New Brunswick

New Brunswick tenants see biggest rent hikes in Canada

New Brunswick saw the cost of rent rise the most out of all Canadian provinces, prompting advocates to call on the government to do something to ensure people can continue to afford to put a roof over their heads.

Pandemic migrants helped trigger hot real estate market, but also forced up cost of housing rentals

Real estate sales set records in New Brunswick over the past year. The province levied taxes on $3.9 billion worth of real estate transactions, $1.1 billion more than it had budgeted. (Robert Jones/CBC)

Canadians moving east during the pandemic have helped push up the cost of rent in New Brunswick faster than in any other province, according to new national figures, and that is renewing calls for the province to adopt new rules to help tenants.

"There is a problem in New Brunswick we have to acknowledge and do something about," said Aditya Rao with New Brunswick Coalition for Tenants Rights, which has been advocating for rent control.

"Costs are far outpacing people's ability to pay and afford these increases."

On Wednesday, Statistics Canada reported that rent paid on accommodations in New Brunswick between March 2020 and March 2021 rose 4.8 per cent, the largest increase in the country.

Nationally, rents inched up a fraction of that, an average of 0.5 per cent, over the same period.

Population spike a big factor

Andrew Barclay with Statistics Canada said rents in all four Atlantic provinces have been moving higher during the pandemic, but nowhere faster than in New Brunswick

"There's more people moving to New Brunswick and to Atlantic Canada and with fewer homes for sale, people are forced to rent and that is to some extent driving up prices," he said.

Population estimates released last month show New Brunswick gained 1,426 people from other provinces in 2020, mostly from Ontario. Between October and December alone, the net increase was 460, the largest net inflow of Canadians to New Brunswick during those months since 1975.

That has helped fuel a hot real estate market with rising prices for both homes and apartment buildings. Many new building owners have then moved to recoup the purchase price with higher rents.

On Saint John's west side, a 12-unit building at the end of City Line has been sold twice during the pandemic, once in October and a second time in February. The second purchase was for $887,000, more than double the building's assessed value.

Tenants were served eviction notices by the latest owner to be out by May, the minimum notice period allowed, but were also offered $1,200 if they would agree to leave by March. Most did.

Tenants being squeezed by 'renovictions'

Units that were renting for below $700 per month are already under renovation with plans to put them back on the market at $1,150, according to the new owners.

Jonathon Rasenberg with J.R. Realty NB Ltd. said tenants also had their damage deposits returned and were given free rent for the month in which they moved out.

Katie Dever grew up in the building with her mother and sister and was forced out by the eviction after living there for 15 years. She joined a protest in Kings Square last month to call for rent controls and stricter rules to govern so called "renovictions."

This apartment building on City Line in Saint John has sold twice during the pandemic. Tenants all received eviction notices after the second sale in February. Work permits issued by the city show renovations on empty apartments aimed at attracting higher rents have already started. (Robert Jones/CBC)

"Housing is a human right and I do think that it's essential that people do have a place to live," said Dever.

"I think that the people in power need to not just brush this aside and say there isn't a housing crisis because there is."

Minimum wage in New Brunswick this year increased by five cents per hour to $11.75. Tenant advocates argue that rent increases cannot outstrip wage increases without increasing homelessness and other problems.

Abram Lutes is with the Common Front for Social Justice in Moncton and said rising rents show there is a downside to New Brunswick's booming real estate market.

Katie Dever joined a tenants rights protest in Saint John last month after she and her sister and mother were evicted from their apartment of 15 years by a new building owner anxious to begin renovations. (Graham Thompson/CBC)

"There's not been a lot of consideration of how the rising cost of real estate is going to be passed on to renters in a province where we don't have rent control," said Lutes. "These numbers show the need to take renters' interests and concerns seriously."

In February, New Brunswick announced a review of the "rental housing landscape" in the province to determine if there is a problem that needs fixing. According to the province, 5,539 renters, landlords and developers contributed to the review with a final report promised for May 10.

Premier Blaine Higgs has already said he does not favour rent control as a mechanism to help tenants. In an email Wednesday, government spokesperson Valerie Kilfoil said all relevant information is being assessed, including the new information on rising rents.

"All data and input from stakeholders will be considered," she wrote.

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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