New research into disputes between landlords and tenants in Metro Vancouver suggests soaring prices and rock-bottom vacancy rates have led to growing fears of eviction among renters.

"Our preliminary findings suggest that renters are increasingly concerned at the threat of eviction, particularly associated with the challenges of making rent," said lead researcher Nicholas Blomley.

Using data from the Residential Tenancy Branch, Blomley and a team of researchers at Simon Fraser University looked at more than 127,000 dispute resolution applications filed between Jan. 1, 2006 and April 30, 2017.

The number of disputes filed in Metro Vancouver increased by an average of 0.8 per cent each year between 2006 and 2016, according to the study.

While most renters live in Vancouver and Surrey, some of the region's smaller municipalities saw the biggest increases in the number of disputes between landlords and tenants. In West Vancouver, for instance, the average annual increase was 5.3 per cent, and Maple Ridge saw an annual growth in tenancy disputes of about 2.4 per cent.

Bigger cities such as Burnaby, New Westminster and Port Moody, on the other hand, all saw an overall decrease in disputes during the studied period.

Landlords brought 61 per cent of all disputes to the RTB, the researchers said, adding that tenants might be less likely to file a dispute "due to a fear of landlord reprisals, or because of delays in the arbitration process."

Blomley said the growing rate of evictions in the suburbs is likely linked to lower-income renters being priced out of bigger cities.

Being evicted, he added, can make it even more difficult for already vulnerable renters to find housing.

“We know that evictions correlate with ill health and psychological problems,” he said. “Not only are you likely going to pay more in an overinflated market, but even if you can access housing, you have a bad mark associated with you because you’re seen as somebody who’s been evicted.”

Maple Ridge resident Angel Bruhn echoed the comment Tuesday, saying that as someone with a disability, a child and pets, finding housing can be a frustrating process even in the suburbs.

“A lot of landlords actually frown upon people that are on disability and welfare. I’ve got two pets which makes it even harder to find housing,” she said.

“Waiting BC Housing is like waiting on a snail to move. It takes so long and they don’t even care what your situation is like. There’s next to nothing because there’s nothing affordable.”

Numbers from the Tenant Resource Advisory Centre, which provides information and support to renters, also suggest that fear of eviction in on the rise.

According to the study, 19 per cent of all calls made to TRAC in 2010 were on the subject of eviction. By 2016, that number had grown to 26 per cent, while the number of calls about issues such as noise, repairs and deposits all showed a downward trend.

The City of Vancouver saw the highest proportion of calls regarding the threat of eviction of any municipality in the region between 2014 and 2017.

'Renovictions' a minority of cases, but a growing concern

While "renoviction"—the practice of evicting tenants so a landlord can demolish, renovate and/or sell a property for quick profit—has led to public outcry across Metro Vancouver, the study suggests it only plays a role in a minority of disputes.

While eviction notices that mention "landlord use" of the property doubled between 2013 and 2016, they only accounted for 3.8 per cent of the 127,000 disputes studied.

Instead, most evictions stemmed from unpaid rent, which the authors of the study say highlights the growing disparity between wages and the cost of rental housing.

"Since 2006 and 2016, median apartment rents in Metro Vancouver have increased at a rate greater than the average wage increase and the increase in inflation," the study said.

Non-payment played the biggest role in Surrey and Maple Ridge, leading to 43 to 48 per cent of all eviction notices. Unpaid rent was only a factor in 28 to 30 per cent of cases in Vancouver and West Vancouver, which were least affected.

A third of all households in Metro Vancouver are private rental properties. The median household income among renters in only 67 per cent of the overall household income for the region.

On Tuesday, Housing Minister Selina Robinson said the report "confirms what our government has been hearing for some time."

"We know that people are anxious," she said. "As a government, we've heard that anxiety and we're taking action to address that."

The 2018 budget included several provision aimed at making buying and renting more affordable.

The NDP's 30-point housing plan includes an increased and expanded foreign buyers tax, a new speculation tax and a $6.6 billion investment into growing the affordable rental housing stock in regions such as Metro Vancouver, where vacancy rates are consistently below 1 per cent.

The announcement, however, did not include a $400 renters rebate the party promised during the 2017 election campaign.

In December, the province also moved to close loophole that permitted landlords to raise rates above the allowable rental increase limit to match rents within a geographic area.

With files from CTV Vancouver's Jon Woodward