A Saint John family that's lived in the same apartment building since 2014 is moving out at the end of January after the property's new landlord increased their rent by $375 per month.
"I just couldn't believe it," said resident Eileen Godin. "I've lived here for seven years and the most we've ever had for an increase is $25."
Godin lives in a 12-unit building on Bonita Avenue with her partner, Mark Taylor, and 15-year-old daughter. They are paying $725 a month, but were notified in October that it would jump to $1,100 on Feb. 1, an increase of 52 per cent.
The property sold in September to a numbered company based in Langley, B.C., for $1.2 million. That's $517,500 more than Service New Brunswick valued it to be worth in its most recent assessment on Jan. 1.
The numbered company that bought the property lists Ryan and Christina Leeper as its president and vice-president. Calls to their phone number on Wednesday went to voicemail and were not returned.
Rent hike followed appliance installation
According to Godin, each unit had washers and dryers installed following the sale to replace coin-operated machines in the basement. But she said that's not enough to justify paying an extra $4,500 a year to live there.
Godin believes a number of her neighbours are in the same position.
"The people that live in these buildings, they're making minimum wage and a little bit better, but nothing substantial," said Godin, who works at a fast-food restaurant.
Two apartments in the building are currently listed for $1,100 on Kijiji by the property management company as being available for rent as of Feb. 1.
Godin said most tenants "can't afford that kind of money."
A Statistics Canada report released in April 2021 found that rent increases in New Brunswick were the largest in Canada from March 2020 to March 2021, when rents rose by almost five per cent.
Huge rent increases 'not unheard of'
Service New Brunswick said on Thursday that it has seen a 'slight increase' in complaints about large rent increases.
It's something affordable housing advocate Kit Hickey says her office sees frequently.
"As these buildings turn over, they are seeing huge increases in rent. Fifty, 75 per cent is not unheard of," Hickey said.
"What we're looking at are so many more people being forced into unaffordable housing situations," she said, adding that in some cases "all of the other necessities of life are forgotten. People are not eating properly, they don't get medications or they're forced into homelessness."
Hickey is executive director of Housing Alternatives Inc., which helps manage non-profit and co-op housing buildings throughout southern New Brunswick. It has no vacancies in any of its buildings.
Sufficient protections for tenants, minister says
Despite the recent substantial rent increases, New Brunswick Social Development Minister Bruce Fitch told CBC News on Tuesday the province has sufficient protections for tenants.
He pointed out that there is a rule in New Brunswick that rent increases are not supposed to exceed what is generally charged in a given area in buildings of similar condition. That effectively constitutes "rent control," he said.
WATCH | Tenants in New Brunswick face steep rent increases:
But in practice, increases of any amount in New Brunswick are allowed if a tenant does not formally object to the Residential Tenancies Tribunal within 30 days of receiving notice.
And in buildings where some tenants file an objection and some do not, a tribunal ruling that an increase is unreasonable applies only to those who have submitted paperwork.
"If you don't make the complaint, it's not going to be acted upon," acknowledged Fitch.
Complaints process difficult for some renters
Hickey says that is a problem because many low-income renters don't have the tools needed to understand the rules and fill out the forms.
"Filing those complaints is not easy," she said.
"Many people do not have the wherewithal or the expertise to make their way through the whole system. And you've got a lot of people who experience financial difficulty and have lived with it all of their lives and they don't have a lot of confidence in the system either."
Godin and her partner, Mark Taylor, were entitled to file an objection but chose not to do so.
Taylor said the process of objecting is cumbersome and his past experience with Service New Brunswick has left him with the impression it will favour landlords in a dispute with tenants.
"The paperwork and the stuff you've got to do, it's kind of ridiculous, really," he said. "You should be able to just make a phone call."
Godin said the family managed to find another apartment nearby at a decent rent, but she is worried about what will happen if that building sells, too.
"The prices are going ridiculously high," she said. "I feel that it shouldn't be allowed. I think the government should put a cap on [rent increases] like they do in other provinces."