New Brunswick

Tenants' coalition says proposed rent legislation is missing a key piece: rent control

New Brunswick is introducing legislation that would ban rent increases in the first year and restrict price hikes to once a year after that – but stops short of actually capping rent increases.

Advocate 'disappointed' amended legislation doesn't directly address problem of steep rent increases

N.B. Tenants Rights Coalition advocate Jael Duarte says the coalition has made itself available to work with the government on amendments to the legislation, but has been ignored. (N.B. Tenants Rights Coalition)

New Brunswick is introducing legislation that would ban rent increases in the first year and restrict price hikes to once a year after that – but stops short of actually capping rent increase amounts.

The N.B. Coalition for Tenants Rights says that's a glaring omission. 

The proposed legislation, introduced Tuesday, makes several changes to address some of the issues related to renting — including concerns that rental rates have spiked "unreasonably" during the pandemic, Service New Brunswick Minister Mary Wilson said in a news release.

A Statistics Canada report released in April found that rent increases in New Brunswick were the largest in Canada from March 2020 to March 2021, when rents rose by 4.8 per cent.

The new legislative amendments take aim at rent increases in several ways, but don't impose a maximum on rent increases without the approval of the Residential Tenancies Tribunal, as some provinces do.

In Ontario, for example, landlords can only raise rent by a maximum of 1.2 per cent in 2022, and must get the approval of the Landlord and Tenant Board for increases of more than that.

New Brunswick's amended legislation instead increases the authority of the Residential Tenancies Tribunal to review all rent increases. 

The tribunal would have the authority to "review and deny unreasonable rent increases for most tenancies, instead of being limited to tenancies that are five years or longer," Wilson said.

Service New Brunswick Minister Mary Wilson says giving the tribunal the authority to review and deny all rent increases will 'help ensure the tenant’s new rent amount is comparable to similar rental units in their respective regions.' (Shane Fowler/CBC)

'Disappointing' on several fronts: tenants coalition

Fredericton lawyer Jael Duarte, the new tenant advocate for the N.B. Coalition for Tenants Rights, said the proposed legislation is "disappointing" on several fronts.

"It is missing a lot," Duarte said in an interview Tuesday night. "First of all, it is missing rent control. It's important in New Brunswick that there is rent control, that there is a clear cap, with a number."

The legislation also doesn't provide any security-of-tenure, so that tenants can be assured that they have a contract that is supported by law. Duarte said it also fails to recognize "the imbalance of power" between tenants and landlords. 

Duarte said the coalition is frustrated not only by these shortcomings, but also by the fact that they were not consulted during the review process.

"The coalition has made itself available on several occasions to work with the government, and we have been ignored," she said.

"So, this proposal does not reflect at all what we have been asking for: concrete protections for New Brunswick tenants."

In response to a question about about why the proposed legislation does not include limiting the amount that rent can be increased per year, provincial spokesperson Jennifer Vienneau said the Residential Tenancies Tribunal makes sure a rental increase is comparable with rental rates on similar units in the same area, or that rents were increased by the same percentage to comparable units in the same building.

"The changes that we have introduced will address concerns raised by tenants by providing better protection for tenants against unexpected rent increases with a limit of one increase per 12-month period in addition to a longer notice period," Vienneau said in an emailed statement. 

"Tenants will also have more time to seek assistance from the tribunal following the receipt of a notice of rent increase."

She said the province is following the recommendations made by the rental review committee set up by Premier Blaine Higgs to look into growing concerns about affordable housing.

Amendments address 'complex issues': Wilson

Other amendments proposed Tuesday include:

  • increasing the notice period for a rent increase to six months from three to give tenants more time to adapt
  • giving tenants 30 days to apply to have a rent increase reviewed by the tribunal instead of the current 15 days;
  • eliminating some administrative steps for landlords to remove barriers to service. 

Wilson noted in the release that the amendments followed a rental review, which was conducted by a cross-departmental team.

Twelve recommendations were made involving several government departments and Crown corporations, four of which were addressed to Service New Brunswick.

Service New Brunswick has since begun a redesign of the tribunal website and processes, is working to provide advocacy groups with the tools to help renters understand their rights, and has improved assistance with tenancy matters via a revamped phone service, the release stated.

Wilson noted that the changes to the phone system show that in June 2021, 94 per cent of callers reached the team within their first call compared to 81 per cent in June 2020.

"These results show an increase in access to services for both tenants and landlords," she said.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Marie Sutherland is a web writer with CBC News based in Saint John. You can reach her at marie.sutherland@cbc.ca.

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