The controversy over property assessment increases in New Brunswick promises to engulf thousands of apartment tenants next, as landlords all over the province cope with significant property tax increases — some more than 50 per cent.
"If they maintain this assessment level, I must sell my buildings — I must," said Fredericton apartment owner Gerald Wilson.
Wilson's apartment building on Greenwood Drive suffered a 55 per cent assessment increase March 1 from Service New Brunswick, driving his property tax bill up more than $26,270. Spread over the 54 units in the building that is an increase of $484 per apartment.
But Wilson says 14 apartments in the building are vacant and neither he nor his tenants can absorb the tax increase.
"My style of apartments are for working-class people," Wilson said.
"Two people working and making $13 or $14 an hour cannot pay rent like that. They can't."
Wilson says he is appealing.
Fredericton hit hardest
According to a CBC News review of apartment building assessments in the province, hundreds of rental buildings are facing double-digit tax increases this year, the worst of those in Fredericton.
At least 172 rental properties in the capital had an assessment and tax increase of at least 10 per cent this year, with 89 of those absorbing increases of more than 20 per cent. That's nearly double the number of rental properties receiving more than a 20 per cent increase in Saint John (49) and almost quadruple the number in Moncton (23).
Irene Murphy rents one of 45 apartments in a building on Fredericton`s McKnight Street, where the tax bill jumped $32,548, an increase of 42 per cent.
That's an increase of $723 per apartment per year, an amount that would cost Murphy an additional $60 per month in rent if her landlord passed it on. She said he has promised not to do so, for now.
"He said he'll put it up $25 [per month] but he said 'I'm still losing money.'"
Small rentals hit, too
Large tax increases have hit rental buildings large and small.
Ronnie Vautour runs a barbershop out of his Bowlen Street home on Fredericton's north side and rents out one apartment upstairs. His assessment has jumped 28.5 per cent, pushing his tax bill up $774.
"I almost passed out when I read it," said Vautour, who believes he will have to raise his one rent. "I`m going to have to."
On Fredericton's Barton Crescent, six apartment buildings purchased as a group by investors 18 months ago for $3 million were reassessed for $3.9 million, with a 30 per cent tax increase to match.
Unlike owner-occupied homes in New Brunswick, apartment buildings are not protected by a 10 per cent cap on property tax increases and there is no limit on how much a bill can increase in one year.
Thousands of tenants in the Fredericton area are students and Katie Beers, a student union vice-president at the University of New Brunswick, said if property tax increases are passed on by landlords it will make education that much more expensive.
"It`s all part of the real cost of an education and a university degree," Beers said.
Service New Brunswick did not respond to a request for information on whether apartment buildings were among the 2,400 miscalculations made by the department on tax bills this year. However, spokeswoman Judy Cole said 140 apartment buildings in Fredericton also got assessment and tax decreases as part of a comprehensive "reinspection" of all rental properties in the city.