Tenants and tenant advocates with the New Brunswick Coalition for Tenants Rights and ACORN NB are dismayed by news of mass evictions issued May 1st, many of them evidently intended to skirt the province’s pending rent control legislation.
The legislation, announced as part of the budget in March, is supposed to cap rents below 3.8% (the rate of inflation in 2021) but was not enacted in April before the legislature rose for Easter recess.
“We have heard from tenants who are being asked to pay extra for parking, other tenants who are being told they have to accept increases above 3.8% or face eviction, and still others who say they are being asked to pay heat and hydro that were once included in their leases,” said Kristi Allain, a spokesperson for the Coalition.
“We have also heard of at least two buildings where tenants have been evicted due to unspecified ‘major renovations,’” she added.
The proposed legislation will still allow landlords to evict tenants for renovations, a process known as ‘renoviction.’
“Renovictions are useful to landlords because there are no controls on rents when units are turned over,” said Matthew Hayes, a spokesperson for the Coalition. “Rents can be increased to whatever landlords want.”
The spate of evictions follows reports last month of a meeting posted to social media in which landlords openly discussed different ways of skirting the pending legislation.
Suggested measures included asking tenants to “voluntarily” accept higher than mandated rent increases, and various creative ways of dispossessing tenants of their homes.
“One of the key problems in New Brunswick is that rental apartments are treated as the property of a landlord, and they are never treated as someone’s home,” said Angus Fletcher of ACORN NB.
ACORN NB and the Coalition have been calling for legislation to protect tenants and expand tenancy rights for the last two years.
“The free market system for homes that operates in New Brunswick is great for landlords, but tenants legitimately feel unsafe in their homes given the amount of power landlords have,” said Sarah Lunney of ACORN NB. “These evictions just demonstrate that landlords have no intention of recognizing tenant rights. Legislation to protect people’s homes is needed,” she added.
“Sadly, this is the situation we predicted when the budget was announced,” said Tobin Haley, a spokesperson for the Coalition. “Without improved rights for tenants, rent control is just a free pass for landlords to initiate mass evictions,” she said.
ACORN NB and the NB Coalition for Tenants Rights are calling on the government to amend the legislation so that the proposed rent control is tied to the unit, rather than the tenancy, and to specify that one-year tenancies automatically renew as month-to-month leases at the end of the first year.
Empowering the Residential Tenancies Tribunal must also impose stiff fines in the event of arbitrary renoviction.
Rent control tied to units is employed in Quebec and Manitoba, where speculative investors in real estate is much rarer than it is in other provinces. It dissuades evictions since units can no longer be increased on turn-over.
Speculative real estate investors have driven up the cost of rental buildings and rents since the start of the pandemic, relying on deep pools of private capital at low interest rates in order to close deals. The results have been the highest rental inflation in Canada, and also rising tax rates for non-financialized landlords who are no longer able to compete with the traditional modest annual increases.
“We are really concerned for tenants and workers in the province,” said Jael Duarte, the Tenant Advocate. “The government’s incompetent response to the crisis has made it immeasurably worse. They must correct course soon, or our housing crisis will get worse.”
The New Brunswick Coalition for Tenants Rights advocates for tenants in New Brunswick. ACORN NB is an anti-poverty organization that supports tenants.