Yukon renters look to start tenants' association

Karen MacDonald, left, and Andrea Parent are part of a group of Yukoners taking steps toward starting a tenants' association. (Leslie Amminson - image credit)
Karen MacDonald, left, and Andrea Parent are part of a group of Yukoners taking steps toward starting a tenants' association. (Leslie Amminson - image credit)

When Karen MacDonald and her young son were evicted in May, she was surprised to find there wasn't much she could do, and it was hard to find support.

MacDonald said she'd lived in the Whitehorse apartment for over five years, and her landlord didn't give her a reason for her eviction. Under the Yukon's Residential Landlord and Tenant Act, landlords are permitted to evict tenants without providing a cause, though they must give two to three months' notice depending on the type of lease.

"Finding out that tenants have that level of vulnerability was really jarring for me," MacDonald said.

The experience inspired her to connect with other tenants, but she found there wasn't a union or organization in the Yukon whose main purpose is to support renters.

Now, MacDonald and a handful of other people are hoping to change that by starting a tenants' association in the territory.

Anna Desmarais/CBC
Anna Desmarais/CBC

Long-standing need

Though there are non-profit organizations in the Yukon that offer housing support, like the Safe at Home Society and the Victoria Faulkner Women's Centre, there are none whose main purpose is to advocate for tenants.

MacDonald and Andrea Parent, who's also working with the association, said they hope their organization can advocate for tenants both by pushing for stronger protections and by helping individual renters navigate the system.

"This association is a really good opportunity to try something different," Parent said. "To not just stay in the framework of what's been done, but try some new avenues also."

Forming a tenants' association was one of 10 calls to action issued by the Yukon's Safe at Home Society this past summer during an event in Whitehorse.

Kate Mechan, the society's executive director, said tenants can feel isolated without a support network. She said she's happy to see a group of people starting to come together.

"It tells me that people are ready to share experience, share skill sets, share knowledge and lean on each other," she said.

Leslie Amminson/CBC
Leslie Amminson/CBC

A voice in consultations

There's also hope a tenants' association could provide another perspective in consultations about tenancy regulations and legislation.

Yukon NDP Leader Kate White said the party had been in touch with some people looking to start an association for tenants, and she's happy to see them coming forward.

She pointed to the fact there's a landlords' association in the territory, which helps support individual landlords but also brings their perspective to the table during consultations about legislative changes.

"We think it's about high time that the tenants had a voice as well," White said.

Lars Hartling, president of the Yukon Residential Landlord Association, said it would be a good thing for tenants to start their own association.

Hartling's association was formed over a decade ago, ahead of 2012 consultations about the Residential Landlord and Tenant Act. The organization continues to advocate for the interests of landlords and provide guidance and support.

A similar organization for tenants would be welcome, Hartling said.

"It would be better for actual tenants to be heading up their organization," Hartling said. "And have their voice, versus a third party that's an NGO and so forth trying to speak on their behalf."

Getting off the ground

The new group isn't registered, but MacDonald said they've been meeting regularly. They've also been in touch with the Nelson Tenants' Union in B.C. and the Vancouver Tenants' Union to see what it would take to get an association off the ground.

"We're just hoping more people join up because we don't want this to be something that is a singular voice. We want to be representative of the entire rental market, which is a lot like a lot of different demographics," MacDonald said.