Paper-only rental hearings would put tenants at disadvantage, rights group says
Advocates for tenants' rights are concerned about the P.E.I. Rental Office's plan to consider changing the way it conducts some hearings.
The rental office, a division of the Island Regulatory and Appeals Commission (IRAC), says most hearings will be done over the phone, but cases of landlords seeking greater-than-allowable rent increases could be done on paper only.
Cory Pater of the P.E.I. Fight for Affordable Housing says reducing the use of meetings by telephone, video conferencing or in person could put some tenants at a disadvantage.
"We think that it depersonalizes the process," he said.
"You can have all of the same submissions in the on-paper hearing, but you're not going to be hearing the other party's voice, you're not going to be hearing them state their case themselves, and that's a hugely important thing, especially for tenants to be able to feel empowered and like they're part of the system and like it's listening to them."
P.E.I.'s new Residential Tenancy Act, which caps rent increases at three per cent a year — and appeals by landlords for greater-than-allowable increases at another three per cent — is expected to take effect in 2024.
For 2023, the government put a freeze on rent increases, but landlords can still appeal to the rental office for a greater-than-allowable rent increase. CBC spoke to some tenants who said their rent is going by as much as 15 per cent because the landlord made a successful appeal.
In a statement to CBC, P.E.I.'s Rental Office said conducting hearings on paper only could potentially simplify the process because the cases typically involve large amounts of financial information.
"The threshold that landlords must meet, as set in legislation, to have an increase approved is unchanged regardless of how the hearing is conducted."
With a paper-based hearing process, all parties are provided with details on how they can submit written evidence and written submissions and the deadlines for doing so. The tenant's right to an appeal is still preserved.
The P.E.I. Fight for Affordable Housing said many of the people it works with are seniors who may not be comfortable with computers and paperwork.
"We're hoping that they limit their exploration and agree with us that this isn't the best way to go forward," said Pater.