(Laura Meader/CBC - image credit)
A grassroots campaign on P.E.I. called My Old Apartment aims to help tenants ensure they aren't paying too much rent with advice on how to challenge illegal rent increases.
The hope is the mostly pre-written letter campaign will help fight illegal rent increases and help new tenants get overpayments back.
It was started by social justice advocate Darcie Lanthier.
She made up cards with two blank spaces on the front for people to fill out: the date they left a rental and how much rent they were paying.
She wants people who move out of apartments to get in touch with the new tenants to make sure their rent doesn't go up too much.
"It's really the only way you can find out if you're paying too much rent is if you get that information from the previous tenant," Lanthier said.
"Otherwise, the landlord might just re-rent the apartment for two or three hundred dollars a month more than it was before, which is an illegal rent increase."
Lanthier said she believes it's a big problem on the Island. Many people may not realize that even if tenants change, the rent can only increase the amount set by the Island Regulatory and Appeals Commission (IRAC).
For 2021, landlords can raise the rent one per cent.
They can apply to IRAC and ask to raise it more if they can show increased costs with the property.
If people realize they have been paying more than the allowable increase, they can file a complaint with IRAC.
If IRAC finds the concern valid, rent could be reduced to the amount allowed under the rules and people may be eligible to get overpayments back.
The cards being sent out have a detailed description on how tenants can navigate the process.
Green MLA Hannah Bell, Official Opposition critic for social development and housing, said it's a good start, but they are pushing to get a public registry to list P.E.I. rentals.
"I put forward a motion in the house in 2019 for a rental registry and it passed in the house," said Bell.
"In fact, the now minister of social development and housing spoke in favour of it at the time but we don't have one and nothing has happened since that motion because of course that is non-binding."
In a written statement to the CBC, government officials said the province is currently looking at revamping legislation and a registry may be part of that.
More consultations are planned for this spring with the plan to have an updated draft to the P.E.I. Legislature in the fall.
Officials say a new Rental of Residential Property Act will have better protections for both tenants and landlords.
Costs up all over
CBC spoke with a few landlords over the phone for this story.
It is unfortunate that rents have gone up for tenants over the years but it is a reflection of the environment that we're in. — Albert Cohen
They said many people don't understand the costs they face to maintain their buildings — labour, taxes and property costs have all gone up.
Albert Cohen owns between 20 and 30 rental units on P.E.I. including apartments, townhouses and single-family homes.
"It is unfortunate that rents have gone up for tenants over the years but it is a reflection of the environment that we're in," Cohen said.
"Housing prices have gone up incredibly in P.E.I. and Charlottetown specifically in the last five years, and that is one of the major driving costs of rental prices."
He said for him, the cost of property insurance has, in some cases, gone up 15-20 per cent a year.
Cohen said it is important for the government to find a balance so that rents are reasonable for both tenants and property owners.
"Because if the property owners can't charge enough rent, then, you know, they're not going to come in and supply rental housing to the market," Cohen said.
"Then there's going to be even fewer rental houses or rental apartments available to people which could have, you know, the opposite effect of what the regulators want."
Some of the landlords CBC spoke with said they're often vilified unfairly and that most follow the rules.
The My Old Apartment campaign, Lanthier said, is for those that don't follow the rules.
She said she has set up a Twitter feed to get the word out.
Hundreds of cards have been printed and Lanthier said she is offering to pay to mail them too.
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