'It is the wild west': Tenant sees 112 per cent rent increase

·5 min read

It has become a common occurrence across the province. Tenants wake up or come home to a rude awakening on the first of the month: A letter from their landlords increasing their rent.

Saint John resident Rebecca Train, a single mother of one, got her shock on Sept. 1, when she received a letter from her landlord notifying her of a whopping increase to her four-bedroom apartment set to take effect on Dec. 1.

The letter says Train will have to pay $1,800 instead of $850 – representing a 112 per cent increase – for what Train describes as an apartment with bedrooms "so small, most of them won't hold a double bed."

"I couldn't pay $1,800 if I wanted to," she said. "It's ridiculous. The place is a 100 years old. It hasn't had renovations done, according to my old landlord, in probably a decade... I don't even have a working smoke detector."

Train will also have to pay utilities on top of the rent increase because they will no longer be included in her rent.

The Telegraph-Journal obtained the landlord's email address from the tenant. After contacting the landlord, the newspaper received an unsigned reply from the email sender "Properties Canada."

With the increase in housing prices over the past year and a half, it's "no surprise" rental prices will also increase, read the email. The sender added the rise wasn't intended to be "malicious."

"I also want you to understand when you rent a five-bedroom unit five years ago at a low price [and] then someone else comes along and purchases the home at more than double the market value of five years ago, the rental prices will increase no matter what," reads the email. "We did our research in Saint John and the rental price noted on the increase is more than fair for a five-bedroom unit in today's market."

The letter indicated the rent increase isn't the first challenging encounter between the tenant and landlord, Train said. A couple of months ago, after the building was sold, Train said she was given a 30-day notice to move.

She contacted the provincial Residential Tenancies Tribunal, which advised that a 90-day notice would have to be served. She said a month later, she received another 30-day notice to vacate, which was again overturned by the tribunal.

After receiving the rent increase notice, Train is now planning to move. Her post on Facebook received more than 4,500 shares, and her friends have set up a GoFundMe page to help with moving expenses.

Train said the province needs to enact regulations to protect tenants against landlords making unreasonable rent-increase demands.

Matthew Hayes, a member of the New Brunswick Coalition for Tenants Rights, called Train's notice an "eviction notice," even though it's not explicitly stated in the letter.

"(In New Brunswick), it is the wild west where there are no rules at all that protect tenants," said Hayes, who added that high rent increases, which he considers essentially eviction notices, have increased across the province.

Currently, New Brunswick's Residential Tenancies Act doesn't restrict how much a landlord can raise the rent.

"A lot of people that receive this type of letter, they're going to leave," Hayes said.

These "evictions" won't show up in the province's statistics on rental evictions, because most people will just find a cheaper dwelling, he said, so the data doesn't fully represent what's happening.

"This has been a problem for a long time in Canada where we have over-relied on the market to provide affordable housing. The market has never, in Canadian history, ensured that there was sufficient affordable housing," Hayes said. "And that's the reason we're facing a homeless crisis and have been facing a homeless crisis that gets worse and worse and has been getting worse and worse for the last 25 years."

In mid-August, the City of Saint John launched an affordable housing action plan project. The project is designed to identify and address supply and affordability gaps in the city’s housing continuum.

Last week, Saint John Coun. Brent Harris introduced a motion at a council meeting requesting the city manager send a letter to the province and local MLAs asking to create a department responsible for urban affairs and housing.

The motion comes amid rising rents and a shortage of affordable housing stock that have put pressure on low-to-moderate-income people in need of affordable units, leaving advocacy groups, like the New Brunswick Coalition for Tenants Rights, to make repeated calls on the province for initiatives like rent control.

The newspaper reached out to the Department of Social Development for an update on the results of New Brunswick's review of rental housing in the province.

In an emailed comment, Bruce Fitch, the minister responsible for Service New Brunswick, said affordable housing is the government's top priority as it recognizes many New Brunswickers face serious challenges accessing affordable housing.

In January, the Government of New Brunswick called for a 90-day review of the rental landscape.

The minister said the in-depth review identified short and long-term solutions to help people and put forward a series of recommendations, which the government endorsed. Some solutions include helping improve tenant and landlord access to government services, enhancing the awareness of rights and responsibilities, increasing the supply of rentals, and modernizing legislation.

"Changes to the (Residential Tenancies) Act are being brought forward to support this recommendation in the fall," Fitch wrote.

- with files from Emma McPhee

Robin Grant, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Telegraph-Journal

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