Elderly tenants told to vacate Fredericton apartments for Airbnb-style conversions

·4 min read
Owners of this seven-unit Fredericton apartment building have been blocked from raising rents between 40 and 67 per cent by government reforms and are now proposing to convert a number of apartments into short-term rentals. (Ed Hunter/CBC News - image credit)
Owners of this seven-unit Fredericton apartment building have been blocked from raising rents between 40 and 67 per cent by government reforms and are now proposing to convert a number of apartments into short-term rentals. (Ed Hunter/CBC News - image credit)

A senior Fredericton couple and their elderly neighbour, whose plight with rent increases last winter helped push the New Brunswick government to enhance tenant protections, are facing the loss of their apartments for good.

Pauline Tramble, 67, her husband Charles, 85 and their neighbour Tayfun Orkus, 83 all received notices from their landlord announcing their apartments are to be converted into Airbnb-style "short term rentals."

They will have to leave, likely this fall.

"We were devastated, really shocked, " said Pauline.

"You know, we really didn't expect anything like that."

Ed Hunter/CBC News
Ed Hunter/CBC News

The notices arrived Monday, just three days after the New Brunswick government passed legislation to limit rent increases in the province and "protect tenants from terminations without just cause."

Tramble said she thought the new rules would help her and her husband remain in their apartment, but an exception in the legislation that allows renters to be forced out if the building is to "be used other than as residential premises,"  has given space to the landlord to end their tenancy.

"I'm just beside myself," said Tramble. "You know, 30 some years. All the things that we have to pack and I don't know. I just don't know where I'm at right now. It's just such a shock, you know?"

The Trambles first came to public attention before Christmas last year when they received notice of a $675 monthly rent increase scheduled for April 1, after their building was sold.

They had been paying $1,000 per month at the time.

Ed Hunter/CBC News
Ed Hunter/CBC News

Other tenants in the building also received notices of substantial increases, including Orkus who was told he would have to pay $525 more per month

"I cannot live here anymore because it is too expensive," Orkus said at the time.

His and the Trambles' story upset many and within hours of it becoming public the province took the unusual step of announcing an investigation into the increases.

Soon, other seniors around New Brunswick began disclosing similar experiences with soaring rent. Under pressure, the Higgs government reversed its opposition to rent caps and in March introduced a package of tenant-friendly reforms.

The Trambles' building is owned by DNV Properties Inc., a company operated by Dragan and Neda Veselinovic.

The two sent an email to the Trambles on Monday under the subject heading "Courtesy Letter" telling them they should begin looking for somewhere else to live.

"We will be converting your unit into a short-term rental in the fall of this year," read the note, which was addressed from both owners.

Submitted/Jennifer Taylor
Submitted/Jennifer Taylor

"We wanted to inform you of our changes now before sending you an official three months notice to provide you with extra time to look for a place to live as summer time is easier for finding places to rent and we felt you would benefit more from knowing our plans sooner,"

A woman who said she was Neda answered the company phone number Tuesday but said she was at work and could not talk. An email to DNV properties asking for comment about the letter and renovation plans was not returned.

Patrick Donovan is another tenant in the building. He received a renovation notice from the landlords during the spring and is losing his apartment on July 1.  He has a new place lined up but is worried about his older neighbours.

"They are wonderful people," said Donovan, who feels the province should do more to help long term elderly renters.

"It's atrocious what's happening to them. I hate to see them worried like this. There's no reason why they should be worried about having a place to live in their retirement years."

The province's Residential Tenancies Tribunal is looking into the situation, but in prior cases the province has approved the eviction of tenants for Airbnb-style conversions.

N.B. Tenants Rights Coalition
N.B. Tenants Rights Coalition

In April, tenants in Hampton were forced out of their apartments when the landlord changed the building's "business model" after they refused to agree to rent increases above the province's 3.8 per cent cap

At the time, the province said that was the landlord's right.

"Under the provisions of the act, landlords can end tenancies if they intend to convert the property to an Airbnb, provided proper notice is given to tenants," government spokesperson Johanne Leblanc explained in an email.

Jael Duarte is a lawyer with the New Brunswick Coalition for Tenants Rights and suggests the tribunal should look more closely at that issue.

New Brunswick classifies Airbnbs as "residential property," which qualifies them to pay a lower tax rate than commercial properties like hotels.  Duarte said  an argument can be made that Airbnbs are still residential premises, and switching an apartment to one is not enough of a change to justify forcing tenants out.

"The tribunal could find you are just renting in another way," said Duarte. "That will be the debate."

Pauline Tramble said her husband is in declining health. She is not sure he will do well away from the neighbourhood he has lived in for more than 30 years, and she hopes the tribunal can do something..

"He's so used to this place. For us to move and for him to go to some place else is just going to be, I don't know, so confusing for him," she said.

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