Saint John property manager feels targeted after pellets fired at company vans
Karen Sharp says tenant-landlord tensions have been rising
Karen Sharp has no proof that angry tenants are responsible for last week's shooting of two vans emblazoned with her company's logo.
"But it feels targeted," said Sharp, owner of Leading Edge Property Solutions on Somerset Street in the north end of Saint John.
As far as she knows, no other vehicles in the parking lot outside the company's office were hit overnight on May 10.
Saint John police say the damage appears to be consistent with damage caused by pellet guns. They say they're still investigating. No one has been arrested or charged.
One van was fired at three times through the front windshield. A second van was shot through the driver's side window. Police said there were also dents in the auto body.
Sharp, who's worked in Saint John property management for 15 years and started her own company seven years ago, said she's detecting more animosity and hostility between tenants and property owners, including property managers.
"We have certainly seen a bit of a split between the landlord and tenant, and that seemed to come about at the end of March," said Sharp.
That's when the province announced it was going to impose a one-year 3.8 per cent cap on rent increases retroactive to Jan. 1.
A small number of tenants now feel entitled to reject reasonable rent increases, Sharp said. Meanwhile, landlords feel ambushed by legislation they did not factor into their investment decisions.
Sharp says her company manages 500 units and that 85 percent of her clients are out-of-town investors.
Those investors are dealing with rising costs across the board, she says. That includes higher property taxes and utility bills.
They're also having to absorb the costs when apartments are damaged. Sometimes, units are left in disgraceful condition, and it costs "thousands of dollars" to have them fixed, said Sharp.
Tenant advocate says mood tense
Jill Farrar said she hasn't heard of any tenants attacking landlords or their property.
"Not to say it doesn't happen," said Farrar, secretary of the New Brunswick branch of ACORN, a national organization that represents low and moderate income people and often advocates for affordable housing. "There's definitely people on both sides, I'm sure, who have done some unsavoury things."
She does believe the current mood is tense.
"People are getting rent increases that they simply can't accommodate with the wage that they're making. Market values are going up, so it's difficult to buy a house, and that creates a lot of stress, frustration and even trauma on families and people who are looking for somewhere to live."
It didn't help, she said, when a video came to light showing some two dozen Moncton-area landlords and property managers openly discussing various ways to get around the cap on rent increases.
"There's still no protection against 'renovictions,'" Farrar said. "So hearing that it's possible and that landlords are actually talking and planning and sharing ideas about how to get rid of people, that's creating anxiety among tenants."
2,500 names on Saint John blacklist
Gerry Webster said there are always problems between some landlords and tenants, and he doesn't detect any more strain than usual.
"There's always going to be a conflict when one person has to pay and the other is collecting," said Webster, president of the Saint John Apartment Owners Association.
"We only have one source of revenue, and that's from the rent, and if the tenant can't afford the rent, that's not the landlord's situation," he said.
Webster said apartment damage is a factor in rising rents, which is why his group maintains a list of problem tenants, accessible only to the association's 100 members.
He said there are as many as 2,500 names on that list.
"It's a major problem and that's got to be reflected in the rents," he said.
Staff afraid of what is next
Sharp said she's asking her staff to take precautions they haven't had to take before.
The vans are no longer being parked outside the office overnight.
Employees have been encouraged to travel in pairs if they expect to run into a disgruntled tenant.
And Sharp has retreated from social media. When she posted photos of damaged apartments, she said was accused of being a slum landlord.
She predicts problems will escalate if all sides can't come to a better understanding.
"I'm all about a rent cap," she said. "As long as it's fair for both sides. We need to figure out what market rent is."
"A lot of these buildings that are selling, they have long-term tenants who've been paying, let's say, $650 for a two-bedroom. Those are not market rents today. Maybe 15 years ago.
"But because the past owner didn't have a mortgage, he didn't have to post an increase. Now buildings are selling well over asking and the new owners can't come in and make [the numbers] work."
Meanwhile, she said, she's living with some anxiety about what might happen next.
"I used to love my job," Sharp said. "Now it's to a point where I'm like, 'What is going to happen today?'"