The Green Party’s proposed legislation aiming to protect tenants from unfair rent increases was given second reading in the Provincial Legislature on June 3 but failed to gain support from the government. Green Party leader David Coon first introduced Bill 18 in November 2020 but, given the lack of sitting days in this legislative session, the bill took more than six months to be debated.
Coon said the Residential Tenancies Act requires a comprehensive overhaul, but that would take a major effort beyond the capacity of the Greens and should instead be the responsibility of the government. Coon’s Bill 18 was meant to address the most critical problems by providing legal authority to the government to limit rent increases in New Brunswick.
During the debate, Coon noted that New Brunswick is the only province in Canada that allows landlords to raise the rent multiple times in one year. “This is a simple bill,” he said. “It simply would end the ability to raise rents more than once a year, provide government with the ability to prevent unreasonable rent increases, and give landlords the ability to make their case for larger increases. This is a well-balanced bill.”
Despite his plea for support, all the MLAs from the Progressive Conservative and People’s Alliance parties voted against it.
Premier Higgs has said he wants his government to table changes to the Residential Tenancies Act in the fall session of the Legislature, following the recommendations of the rental housing review report released on May 7. Social Development Minister Bruce Fitch had been tasked with developing responses to the report recommendations but missed his own deadline for doing so.
The New Brunswick Coalition for Tenants Rights had previously criticized the Green Party bill for not going far enough. After the vote, the Coalition’s Aditya Rao released a statement: “We are disappointed to see the Government fail to take action on rent control despite there being widespread support for it. Bill 18 was not going to be enough to fix the broken system, but Minister Fitch has failed to meet his own deadline to bring any meaningful plan forward by June. We need comprehensive reform of residential tenancies legislation immediately to meaningfully protect tenants. There is no time to waste.”
Bill 18 was the second time David Coon has attempted to introduce legislation to protect tenants’ rights. In 2018, the Greens’ earlier Bill 10 was opposed by landlords and did not make it past first reading. Given the two failed attempts, it is unlikely the Greens will use their limited time in the Legislature to make another attempt to change the legislation.
If the government fails to bring forward legislation that favours tenants, the only hope for legislative change during the remaining tenure of this majority government is further mobilization and actions by tenants and tenant rights activists.
Interestingly, the capacity for tenant action recently took a leap forward: the New Brunswick Coalition for Tenants Rights has teamed up with the Saint John Human Development Council to hire a tenants’ rights advocate for New Brunswick. The Coalition is also working with the Tenants Advocacy Group NB, and Acorn NB to present an online “Know Your Rights” workshop for tenants on June 19.
Susan O’Donnell writes for the NB Media Co-op.