The Supreme Court of British Columbia ruled in early-August 2022 that three bylaws passed by the City of Vancouver to control rent increases in buildings designated as Single Room Accommodations were ultra vires (beyond the legal authority of) the City of Vancouver.
The City had wanted to introduce something it called “vacancy control”, being a form of rent control that capped rent increases between tenancies.
The City had relied on a business licensing power found in the Vancouver Charter to enact the bylaws, arguing that because the buildings were operated pursuant to City-issued business licenses, the City effectively had the authority to regulate any aspect of those businesses. The City argued that while the Province’s Residential Tenancy Act controls rent increases during an ongoing tenancy, there was no reason the City could not introduce rules to control rent increases implemented between tenants. The City’s background reports confirmed that it had the intention of capping rents other than for inflation and decreasing market demand for (and thus market value of) the buildings themselves. Simultaneously, the City was discussing with the Province and Canadian governments a plan to purchase the very buildings it was planning to devalue.
The Court found that the core purpose of the bylaws was regulating rent increases, being something fundamentally different than business licensing. The Petitioners successfully argued that the City’s right to regulate businesses was limited to areas not already regulated by a senior level of government – in this case the Province via the Residential Tenancy Act.
The case was argued by Evan Cooke, who was assisted in his preparation by Nathalie Baker.