A Saint John family that has lived in the same apartment building since 2014 is moving out at the end of January after the property’s new owner increased their rent by $375 per month.
“I just couldn’t believe it,” resident Eileen Godin said.
“I’ve lived here for seven years and the most we’ve ever had for a raise is $25.”
Godin lives in a 12-unit building on Bonita Avenue with her partner, Mark Taylor, and their 15-year-old daughter. They are paying $725 a month, but were notified in October that it would increase to $1,100 on February 1, a 52 percent increase.
The property was sold in September to a Langley, BC-based numbered company for $1.2 million. That’s $517,500 more than Service New Brunswick values in its most recent assessment.
The numbered company that purchased the property lists Ryan and Christina Leeper as its president and vice president. Calls to his phone number on Wednesday went to voice mail and were not returned.
According to Godin, each unit had washers and dryers installed after the sale to replace the coin-operated machines in the basement. But he said that’s not enough to justify paying an extra $4,500 a year to live there.
Godin believes that several of his neighbors are in the same position.
“The people who live in these buildings make minimum wage and a little bit better, but nothing substantial,” said Godin, who works at a fast-food restaurant.
“Most of them are moving because they can’t afford that kind of money.”
Rent increases of 50 to 75 percent ‘not unheard of’
The family joins a growing list of New Brunswick renters who have been forced to move in recent months following the sale of their building and subsequent rent increase.
It’s something Affordable Housing Advocate Kit Hickey says her office sees often.
“As these buildings are being renovated, they’re seeing huge increases in rent. It’s not unheard of at 50, 75 percent,” he said.
“What we’re seeing is a lot more people being forced into unaffordable housing situations and then [in some cases] all other necessities of life are forgotten. People don’t eat properly, don’t get medicine, or are forced to be homeless.”
Hickey is CEO of Housing Alternatives Inc., which helps manage nonprofit and cooperative housing buildings throughout southern New Brunswick. It has no vacancies in any of its buildings.
Sufficient protections for tenants, says minister
Despite substantial increases affecting several renters in recent months, New Brunswick Social Development Minister Bruce Fitch told CBC News Tuesday that the province has enough protections for renters.
He noted that there is a rule in New Brunswick that rent increases must not exceed what is generally charged in a given area for buildings of similar condition. That effectively constitutes “rent control,” he said.
But in practice, increases of any amount are allowed in New Brunswick if a tenant does not file a formal objection with the Residential Tenancy Court within 30 days of receiving notice.
And in buildings where some tenants object and others don’t, a court ruling that an increase is unreasonable applies only to those who have submitted the paperwork.
“If you don’t file a complaint, no action will be taken,” Fitch acknowledged.
Hickey says that’s a problem because many low-income renters don’t have the online and other tools needed to understand the rules and fill out the forms.
“Filing those complaints is not easy,” Hickey said.
“A lot of people don’t have the means or the experience to work their way through the whole system. And there are a lot of people who are experiencing financial difficulties and have lived with them all their lives and don’t have a lot of trust in the system either.”
Godin and his partner, Mark Taylor, were entitled to object but chose not to.
Taylor said the objection process is cumbersome and his past experience with Service New Brunswick has left him with the impression that it will favor landlords in a dispute with tenants.
“The paperwork and the things you have to do, it’s kind of ridiculous, really,” he said. “You should be able to just make a phone call.”
Godin said the family managed to find another apartment nearby with a decent rent, but is concerned about what will happen if that building is also sold.
“Prices are going up ridiculously,” Godin said. “I feel like it shouldn’t be allowed. I think the government should put a cap on it like they do in other provinces.”