New Brunswick

More double-digit rent hikes in New Brunswick renew calls for limits

A Miramichi woman is facing a large increase in her monthly rent after her apartment building changed hands. She's one of a number of New Brunswick tenants facing double-digit rent increases.

Miramichi woman facing 44 per cent hike

This 24-unit building at 700 Mountain Rd. in Moncton sold to a Quebec company in 2020 for $1.8 million. Three weeks ago, tenants were notified of $100 rent hikes and the end of free utilities beginning in April. (Shane Magee / CBC News)

Gail MacDonald is 66 but doesn't see retirement in her immediate future after the new owner of her Miramichi apartment building gave notice of a $200 rent increase. 

"I kind of thought this was going to be my place I would stay here until whenever and now that's all up in the air and I'm concerned about what's going to happen next," MacDonald said.

The small apartment building she has lived in for six years sold in early December for $330,000, more than double its assessed value, and rent increase notices were delivered to tenants that week to take effect March 1.

MacDonald's current rent on her modest one bedroom is "super good" at just $450 per month, she acknowledges. But a sudden jump to $650, which is a 44 per cent increase at one time, is difficult to make room for in a limited budget on short notice, she said. 

"I'm a poor working senior. I've got rheumatoid arthritis.  I'm not sure how long I'll be able to work so I'm concerned about where I'm going to land." 

It is the kind of increase forbidden in some provinces. 

Nova Scotia Premier Tim Houston said he does not believe in rent control under normal circumstances but in October announced, because of the pandemic and an unexpected jump in Nova Scotia's population, it will be used to protect tenants until the end of 2023. (Robert Short/CBC)

Earlier this week, Ontario announced rent increases for tenants will be limited to 1.2 per cent for 2022 after being frozen at zero per cent as a pandemic relief measure in 2021.   

Nova Scotia announced in October a two per cent rent increase limit for 2022, a measure new Progressive Conservative Premier Tim Houston said he felt "obligated" to impose, despite his own misgivings about rent control.

Like New Brunswick, Nova Scotia has experienced a recent surge in population, but housing availability has not kept pace, according to Houston, who said rents would be controlled until the end of 2023 to allow new housing to be built.

"We know enough right now to take action, and we're obligated as a government to do so," he said.

"Tenants need help and they need certainty." 

That's not the case in New Brunswick, where the province has said rent control has the effect of restricting new housing development. So landlords face fewer restrictions on how high rents can be raised.

Charles Tramble, 84, and his wife Pauline, 67, have lived in the same Fredericton apartment building for 33 years. New owners notified them of a $675 per month increase in their rent on Dec. 11. The province is investigating. (Ed Hunter/CBC News)

"Let's not put measures in place to put artificial controls on the free market, and let's let it grow," Premier Blaine Higgs told the legislature a year ago.

In an email, MacDonald's property management company said all seven units in the building received the same increase to $650 and blamed the previous owner for not keeping rents up to date. 

"This is primarily what has led to the notable increase upon purchase," wrote John Terry with CTB Tenant Management Services.

"We chose to give three months notice, regardless of long term or short term tenant status, to give all tenants equal opportunity to consider their options." 

But MacDonald's not the only tenant facing double-digit increases in the new year.

In Moncton, occupants of a 24-unit building at 700 Mountain Road received letters on Dec. 15 announcing $100 rent hikes and the loss of free utilities as of April 1, an effective 20 per cent increase on one bedroom units.

And in Fredericton on Dec. 11 a group of tenants on Shore Street, including two tenants in their 80s, received notices of 2022 rent increases of between 40 and 67 per cent. 

In each case, the apartment buildings were recently purchased by investors for prices substantially above their assessed values. That may saddle new owners with increased financing and tax costs, but tenant advocates argue double-digit rent hikes delivered to some renters go well beyond those costs.

"In my understanding, in some cases [increases] far outstrip the increase in the operating costs that landlords are experiencing," said  Tobin Leblanc Haley with the New Brunswick Coalition of Tenants Rights.

University of New Brunswick sociologist Tobin LeBlanc Haley is a member of the New Brunswick Coalition of Tenants Rights and said the continuing imposition of large rent increases proves the need for some kind of rent control. (Ryerson University)

"If you have people experiencing these dramatic increases, at what point do we acknowledge there is a problem that requires attention?"

Property taxes on MacDonald's building are increasing about $400 in 2022. That's about $5 per apartment per month. 

She accepts an increase in her rent of some amount is justified, but not $200 at once.

"It has to be regulated somewhat," MacDonald said.

"Where's everybody supposed to live? Only the rich people get to live?"

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Robert Jones

Reporter

Robert Jones has been a reporter and producer with CBC New Brunswick since 1990. His investigative reports on petroleum pricing in New Brunswick won several regional and national awards and led to the adoption of price regulation in 2006.

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