Imagine getting an eviction notice on the second day after you move into your new apartment. That’s what happened to one tenant who contacted the New Brunswick Coalition for Tenants Rights after moving to New Brunswick from Nova Scotia at the beginning of this year. After struggling to find a place to rent, they took possession of a unit in a state of some disrepair under promises from the landlord that the necessary repairs would be done. Instead, on their second day, the landlord issued an eviction notice saying it was just a formality. When the tenant subsequently raised issues with respect to the cleanliness and disrepair, the landlord simply asked them to leave, relying on the eviction notice.
Another tenant told us about a rent increase notice they received. The landlord gave them a month’s notice, but the tenant knew that the legal notice requirement for a rent increase is two months on a month-to-month lease. Upon pointing this out to the landlord and demanding legal notice, the tenant was promptly handed a one-month eviction notice.
These are just two stories from dozens we have heard. A senior citizen in Fredericton who received a 50 per cent rent increase notice, a man forced to move from Miramichi to Saint John to help his mother find a place to live after she was forced out by a rent increase, an entire building given eviction notices simply because the new owners wanted to make more money, tenants in Moncton forced out of their homes because they could not afford to pay exorbitant rent increases.
All permitted by the law.
Tenants have had enough of this wild west approach to housing in this province. Under pressure from tenant advocacy groups, the government initiated a 90-day review of the rental market situation.
The report, released on Friday, confirms these stories.
According to the report, 42 per cent of the landlords who responded said they increased rents simply because they got new tenants. Twenty per cent of tenants said they were denied housing because they had children – a human rights violation. Fort-seven per cent said their rental units were in “very bad condition.”
Over the last ten years, rents have increased by nearly 27 per cent on average across the province, with the report noting that New Brunswickers “are making hard choices to stay housed” and that “New Brunswickers feel unprotected” by the law. One tenant quoted in the report says, “there are several days in the month in which I cannot eat.”
Despite all this evidence, and after having heard from over 4,600 tenants, the report concludes that there is no crisis facing tenants in the province. How many tenants must be evicted by profit hungry investment companies before the government will pull its head out of the sand?
Tenants have been clear – we need a complete overhaul of the Residential Tenancies Act to protect the right to housing, a robust rent control regime and strong protections against evictions. Of these demands, the report recommended one: a review of the law.
Landlords and corporate economists, however, say the answer lies elsewhere. They say we must remove the so-called “double tax” – a provincial property tax levied on rental properties, in addition to municipal property taxes. They say that if the province removed this tax, the savings would trickle down to tenants.
But as Saint Thomas University Professor Kristi Allain has pointed out, this debate is a red herring. There is no guarantee that landlords will lower rents if they are given a tax break. And while there are some that promise to freeze rents if given this tax break, relying on the benevolence of profit-seeking businesses to act in the public interest is a fool’s errand.
We need policy solutions proven to work to protect the right to housing, not wishful thinking about tax cuts being silver bullets.
That’s why we are calling for a strategy to rein in Real Estate Investment Trusts and large investors who are interested only in profit, not affordability. These companies are proliferating in New Brunswick because of weak tenant protections. Their business model relies on driving up rents by converting affordable housing units into high income apartments often by evicting original residents.
That’s why we are demanding eviction protections that guarantee the right of tenants to live in their home without the fear that they may be asked to leave arbitrarily and often for no other reason than corporate greed.
That’s why we need a robust rent control regime to stop predatory businesses from wantonly increasing rents, forcing people who cannot pay these exorbitant rents out of their homes.
And it is past time we stopped pretending that market-based solutions are the answer to build affordable housing. We have tried to rely on the private sector, and the private sector has failed.
This blind faith in market-based solutions is coming at the cost of human lives. We need a right to housing approach to protect tenants.
The rental review report recommended a review of the legislation governing tenancies and it was a recommendation we were pleased to see. The ball is now in the Premier’s court.
Aditya Rao is a human rights lawyer and an organizer with the New Brunswick Coalition for Tenants Rights.
A version of this article was published by Brunswick News on May 12, 2021.