Tenants' rights advocates, landlords speak out on decision to let rent caps expire

The amendment would give the Residential Tenancies Tribunal the option to spread a rent increase over two or three years if it's more than the consumer price index. Social justice groups worry that won't be enough to help many renters. (CBC - image credit)
The amendment would give the Residential Tenancies Tribunal the option to spread a rent increase over two or three years if it's more than the consumer price index. Social justice groups worry that won't be enough to help many renters. (CBC - image credit)

With the 3.8 per cent rent cap coming to an end soon, Nichola Taylor, chair of ACORN New Brunswick, said the Higgs government has sent a "clear message" to tenants that they don't matter.

But Taylor said the social justice group isn't backing down and they have their own message.

"We're going to keep fighting for rent control," she said. "Tenants should have a voice, tenants should be heard … and tenants need protection."

An amendment to the Residential Tenancy Act was introduced Thursday and while it would not extend the cap, it would tie rent increases to the consumer price index, if necessary.

The amendment would give the Residential Tenancies Tribunal the option to spread a rent increase over two or three years if it's more than the consumer price index, it would increase the number of days to appeal a rent increase, and it would limit the reasons for an "acceptable" increase.

Taylor said these amendments are not enough.

Alexandre Silberman/ CBC NB
Alexandre Silberman/ CBC NB

"It's not rent control, simple as [that], that is not protecting the tenant," she said.

She fears that with the possibility of high increases, seniors and people on fixed incomes are going to be made homeless or have to choose between putting food on the table or turning on the heat.

Before the rent cap was introduced earlier this year, some tenants reported receiving notices of major rent increases, with some hiked up to 55 per cent.

"What they're doing now is to keep the landlords happy," said Taylor.

Landlord groups pleased with decision

Willy Scholten, the president of the New Brunswick Apartment Owners' Association, said he thinks the decision not to extend the rent cap and instead amend the tenancy act is "fair."

He said his biggest issue with the rent cap was how inflation was impacting landlords.

"Landlords get hit with inflation just like everybody else," said Scholten. "During that time, landlords are being asked to fill the gap between the two and to absorb the additional costs which we didn't think was a fair thing to do."

He said the majority of landlords are fair with tenants, but that "there are bad apples that have come into our market."

CBC
CBC

Since the legislation gives the tribunal jurisdiction to make decisions on increases, Scholten said "it'll take care of those bad apples."

Jill Green, the minister responsible for housing and Service New Brunswick, said the bill would still provide protection to tenants without dissuading developers.

Scholten agrees, saying that rent control sends a message to developers.

"It makes developers then look to … other places to develop," he said. "And I think right now, with the housing crisis that we have, we need to do all we can … to make this a good place to add more housing."

Gerry Webster, president of the Saint John Apartment Owners Association, said not extending the rent cap was "the right thing to do."

He said if the rent becomes too high for an apartment, people just won't pay it. He said he knew a landlord who had to drop the rent three times because nobody would rent the apartments due to cost.

"The market will take care of itself," he said.

'Scary for tenants'

Matthew Hayes, a spokesperson for the New Brunswick Coalition for Tenants Rights, said the new amendments to the act are "solutions to problems that no one has articulated."

He said the announcement showed a lack of consultation from the government, as the coalition had yet to meet with Green's office. The group was working on trying to set up a meeting when this announcement was made, said Hayes.

CBC
CBC

The claim that the rent cap was dissuading developers is "absolute balderdash," said Hayes. He said rental housing is being built, but most of it isn't affordable.

He called the situation "fundamentally unfair," saying that tenants he spoke to are worried they'll be unable to afford their next rent increase. Hayes said one of the reasons they wanted the rent cap extended was to provide stability for tenants, and now this is "destabilizing a lot of people's lives."

"Finding an affordable home in New Brunswick was a game of musical chairs before [Thursday's] announcement," said Hayes. "Minister Green sped up the music and this is extremely scary for tenants."