The provincial minister who regulates apartment rentals has publicly guaranteed that New Brunswick landlords will not be able to find ways around a proposed new rent cap and legislated restrictions on so-called "renovictions."
Service New Brunswick Minister Mary Wilson delivered the seemingly ironclad commitment during question period.
Green Party Leader David Coon asked Wilson if she'll consider amendments to the rent cap bill before the legislature now, given there are reports of landlords trying to circumvent it.
"I can guarantee you, right here today, that the small percentage of landlords who are trying to find loopholes to circumvent this system are not going to be successful," Wilson said.
Coon said a couple in his Fredericton South riding had a proposed rent increase withdrawn by their landlord after the cap was announced — only to receive notice of another big increase that will take effect after the cap is set to end Dec. 31.
He also said the ill-defined, subjective ban on "renovictions" isn't stopping landlords from evicting tenants by claiming they need to do major renovations.
"Clearly the rent cap bill will not achieve its goal to protect tenants from unaffordable rent increases as drafted," Coon said.
The bill will cap rents at 3.8 per cent this year. It will apply retroactively to any rent increases in 2022, dating back to Jan. 1, but the cap has no legal force until the bill is adopted and gets royal assent on June 10.
The bill prevents landlords from terminating tenancies except in four narrow circumstances, including renovations "to an extent that vacant possession is necessary."
Last month CBC News revealed details of a video call among Moncton landlords in which they discussed ways to get around the legislation.
Property manager Tony LeBlanc said on the call that a landlord could get the Residential Tenancies Tribunal to approve a longer timeline for a renovation and then finish a project within a week.
"The tenant is out and the rentalsman is out of the picture," he said on the call.
Wilson told reporters the tribunal will "do everything to make sure" that landlords are not able to get around the law.
"It's not going to happen," she said. "Any loopholes that they might find, we're going to be sure to close them."
She pointed out that any tenant who gets notice of a rent hike or eviction that seems to go against the law has to contact the tribunal within 15 days.
But she was unable to say how the bill could be enforceable now, given it has yet to receive second and third reading by MLAs and royal assent.
"We will work out the details as we debate the bill. You'll see the specifics as that rolls out," she said.
She said the province has not set a timeline for when it will decide whether to extend the cap beyond this year, to protect tenants who may soon get notices for uncapped rent increases on Jan. 1, 2023.
"We are going to review it, we're keeping an eye on it, and we will act as needed on behalf of the tenants in the province of New Brunswick," she said.
Coon said he wasn't satisfied by Wilson's guarantee.
"I think she's dreaming in technicolor," he said.
"Without serious amendments to the bill imposing rent caps, she can't guarantee much. There's so many ways to get around that bill, as we've already seen. … Her guarantee's not worth anything."
Opposition Liberal MLA Rob McKee agreed.
"It's just a guarantee from a minister. Unless it's something that's written into the legislation, whatever the minister says is not law."
But McKee said the Liberal opposition is not willing to suspend normal debate rules to fast-track the bill. He said a full debate is needed because of flaws in the legislation.