A Saint John renter on a disability pension and his wife are hunting for a new place to live after receiving notice of a 61 per cent rent increase from their new landlord and instructions to begin shovelling snow from the entranceway to their apartment themselves.
Sixty-four-year-old Douglas London and his wife Anne have lived at 123 City Line for four years. The building was sold in early December to a numbered Ontario company.
Within days, notices of a $380 rent increase and the termination of snow removal around the building were placed in their mailbox.
“I could have handled a $100 rent increase — that wouldn’t have bothered me,” said London, “But $380? No. We couldn’t come up with that.”
The Londons are among a growing number of long-term New Brunswick tenants being hit with substantial rent increases this winter after the province announced in November it would not join other provinces in setting a limit on what landlords can charge in 2022.
London has been paying $620 per month for his apartment, not including utilities, an amount he was told would jump to $1,000 on April 1.
“This increase is necessary to keep up with the rising cost of operating and to maintain consistency with the building,” read the notice dated Dec. 17. “Thank you for your co-operation in this matter.”
London’s building and an attached lot were sold on Dec. 9 for $660,000. It’s triple the assessed market value of the properties done by Service New Brunswick.
Brampton Ont., real estate investor Evan Murray is listed as president of the company that bought the property. He did not respond to an email asking about the purchase.
Local Saint John property management company Canada Homes for Rent (CHR) was hired by Murray to look after the eight-unit building. It delivered the notices to tenants about rent.
In an email, Canada Homes for Rent president Jeff Murray said he would speak about the City Line property “as soon as possible” but was busy in the short term dealing with the aftermath of a weekend snowstorm.
London, who is on a disability pension with a number of health problems including heart trouble, was also notified that he would have to take over shovelling himself out following winter storms.
“Where snow removal is not provided by landlord, tenant must maintain clear and safe access to primary and secondary entry (and) exit and parking spot,” read that notice, which was separate from the rent increase.
Service New Brunswick Minister Mary Wilson told MLAs in the fall the government was worried landlords would be hesitant to maintain older buildings or build new housing if rent hikes were limited.
“Rent control does not allow for legitimate costs to be incorporated into rent increases resulting in the risk that landlords spend less on maintenance,” said Wilson. “The more you regulate rents, the more you limit supply as it deters new development.”
But in many recent cases, large rent increases are being delivered within days of older properties selling to new owners and are not tied to building improvements or an expanded supply of new units.
Wilson’s office said she was unavailable for an interview about recent rent increases that have followed building sales.
Instead, her department issued a statement saying tenants do have some protection against unreasonable rent increases if they file a complaint with the Residential Tenancies Tribunal.
There is “an opportunity to have a rent increase reviewed for reasonableness,” said the statement.
“The reasonableness of any rent increase is based on the unit’s current condition compared to similar units in the same neighbourhood.”
However, there are no public guidelines issued by the province about what a reasonable rent might be in particular neighbourhoods, how big those neighbourhood areas are, or how buildings are compared to one another.
The rental market has become so tight for apartments below $1,000 that London said he is not sure he will be able to wait for a lengthy review of his increase to unfold on the chance he might be successful.
He believes he may have a line on a smaller apartment at just under $700 per month, and if it is offered, he feels he will have to take it.
“When we got this increase I started looking,” said London.
Jael Duarte, the Fredericton lawyer who serves as a tenant advocate for the New Brunswick Coalition for Tenants Rights, believes London should have at least received six months notice of a rent increase since his letter arrived Dec. 17, the day laws on notice changed.
But that is another issue London is not sure he has the time to fight.
New Brunswick is one of four provinces that does not have some kind of rent control.
British Columbia, Manitoba, Ontario, Quebec, Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island are all limiting rent increases to tenants in 2022, with some exceptions, to between zero and two per cent.