The Green Party of New Brunswick has introduced a bill that includes some measures to protect tenants. Housing critics say more needs to be done for tenants in a province where landlords have almost all the power.
On Friday Nov. 20, Green Party leader David Coon (MLA, Fredericton South) introduced Bill 18, the first bill introduced by the Party since the new Legislature opened three days prior.
If passed, the bill would change the Residential Tenancies Act, the law governing the relationship between tenants and landlords. Proposed changes would establish an annual rent increase cap (rent control) and ensure the rent can only be raised once a year for a tenant and not in their first year.
PEI and three other provinces have rent control to protect tenants from large increases. New Brunswick is the only province in which landlords can raise the rent multiple times a year.
The Green’s proposal for rent control aligns with the Common Front for Social Justice recent recommendation to immediately enact rent control. The Common Front criticized the Higgs Progressive Conservative government’s throne speech earlier in the week for its lack of focus on the people on the front lines of the pandemic and the most vulnerable New Brunswickers.
Several weeks before Coon introduced his new bill, Megan Mitton, Green MLA for Memramcook-Tantramar and Party critic for human rights, said in a statement that “housing is a human right.” She added that “large, unjustifiable increases in rent will have negative consequences such as increasing homelessness and deepening poverty.”
Green MLA Kevin Arseneau is advocating for better housing rights in rural communities. His statement in the Legislature on Nov. 20 highlighted the plight of rural renters in his riding of Kent North. The lack of affordable housing worsens the impact of job loss experienced during the pandemic, he said, and negatively affect rural communities.
When introducing Bill 18, Coon referenced the many rent hikes experienced by renters across the province, and his attempts two years ago to also introduce changes to the Residential Tenancies Act. “We need to ensure than tenants who cannot afford large increases in their rents are not left out in the cold without housing this winter,” said Coon.
Housing critics say more needs to be done to protect renters.
“The proposed bill is a step forward, but does not go nearly far enough,” said Aditya Rao, a Fredericton-based human rights lawyer. “It might, in fact, have unintended consequences,” he added.
Rao pointed out that rent control will only work if it applies to vacant units but the proposed Bill 18 would allow landlords to increase rents in between tenancies. He believes this will result in increases above the cost of living and will encourage landlords to evict tenants to circumvent rent control.
“If the legislation does not freeze rents to start, there’s nothing stopping landlords from increasing rents before rent control comes into effect,” said Rao.
Saint Thomas University Associate Professor of Sociology Kristi Allain believes that rent control is only a partial solution to a more systemic problem.
“We need a holistic – not piecemeal – approach to tenants’ rights reform. Evictions remain extremely easy to carry out in New Brunswick because there is no right to maintain occupancy of one’s unit upon the end of a lease agreement,” said Allain.
Both Rao and Allain are calling on the PC government to initiate a complete reform of the legislative framework governing residential tenancies.
After Coon introduced Bill 18, it passed first reading. The hurdles will begin with the second reading and committee debates. The Green’s earlier Bill 10 to protect tenants’ rights did not make it past first reading in 2018 after landlords voiced their opposition to the government.
Housing advocates will be watching to see if this latest attempt by the Green Party to improve tenants’ rights will go further.
Susan O’Donnell is a writer for the NB Media Co-op.