Former MP among tenants shocked by rent more than doubling in Kent County apartment building

Angela Vautour, who was MP of the former riding of Beauséjour-Petitcodiac, is speaking out about rent increases being imposed on residents of her apartment building that are as high as 102 per cent. (Radio-Canada - image credit)
Angela Vautour, who was MP of the former riding of Beauséjour-Petitcodiac, is speaking out about rent increases being imposed on residents of her apartment building that are as high as 102 per cent. (Radio-Canada - image credit)

It's been about two weeks since the expiry of the New Brunswick government's cap of 3.8 per cent on rent increases, and some tenants are receiving notice of significant price hikes.

One tenant in Beaurivage, a newly merged municipality in Kent County, says her rent is going up 85 per cent next fall, and her neighbours are getting a hike of 102 per cent.

"It makes no sense. It's not reasonable," said Angela Vautour, who is a former MP for Beauséjour-Petitcodiac.

The provincial government implemented a temporary rent cap last year when some tenants were getting rent hikes as high as 55 per cent. The New Brunswick government used the consumer price index to decide what the cap should be.

Radio-Canada
Radio-Canada

In November, Jill Green, the minister responsible for housing, announced that it would not be renewed for 2023.

Instead, if someone complains to the Residential Tenancies Tribunal about an increase in rent, the landlord has to prove the new rent is "reasonable" compared to other units in the same geographical area.

A legislative amendment passed in December removed an exception that used to allow an increase if it was for all units in a building.

Through another amendment, tenants whose rent is going up by more than the consumer price index — now at 6.9 per cent — can ask the tribunal to make the increase gradual, over a period of two or three years, depending on the size of the increase.

'Someone has to speak about it'

Vautour now pays $622 a month for rent and another $350 a month in winter for heat.

In a letter that arrived Jan. 11, she was informed she'll have to pay $1,150 in rent starting next November.

Her neighbours currently pay less than she does and their rent will be more than doubling.

"I know we aren't the only ones," said Vautour. "Someone has to speak out about it."

Vautour was elected as a member of the New Democratic Party in 1997, then crossed the floor to join the now defunct federal Progressive Conservative Party in 1999. She ran for the PCs in 2000 and the Conservative Party in 2004, losing both elections to Liberal Dominic LeBlanc.

Shane Fowler/CBC News
Shane Fowler/CBC News

She is now retired and has been living in her apartment for almost six years, a 16-year-old, single-story building with six units.

The building's former owner understood that most of the people living there were on fixed, low incomes, she said.

A new owner, who lives in Western Canada, bought the place last year.

Some of the former tenants, who'd been there for a long time, moved out after the change of ownership because they knew a big rent increase would be coming, said Vautour.

Decision of the building's owner

The landlord set the rent for new tenants at $1,400, she said, but no one around can afford that.

Several tenants have come and gone since, she said, and there is one vacant unit.

The roof of the building has been fixed, she acknowledged, but "nothing justifies the amount he's asking for."

Vautour said she doesn't even know who her landlord is, so CBC News contacted the property manager, Etienne Melanson.

He said he was not in a position to comment on why such a large rent increase was happening at Vautour's building, other than that it was the decision of the building owner, to whom he would forward the request for comment.

He declined to provide the owner's identity, citing privacy concerns.

"Our money is going to British Columbia," said Vautour. "It's not even helping the New Brunswick economy."

Word of the upcoming rent increase has been upsetting, said Vautour, who at 62 is the youngest person in the building. She and her neighbours, one of whom is 74 years old, have decided to challenge the increase through the Residential Tenancies Tribunal.

Vautour doesn't really agree with the way that system has been set up.

"All of the burden is on the tenants," she said.

She'd rather if landlords were required to go to the tribunal to get approval for any increases they want.

There's no guarantee Vautour and her neighbours will be successful, but they feel they have to try this route.

Otherwise, said Vautour, "the majority will be forced to leave."

'Housing is a right'

In her opinion, the problems New Brunswickers are facing with large rent increases can be chalked up to "greed" and a lack of government regulation.

Landlords are out of control, she said.

"One of my neighbours said yesterday, 'I paid all my life to live in New Brunswick. At 74 years old, I have nowhere left to live.'

"That makes no sense when we have a government that could put a law in place to protect us," said Vautour.

"Housing is a right, not a privilege. They need to understand that and they need to bring the cap back to protect us."

In December, the minister responsible for housing, Jill Green, said she planned to introduce amendments to the Residential Tenancies Act in the spring that will force landlords to apply for rent increases above a set limit.