant Act review:
The Yukon government is asking Yukoners for their views on modernizing our residential landlord and tenant laws. The period for public comment ends this Monday, July 9.
For years, the NDP caucus has raised the problems of the antiquated residential tenancy law and called for action. A select committee on Yukon’s tenancy laws reported its findings to the legislative assembly in the spring of 2010.
In the two years since the select committee produced its report, the housing crisis has gone from bad to worse in the Yukon.
There is no new affordable rental housing in sight, the vacancy rate is around one percent, existing rental housing is being converted and sold as condominiums, and now, rents have begun to skyrocket, with some tenants receiving increases as high as 67 percent.
The Yukon NDP believes that tenants should enjoy the legal right of security of tenure – the right to keep their homes. This right is balanced by protections for a landlord’s property.
For the Yukon to have a truly balanced law that incorporates best practices, and to meet similar standards across Canada, it is our view that Yukon’s residential tenancy laws must address a number of major issues.
Minimum standards for rental properties
Tenants should have the expectation that their rental unit conforms to applicable building codes and municipal bylaws, is free of contaminants such as mould, and has working smoke and carbon monoxide detectors, among other things, and that these are part of the landlord’s obligation.
No ‘without cause’ evictions
Currently, tenants may be evicted without cause. It is time to put an end to this practice. Evictions without cause undermine the safety and security a tenant enjoys in their home and it is open to abuse – for example, a tenant who stands up for their rights in asking for needed repairs can be evicted.
There should be minimum notice periods for evictions, which would vary depending on the reason. For example, non-payment of rent would require a shorter notice period (10 to 14 days), or when a landlord wants to sell, convert the rental units into condos, demolish, or occupy personally, notice should be at least two months.
Rent review and protection against rent gouging
Unfair rent increases are a constant problem for tenants but it is of particular concern when there is a low vacancy rate and high demand for rental units.
At present, a landlord can raise rents as high as they want. There is nothing the tenant can do but either pay up or move.
Rent increases should only be allowed once a year, with three months’ notice, and there should be a system of rent review in the Yukon to protect tenants from unfair rental increases while enabling responsible landlords to increase rents to cover legitimate costs.
Recently, Whitehorse has seen cases where landlords want to take advantage of the hot housing market by converting rental units into condominiums. Other jurisdictions have rules to protect rental units and tenants from being evicted to make way for more profitable condo units. Whitehorse can ill afford to lose more affordable rental units to condo conversions.
Some measures to consider include a longer notice to evict (at least two months) if the cause is condo conversion, and rules that bar conversions when the vacancy rate drops to low levels.
A simpler and more effective dispute resolution process
Currently, landlords and tenants are told to go to court or arbitration when disputes occur. This is not the most effective way to resolve issues, and the lack of alternative means to mediate and adjudicate can be unfair for those on low incomes or without the legal knowledge to navigate through a court action.
Other jurisdictions have created fast, cost-effective and easily accessible dispute resolution processes. The Yukon should create such a process which would have the power to adjudicate violations and disputes including repairs, unpaid rent, unfair rent increases, violations of minimum health and safety standards, and evictions.
Surveys for the review of the Landlord and Tenant Act can be found online at www.gov.yk.ca/consultations.html and paper copies are available at Consumer Services, 307 Black St., Whitehorse, or at community libraries or territorial agent offices throughout the Yukon.