ACORN calls for Burnaby standards of maintenance bylaw

Burnaby Coun. Pietro Calendino -
Burnaby Coun. Pietro Calendino
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Burnaby renters need more protection against landlords who don't keep their rental units safe and healthy, says ACORN Canada.

The group, which advocates for people with low-incomes, believes it should be in the form of a city bylaw which sets out standards of maintenance.

Burnaby is one of the last Lower Mainland municipalities to not have such a bylaw, although the scope of what each covers varies from city to city, said Monica McGovern, chairperson for ACORN's Burnaby chapter.

McGovern said the "ideal" version is found next door in New Westminster, where its bylaw covers everything from structural issues, electricity, water, and health issues such as mould and pests.

She believes it's ultimately the responsibility of the province, through its Residential Tenancy Act, to deal with such issues, but the act has no teeth to allow fines to be collected from errant landlords, leaving tenants with no other recourse but to take landlords to court.

"How many are going to do that? Not very many."

McGovern said ACORN has received complaints from Burnaby renters about uncontrolled infestations of bedbugs, cockroaches and mice, the absence of fire alarms or fire escapes, and black mould leading to health problems.

"I personally years ago as a tenant had to face that. Two of my children had asthma and it was really bad, especially in basements, that I'd have to move. And then their asthma would get better."

There's also cases of houses being chopped up into several rental units. She's heard of one house that was turned into six units, with all tenants sharing a bathroom and kitchen built without proper electrical work, creating a fire hazard.

"There's such a lack of affordable housing so a lot of people just put up with it."

Such issues are the responsibility of the provincial government and its Residential

Tenancy Branch, said Burnaby Coun. Pietro Calendino, a member of the city's community development committee which deals with housing issues.

"To leave it to municipalities you would have a mish-mash of different bylaws everywhere confusing renters when they want to … report something," Calendino said in calling for provincial regulations that would be consistent across B.C.

It's also something Burnaby couldn't afford to take on without raising taxes.

"For the city to take on something like that, you'd need an army of inspectors," he said.

Coun. Sav Dhaliwal agreed.

"The tax dollars to enforce any bylaw which is not your direct responsibility has to come from somewhere. And then people, including the provincial government, are complaining that municipal taxes are so high," Dhaliwal said.

And while other cities have taken on more of the burden of addressing issues outside their mandate, "our city has resisted that."

Dhaliwal noted that both the Union of B.C. Municipalities and the Federation of Canadian Municipalities have repeatedly called for the province to enact standards of maintenance legislation, so far to no avail.

That's not good enough, said McGovern.

"But the fact is [the province isn't] doing anything, the reality right now," she said. "If you can add extra protections to the Burnaby residents, why not do it? That's ACORN's position."

Despite what Burnaby and ACORN may believe, the provincial government actually maintains such bylaws are the municipalities' responsibility.

"The Residential Tenancy Act requires that landlords maintain a rental property in a suitable state that meets all housing, safety and building standards required by law," said the Housing Ministry in a statement by email.

"Local governments have the responsibility and authority to establish and enforce standards of maintenance bylaws through the Community Charter," it said.

"Municipal authorities have the ability to levy fines, conduct inspections, approve permits and licences, identify unsafe conditions and require remedial work."

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