Among the various bills adorning the order paper of New Brunswick’s legislative assembly, few are likely to receive as much attention as Bill 96 as MLAs return to Fredericton for the next month.
The legislation, which would impose a 3.8-per cent cap on rental increases for this calendar year and restrict the reasons a landlord can end a tenancy, will likely receive royal assent in mid-June before the assembly rises for the summer. But even those who support the principle behind the cap say the legislation itself is not good enough.
“We do need to get it in place, but we need to improve it, because what we’re seeing is some landlords working to circumvent it,” said Green Party leader David Coon.
When the rent cap was announced in March, finance minister Ernie Steeves said the one-year cap, which will be retroactive to Jan. 1, will be reviewed at the end of the year. Coon says that a one-year cap fails to protect tenants, allowing a landlord to raise rents by whatever they choose once it expires.
He says he’s heard from constituents in that exact situation, who have already received notices of rent increases for Jan. 1 that are much higher than 3.8 per cent.
“In the end, what is it actually achieving if that’s the kind of maneuvers that some are taking to still impose unreasonable rent increases,” Coon said.
Instead of the one-year cap laid out in the legislation, Coon wants to see it extended over several years, with regulations allowing for its review and removal.
Others are uncomfortable with the idea of a rent cap in the first place. Liberal leader Roger Melanson calls the cap a “Band-Aid solution” and says the party was hesitant to support it.
He says massive increases to tax assessments, driven by a feeding frenzy by out-of-province buyers, mean smaller New Brunswick-based landlords have no choice but to increase rents.
“The government is trying to find a solution in giving all the landlords and owners of these buildings the responsibility to fix it. The provincial government is not investing enough in affordable housing and controlling property taxes,” Melanson said.
“Ultimately somebody has to pay the rent and absorb these costs and obviously it’s going to be the renters.”
In fact, Melanson wants to see the government implement a temporary cap on property tax assessments for commercial properties, similar to the spike protection mechanism that limits increases to owner occupied residential properties to 10 per cent. That should be combined with an increase in rent subsidies in order to create more affordable housing, he says.
As part of this year’s budget, residential properties will see a 15-per cent cut in the provincial portion of property tax and the so-called double tax on non-owner occupied properties will be cut by 50 per cent over the course of four years.
But Melanson says that’s not enough, claiming that apartment owners are seeing increases in their property tax bill that are much higher.