Nelson landlords needed to address housing crisis

Landlords cram into Homelessness Action Week event

Nelson continues to face a zero per cent vacancy rate, local employers have identified lack of housing as one of the biggest barriers to attracting suitable employees to the region, and there are currently over 50 Airbnb rental properties in town that aren’t available for use as long-term rentals.

In this context, landlords are becoming more and more vital to creating housing stability for the community, though it can often be an epic undertaking for an individual to take on. The skill sets required to successfully provide other people with stable housing are rarely taught — until now.

“The reality is that being a good landlord or a good tenant is not an innate skill,” Kristi Rivait of Ready to Rent B.C. told a packed board room at the Nelson and District Credit Union on Tuesday.

And it’s about more than just money.

“Providing someone with a stable place to live can make a real difference in their life. You’ll see immediate change in their social and economic opportunities the moment you give someone a chance to succeed.”

Rivait was speaking to a roomful of prospective landlords as part of Homelessness Action Week, presenting alongside Trevor Jenkinson of the West Kootenay Landlords Association. According to her, B.C. is going to have to come up with a better housing model that makes room for people such as refugees, women fleeing domestic violence and people without rental histories.

That’s where Rent Smart B.C. comes in — an educational program that includes a 12-hour course outlining the rules and rights involved for both people renting out their houses and those seeking a place to call home. Rivait started it in Victoria and has been introducing it to communities across the province since.

“We only go where we’re invited, where there’s demand, and our goal is to create successful tenancies for both the landlords and the tenant,” she said.

When prospective tenants complete the Rent Smart program, they then have a credential that can serve as a reference. Landlords, meanwhile, can receive a thorough crash course on how to maintain their property and establish a healthy relationship with their tenants.

Rivait said the goal is to create a common language.

“The fact is, landlords need good tenants and tenants need good landlords,” she said.

According to Jenkinson, who told the room there are currently 72 members of his organization, most landlord-tenant conflicts arise from “grey areas” about rights and responsibilities that should be established beforehand. That’s why he recommends signing an agreement that was drafted up by his association’s lawyers.

Many of the conflicts that arise between landlords and tenants surround smoking, both of tobacco and cannabis, and one attendee claimed they’d come into conflict with their tenant, who said they were exercising their human rights. Jenkinson suggested perhaps cannabis consumers could use edibles instead, and said if they’d signed the landlord association’s agreement ahead of time there could be grounds for eviction.

Other questions surrounded things such as minor maintenance — who is supposed to fix the refrigerator light, if goes out? And who has to pay for plumbing repairs? Their education program lays out for both tenants and landlords everything from how much is normal to charge for a damage deposit to how to proceed when someone stops paying their rent.

During the event, Rivait shared an experience of giving tenants financial leeway when they were struggling, noting “we’re all human.”

But Jenkinson pointed out that’s not an option for all landlords, many who rely on rent payments for their income. And things get even more complicated when attempting to house at-risk populations with unreliable employment.

“Treat your tenants well, and they’ll treat you well,” he said, pointing out that though it may be the landlord’s “house,” it’s the resident’s “home.”

“This is a key part of building housing stability.”

In attendance at the event were the Nelson Committee on Homelessness’s Ann Harvey and Phyllis Nash, as well as honourary chair Chuck Bennett.

Nelson Cares’ Jenny Robinson shared insights from her experience being a landlord for Ward St. Place, while former Green Party provincial candidate Kim Charlesworth said she’s considering becoming one.

Becoming a member of the landlord’s association costs $40 a year. They meet the third Monday of every month. For more information on the Rent Smart program or Ready to Rent BC, visit readytorentbc.org.