Bruce Fitch, Minister of Environment and Local Government, made an announcement last Thursday, that he would be changing the property tax regulations surrounding rented or leased properties and lowering the amount apartment owners pay in property tax. He said in Thursday’s CBC NB news story that he hoped the savings would be passed onto renters but that ultimately that was not up to him.
Willy Scholten, president of the New Brunswick Apartment Owners Association, said it wouldn’t be likely that the decrease would be passed onto renters but only that it may reduce future increases in rent. Fitch also said that renters should push landlords to pass on the savings, just as owners pressured government. I feel like something is missing here. Oh right, the budget!
When the budget dropped in March, Finance Minister Blaine Higgs, and Willy Scholten spoke about a three-year rate freeze in which tenants could go to the Rentalsman if they felt the freeze was not being upheld; the idea being that, due to the savings seen by landlords, those savings should be felt (marginally) by the renters as well.
Where did the rent freeze go? Did something change between now and when the budget dropped? There are changes within the new reforms for commercial tenants but not residential ones. Why were residential tenants left out of the changes? It must be that we didn’t need to save money in these bright economic times.
As for “things not being up to him”… are you kidding me? You’re the minister of local government, and your party has a majority government! Last time I checked, that’s a pretty sweet and efficient way to get things done. It would be nothing for him to impose a freeze on rents as well as the guidelines for these freezes.
Fitch must not have much experience renting a residential apartment when he said that renters should pressure landlords to pass on the savings. It is hard enough to get them to fix something in your apartment. It isn’t as easy as us simply going up to our landlord and saying “Hey… you should do that right thing and not raise the rent.”
That’s like me going to my minimum wage job and saying: “You should pay me more than minimum wage and share some of that money you’re making because it’s the right thing to do.” They’d laugh at me and point out unemployment in this province is roughly ten per cent and that there is someone else waiting to take my job.
Same thing goes for renting. They charge that much because there is demand, and students or those in lower income situations can’t abstain from shelter, just like they can’t abstain from working. Due to the transient nature of student renters and the insecure position of low-income renters, it is difficult for those groups to make such demands upon the owners of apartments.
So thank you Minister Fitch for all your efforts in standing up for those who obviously needed it most… the owners.
Cody Jack is a student at the University of New Brunswick in Fredericton.
This opinion piece first appeared in The Brunswickan.