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Crown land leaseholders in rural Squamish see ‘rent’ increases of up to 266%

Sea to Sky MLA proposes a bill that offers a solution; the provincial government is assessing the situation.
Margarita-YoungGettyImages
Unlike their Squamish and Whistler counterparts, some folks in Paradise Valley have received massive bills for living on their land.

In the midst of the pandemic, on Christmas Eve 2020, Paradise Valley resident Alice Savage received the letter that was sure to ruin her family of four's Christmas. 

So she tucked it away until after the holiday and didn’t tell her husband, Claude Potvin. 

The Savages own a home in the valley on Crown land. As such, the government policy is that their annual lease — or rent — is 5% of BC Assessment’s assessed value. 

Rents collected from Crown land help fund services such as healthcare, schools and roads.

The BC Assessment letter warned that the assessed value was considerably higher. This meant that their Crown land lease invoice would be spiking too.
With rising housing costs in the Sea to Sky, this has been an annual issue for the last few years. 

The Savages — who bought their home in 2014 — are currently facing a rent increase of 180%. Come April, they will receive an invoice that jumped from $9,590 to $26,932.

“We cannot pay that,” she told The Squamish Chief. 

When, acknowledging the impact the pandemic was having on folks, the provincial government capped rent increases to 1.5% for 2022, Savage thought the family may get a reprieve, but that cap does not apply to Crown land leaseholders. 

The volatility of the pricing and facing such a huge bill has created stress and anxiety for the family, she said. 

“This is absurd, unacceptable. We feel insulted, let down and exploited. This is so frustrating to have to fight this thing and think about it year after year. It is impossible to live with this uncertainty,” Savage said in a news release.

When the family first bought their home, the value of their land was $141,000, so they paid a Crown lease of $7,000. 

A few years ago, Savage and fellow leaseholder Jennifer Smack, launched the Paradise Valley Leaseholders Association to help address the issue. 

Smack says there are 26 lease land properties impacted in the area. 

She has lived on Crown land for 18 years. When she and her family moved to the area in 2003, her annual lease fee was $1,500. 

Three years ago, the fee went up 266%. 

Smack says the association and trying to get the neighbourhood’s concerns heard has become a full-time job for herself and a few others who have been “arguing the unfairness of the situation with the various ministries who play a part in determining these lease fee rents.”

“I became obsessed by the injustices and hypocrisy of the government,” she said, in the news release.

“How can the government increase fees from $8,000 to $20,000 in a single year?"

Smack also noted that there is no fire service or road maintenance for the area and house insurance is more expensive. 

Several owners have made a series of appeals to BC Assessment to have the values reconsidered. Their pleas have resulted in some assessments being lowered, but it is arduous, individual and not a long-term solution, they say.

They are also not able to buy their land, though a few have tried. 

Smack said that being told repeatedly that her land can not be sold but that it is so valuable as to require such a high assessment is what bothers her the most. 

“For 18 years, I have been told that it is not suitable for sale, yet it is suddenly so valuable?” she said. “This makes no sense.”
 

Proposed solution

On March 10, West Vancouver-Sea to Sky MLA Jordan Sturdy introduced a private member’s bill that he says would help his constituents impacted by the rising rates in the valley and also on the Sunshine Coast.

The bill proposes that Crown land leases be treated the same as other rents and capped at the Consumer Price Index (CPI).

“Residential Crown land leaseholders are the same as other residential tenants, with the exception that their landlord is the province of British Columbia,” Sturdy said in the legislature when he introduced the bill. “All landlords but the province are subject to the Residential Tenancy Act, which limits rent increases to CPI. For 2022, the maximum rent increase is limited to 1.5 %. For some reason, the provincial government does not hold itself to the same standard, and they’ve been subjecting tenants to rent increases that are, frankly, jaw-dropping.”

While these bills introduced by opposition members don’t often become laws, Sturdy said by raising the issue as a bill, he hopes to draw attention to the plight of his constituents in the valley. 

“We have to be fair here. And I just don’t think it’s fair,” he said. 

Sturdy added the 5% is a policy. It is not written into law. “It is simply the policy of [Ministry of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development] to charge you 5% of the assessed value per year. And when rents were stable, that was one thing, or when land prices were stable, but obviously, in the last several years, that has not been the case,” Sturdy said. 

Historically, recreational properties were more predominant in the valley, but they became full-time residential properties over the years, Sturdy noted. 

What does the ministry say?

Asked why the 5% figure is used, a spokesperson for the B.C. Ministry of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development didn’t answer directly. Instead, he noted that for residential tenures where people occupy the land year-round, the rent is set at 5% of the assessed value of the land. 

However, for residential tenures where people are using the land for seasonal or recreation purposes, the policy sets rent each year at 3% of that assessed value. 

The ministry noted that the average rent for most leaseholders on Crown land is about $365 per month. 

In some parts of the province, the rent these tenants pay to the government is a little higher — in the range of $500 to $700 per month. 

The ministry said it commissioned an appraisal of the policy in 2021, to help the provincial government understand the fair market land values and the fair market rental rates within Paradise Valley.

“The conclusion of the report suggests that fair market land values in Paradise Valley were in line with the land values as determined by BC Assessment,” wrote the ministry spokesperson in an email to The Squamish Chief. 

According to the spokesperson, ministry staff are reviewing the report and relevant policies and are assessing options that will result in recommendations being brought forward in the coming months.

“We understand the concerns raised by people who tenure land in British Columbia.”