Vancouver City Council is shutting down the Renter Office. Here’s what that may mean for students

The Vancouver City Council voted in January to close the City of Vancouver’s Renter Office, a body established by the previous Council in 2018 to promote and advocate for tenants’ rights.

The closure was not recommended by city staff, who advised Council to continue “services for renters through the Renters Office.”

According to city staff, the Renter Office received about 400 inquiries annually, leading councillors like Rebecca Bligh to argue a dedicated $1.8 million office isn't warranted.

All six ABC councillors voted to close the office, while the three other councillors — Green Party councillors Pete Fry and Adriane Carr and OneCity councillor Christine Boyle — opposed the decision and were quick to criticize the majority’s vote.

“[The] move shows that ABC Vancouver dismisses tenants’ rights out of hand,” read a statement jointly released by both the Green Party and OneCity Vancouver.

Councillor Lenny Zhou, who proposed the closure, and Mayor Ken Sim’s office did not respond by publishing time.

In a city where 55 per cent of households are rented, the three non-ABC councillors argued now was not the time to be shuttering tenancy assistance services. Among those renters are students, who AMS VP External Erin Co told The Ubyssey she knows students who have connected with the Renter Office and accessed its services.

In an interview, Co said the AMS had a “mixed reaction” to the office’s closure and remains concerned about a lack of specificity in plans to ensure the needs of renters are met.

There were two other recommendations in the staff report, besides continuing the Renter Office.

Staff suggested Tenant Resource & Advisory Centre (TRAC) receive a $500,000 grant from City Council to continue its work, which councillor Lenny Zhou’s amendment increased to $750,000. TRAC’s services include free legal education on residential tenancy matters and advocacy and representation for tenants. The staff report noted it is one of the only providers of such in the city.

TRAC will also now receive office space from the City of Vancouver, which was also recommended by staff.

However, Co still has questions regarding the shift of responsibilities from the Renter Office to TRAC. “The fact that there hasn't been any plans announced yet worries me a little bit,” she said.

ABC Councillors have made the case that the Renter Office services could be largely fulfilled by TRAC, or the Residential Tenancy Branch (RTB), a unit of the provincial government.

The RTB provides “information, education and dispute resolution services for landlords and tenants,” according to its website. Often, inquiries that started at the Renter’s Office were referred to the RTB, according to the analysis conducted by city staff.

The Ministry of Housing did not respond directly to questions on whether the RTB would be able to serve an increased number of inquiries that the defunct Vancouver office would have otherwise fielded, and directed The Ubyssey to a statement made in December announcing a 40 per cent increase in the RTB budget.

As the landscape of renters’ assistance changes, Co urged policymakers to keep students in mind. “City Council really needs to focus on making sure that … students don't fall through the cracks.”

Co said students are welcome and encouraged to contact the AMS’s housing services for assistance regarding tenancy.