Alberta's tenancy dispute board rules Edmonton man faced 'economic eviction'

Norris Turner found a new place to live after his landlord informed him that his rent was jumping 72 per cent, from $870 to $1,500 a month. (Terry Reith/CBC - image credit)
Norris Turner found a new place to live after his landlord informed him that his rent was jumping 72 per cent, from $870 to $1,500 a month. (Terry Reith/CBC - image credit)

Norris Turner is unpacking and settling into his new home in Edmonton.

It has been a long journey for the blind 74-year-old man after a rent hike at his former apartment, which was undergoing renovations, forced him out.

But Turner is also celebrating a win. Alberta's Residential Tenancy Dispute Resolution Service recently ruled that his landlord's rent increase "was not a genuine rent increase, but rather an economic eviction," according to a copy of the decision obtained by CBC News.

"It was a lot of relief. I can finally start to properly relax," Turner said.

The decision said the landlord breached the Residential Tenancies Act by "disturbing the peaceful enjoyment of the rental premises through extensive renovations in and around the rental premises."

It dismissed an application for unpaid rent from the landlord and ordered the landlord to pay Turner one month's rent and costs.

"I'm free of that building and the people that own it. They've got no more hold on me whatsoever," he said of the decision.

Unexpected notice

Turner had lived in the building in Edmonton's Old Strathcona neighbourhood since 2009.

In January, Turner received a notice stating that his rent was jumping from $870 a month to $1,500 a month. There is no cap on rent increases in Alberta.

It said the increase was due to "rising living costs."

"I was amazed and in awe that they would do something like that," he told CBC News in early May.

The senior lives off his work pension, CPP and OAS and said that type of increase would have forced him to dip into his savings.

Each province and territory is responsible for tenancy issues so there is little national data on economic evictions, which are also known as renovictions.

Terry Reith/CBC
Terry Reith/CBC

Tim Patterson, a lawyer at Edmonton Community Legal Centre who worked on Turner's case, said he has seen more cases of this nature.

"From this year to last year, we've seen an uptick in the number of tenants coming to us with problems with landlords and certainly some of those are about notices of rent increase that they believe are happening because the landlord wants them out," he said.

Patterson said there are rules for landlords to follow when it comes to ending contracts to do renovations, but some landlords hike rents to circumvent those rules.

"That's where people's rights get abused. And unfortunately it's the people that are most vulnerable that can't afford to pay a large increase in rent that are going to be most affected," he said.

Calls for action

Laura Murphy, research co-ordinator for the Affordable Housing Solutions Lab at the University of Alberta, said tenants are at the mercy of third-party landlords and financialized landlords, who are beholden to shareholders and investors, not tenants.

Terri Reith/CBC
Terri Reith/CBC

"We really need to regulate things and make sure that we're taking the investment piece out of housing," she said.

"It's financialized owners that show up cash in hand, 15 per cent above asking. We're getting pushed out of housing, whether it be rental or home ownership, by investors."

Murphy calls these types of evictions "serious."

"It's life-and-death in terms of just the impact of financialization and renoviction. We see the hollowing out of neighbourhoods across Canada," she said.


Canada's federal housing advocate Marie-Josée Houle said her role is to hold Ottawa to account on its human rights obligations around housing.

The federal government is investing $82 billion over 10 years into housing, and Houle stresses this needs to be a priority.

"Government needs to invest more in social housing. Social housing is the only form of housing that creates housing affordability in perpetuity. We are not seeing that yet. They need to really prioritize this because this is the only solution," she said.

"We don't have immediate solutions for people but we have to keep focusing on it and quit being distracted by other pressing issues, such as creating housing that is unaffordable for people."

As for Turner, he is grateful to have found another place to live.

And, for those facing the same issue he was, he recommends working with a lawyer and fighting back.

"Don't take it laying down. You have rights."