For those outside the wildfire areas in B.C., the haze in the air and the news coverage serve as a constant reminder of the devastation taking place in the province’s interior. There are currently 162 wildfires burning in the B.C. interior. Since April of this year, 1,148,928 hectares of land have been burned. Evacuation orders for many communities have displaced nearly 5000 people in B.C.
Questions about the effect that the wildfires will have on B.C. tenancies are real. How many people will be displaced before the fires have stopped? Will their homes still be there when they return? Will the communities recover and how will communities with already challenging housing situations cope? Did people have insurance?
Many of the 2017 Wildfire evacuees are now returning home. Some of these individuals were renting houses before being evacuated. Questions about the relationship between housing, destruction of property, vacancies and rent levels is complex. If rents were high before the fires, they will take a while to come down. Rebuilding means that some people may be earning high wages while others are not. Additionally, if there is a large gap between highly paid workers and lower wage earners, we will likely see higher rental prices overall. This is true even if there are high vacancy rates and higher instances of homelessness. Landlords in these communities can afford to be very selective with renters and keep a higher vacancy rate.
What can we do?
- Register with the Red Cross if you are under evacuation alert, evacuation order or are evacuating an area because of health concerns. There is a $600 per household financial assistance. There may also be further assistance. http://www.redcross.ca/how-we-help/current-emergency-responses/british-columbia-fires/bc-fires–assistance-faqs
- IBC (Insurance Bureau of Canada) has some helpful advice about facilitating insurance claims. Keep receipts, take pictures, contact your insurer and be vigilant about protecting your identity. Only give identifying or sensitive information when you are sure it is safe to do so. http://www.ibc.ca/bc/disaster/bcwildfire
- There is a lot of information on the BC Residential Tenancy Branch (RTB) website about renters and wildfires. http://www2.gov.bc.ca/gov/content/housing-tenancy/residential-tenancies/2017-wildfires If you are a renter affected, first stay safe and listen to local government advice. But when you get the chance, read the RTB FAQs. There is specific advice if your rental unit has been damaged or destroyed.
- Have an evacuation kit. If you are a renter this should contain your tenancy agreement, condition inspection report and tenant’s insurance along with all the other items you need to keep your family safe and secure. Get Prepared from the Government of Canada has some great advice about preparedness for emergencies. https://www.getprepared.gc.ca/cnt/kts/index-en.aspx Other useful things for renters are contacts for your landlord and a disposable camera to take pictures. You may not want or be able to use your phone for pictures when the power is out. RentSmart advises people to scan and email pictures of their documents to themselves meaning that wherever you are, you can access them.
- Get tenant’s insurance. Check what it covers you for and make sure that you have the right kind of coverage. Fire is often covered and you would be making sure that your family has somewhere to live in the short term. Check your policy.
- Don’t be part of the problem. One third of the recent wildfires have been started by human activity. Learn how to prevent your behaviour causing a fire. Listen to local advice about vehicle use and fire bans, and dispose of smoking materials properly.
- Donate to the BC Fires Appeal. The Red Cross is supporting the province of British Columbia and local authorities in providing assistance to those affected by the wildfires. Your donation will help provide immediate relief such as cots, blankets, family reunification and financial assistance for food, clothing and personal needs. Beyond meeting immediate needs, your donation may also help re-entry and go towards more long-term recovery, resiliency and preparedness.https://donate.redcross.ca/ea-action/action?ea.client.id=1951&ea.campaign.id=74010&_ga=2.230698520.660466246.1499791310-1147234407.1499791310
For More information and updates on the B.C. Wildfires, visit:
For more information on the effect of B.C. Wildfires on BC Tenancies, visit: