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New group calls on Higgs government for better tenant protection

Tenants living in Saint John have started a group to better protect renters from evictions in New Brunswick.

Over the course of several months, tenants from different apartment buildings across the province have been evicted from their homes as they are purchased and renovated by investors from across the country, who later increase the rent. 

“Tenants are without protection,” said Raven Blue, an advocate for tenants living in Saint John.

Is this really humane in 2021?– Raven Blue, tenant advocate

The local group of tenants has teamed up with ACORN Canada, a national multi-issue, membership-based community union of low-to-moderate income people.

Their first goal is to reinstate the ban on evictions during the pandemic. When COVID-19 first broke out, the province announced a ban on tenant evictions, but that was lifted in June. 

“It makes no sense to still be allowing evictions when we’re in the middle of a global pandemic and everyone’s locked down,” said Raven, part of ACORN’s New Brunswick chapter.

Evictions happen with ‘the stroke of a pen’

Blue said he understands there are cases where an eviction needs to happen. But in New Brunswick, he said the system is skewed in favour of investors and landlords. 

And in New Brunswick, he said it’s easy to evict tenants with “the stroke of a pen.”

“Is this really humane in 2021?” 

Blue said this is something the government is enabling, making it impossible for people to pay rent — particularly during a pandemic.

“People are being impacted financially and they’re in very precarious situations.”

Province doesn’t have any plan for rent control

Last month, Premier Higgs said his government was talking to landlords to better understand the situation.

During a news briefing earlier this week, Higgs said he doesn’t have a plan for rent control. But he has asked for a report to see how widespread the issue is.

“It’s more than just an absolute rent increase by itself. It’s understanding the big picture, where it’s going and we need understand from landlords what their intentions are,” Higgs said.

At a news briefing this week, Premier Blaine Higgs said he doesn’t have a plan for rent control. (Submitted by the Government of New Brunswick)

The New Brunswick Apartment Owners Association has written to the premier and MLAs trying to make the case that regulation would not only hurt their industry, it would also exacerbate the problems it’s intended to solve.

“If these politicians are putting forth rent controls we’re going to have a much worse situation,” said Willy Scholten, the association’s president said in December.

“People will stop building and we’ll have more people on the street.”

Landlords say they are forced to increase rents because of increased costs of everything, including increased property assessments. (CBC)

Meanwhile, Green Party Leader David Coon also introduced a private member’s bill in the fall proposing changes to the Residential Tenancies Act to ensure rent would not be increased in the first year of a lease, limiting rent increases to a maximum of once a year and establishing an annual rent increase cap.

The New Brunswick chapter of ACORN is also hoping to gain more members.

Blue said a meeting will take place next week to discuss what tenants need and what issues they face in the coming year.

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