New Brunswick

Service New Brunswick seeing 'slight increase' in complaints about large rent increases

Jessica Bernier, chief residential tenancies officer with Service New Brunswick, says she has seen a slight increase in the number of complaints filed to her office by tenants over notices of large rent increases.

50 complaints of large rent increases received by Service New Brunswick in 4 months

Service New Brunswick received 50 applications for to review a rent increase notice between September and the end of December 2021. (CBC)

The office that settles disputes between tenants and landlords in New Brunswick received about 50 complaints of large rent increases in the last four months of 2021.

It's part of a "slight increase" in the number of such complaints that employees with Service New Brunswick are handling recently, according to Jessica Bernier, the province's chief residential tenancies officer.

"There is currently a low vacancy rate in the province, and so as a result, that has kind of a trickle-down effect to having an impact," said Bernier, speaking to CBC's Harry Forestell.

"So there is a slight increase in those particular requests. And also, obviously, media coverage does increase people's awareness and sensitivity to it. So it is something that we're seeing more."

Bernier said applications by tenants seeking to challenge a proposed rent increase remains a "small percentage" of the roughly 4,000 cases her offices handles in a normal year.

Jessica Bernier, chief residential tenancies officer with Service New Brunswick, said her office has seen a slight increase in the number of applications from tenants appealing proposed rent increases in recent months. (CBC)

For close to a year now, tenants from almost every corner of the province have come forward with stories of their landlord hiking their rent by anywhere from 40 to 70 per cent.

The actions by these landlords have forced some to find new places to live, and inspired calls for tighter controls on when and how landlords can increase rents.

Stats don't paint full picture

Aditya Rao, a member of the New Brunswick Coalition for Tenants Rights, said the figures provided by Bernier don't provide an accurate picture of how many people have been hit recently with hefty, unreasonable increases in their monthly rent costs.

Rao noted that until last month, landlords had more freedom to hike rents, with no recourse for many tenants.

Prior to Dec. 17, only tenants who'd been renting a unit for more than five years had the option to appeal a rent increase with Service New Brunswick. Now, anyone can file an appeal with Bernier's office if they feel their rent has been unfairly increased.

"The vast majority of those rent increases could not actually be reviewed," said Rao, referring to notices issued before Dec. 17, 2021.

"The tribunal had no jurisdiction to review rent increases and do anything about them if you were not a long-term tenant."

The amendments also made it so that a landlord must now give a tenant at least six months notice of any rent increase, and cannot issue a rent increase to the same tenant twice within 12 months.

Rao said other tenants simply don't have the time or understand the process well enough to file an appeal.

Aditya Rao, member of the New Brunswick Coalition for Tenants Rights, said the number of complaints received by Service New Brunswick likely doesn't paint an accurate picture of the number of unfair rent increases happening in the province. (CBC)

"The fact that the tribunal is not seeing a significantly large number of complaints is a reflection of the fact that the system is not accessible, that it doesn't protect tenants and that the government is allowing this exploitation to continue."

Changes still needed

Rao said the most effective tool for combating unfair rent increases would be for the government to introduce rent controls that capped the amount that a landlord could raise a tenant's rent annually.

Despite recent stories from tenants facing large hikes, Social Development Minister Bruce Fitch has said the province already has sufficient protections for tenants.

Rent control aside, Rao said tenants could also be helped out by requiring that landlords submit proposed rent increases to Service New Brunswick, which would then approve or deny the increase.

Bernier said right now landlords can issue a notice of a rent increase to tenants and if the tenant wants to appeal it, they can file an application with Service New Brunswick.

Bernier's team can then strike down the increase, or allow it, basing its decision on factors including the condition of the unit and how it compares to similar ones in the same neighbourhood.

Rao said that leaves tenants potentially fielding a series of proposed rent hikes, which they must take on the burden of challenging each time.

"It's an endless circus," Rao said.

"The landlord simply has to just bring forward a new notice and then the tenant has to start all over again, which is extremely stressful, extremely time-consuming for a lot of tenants who are trying to live a life during a pandemic."

With files from Harry Forestell

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