North

Rental office backlogs make renting in N.W.T. risky business, says landlord

Hay River landlord says tenant lived rent-free for six months while application to evict was caught in the N.W.T. rental office backlog.

Jane Groenewegen waited 6 months to have her eviction application processed

Jane Groenewegen is a landlord in Hay River who rents commercial, residential and industrial properties. (Facebook)

When Jane Groenewegen's tenant stopped paying rent, it took six months for the N.W.T. rental office to deal with her application to evict.

For those six months, that tenant lived in Groenewegen's property in Hay River, N.W.T., rent free. That's because in the territory, the landlord is not allowed to evict tenants — only the N.W.T. rental board can.

"I had to go through the process of filing an application with the rental office to terminate the lease for non-payment of rent," said Groenewegen, a landlord in Hay River who manages residential, commercial and industrial properties.

"The tenant also called the rental office and the rental office assured the tenant that it was going to take up to six months for the hearing to happen. So, what am I supposed to do for six months, except collect no rent?"

Groenewegen says she wasn't even allowed to claw back a bit of money by turning off the tenant's access to non-essential services such as internet and satellite television, because these services are included in the rental agreement.

She says this backlog not only affects landlords, but the entire rental market in the territory — and the economy.

"If you cannot have a rental office deal expeditiously with applications from tenants or from landlords, the system starts to fall apart," she said.

"People who would be renters are not going to invest in rental property. People say, 'Oh there's a shortage of rental properties.' Yeah but there's no underpinning, no support through a government service."

Housing corp. takes up majority of rental office applications

Hay River North MLA R.J. Simpson says part of the problem is the Northwest Territories Housing Corporation is monopolizing the N.W.T. rental offices, leaving private landlords in the lurch.

According to the Department of Justice, of the 474 applications filed to the NWT Rental Office in 2016-17, 310 pertained to subsidized housing tenancies.

He raised the issue March 7 in the N.W.T. legislature.

"Either the rental office should be listed under services to government, or the government is essentially monopolizing the public service for its own good — and at the expense of small landlords, renters, and to the detriment of the public at large," he said.

Hay River North MLA R.J. Simpson brought the backlog issue up in the N.W.T. Legislature March 7. (CBC)

New ways to deal with arrears

NWT Housing Corporation President Tom Williams said it just makes sense that the majority of applications to the rental office would come from his organization.

"We are one of the largest landlords in the Northwest Territories," he said.

He pointed to other ways the housing corp. is trying to decrease reliance on the rental office, including by appointing a housing support worker.

There's this one woman I know. She's out $8,000. And you know what? She's a retiree.- R.J. Simpson

Williams said the new position will work with clients and tenants to help people with arrears, adding that the housing corp. is also looking at developing online financial tools to help tenants.

The NWT Rental Office keeps one full-time rental officer, one part-time rental officer and one full-time staff person. The office adds supplementary staff "periodically" to help to address backlog issues, according to the Department of Justice.

Simpson said he's heard the office bolstered staff somewhat this year to help reduce some of the backlog, but maintains a multi-month wait to carry out an eviction creates an untenable situation for small landlords.

"There's this one woman I know. She's out about $8,000. And you know what, she's a retiree," he told CBC News on Tuesday.

"She can't just absorb these costs."

With files from Randi Beers, Kirsten Fenn

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