N.B. tenants’ coalition says government didn’t consult before introducing rent cap bill

Click to play video: 'New Brunswick tenants’ rights group concerned over proposed tenancy legislation changes'
New Brunswick tenants’ rights group concerned over proposed tenancy legislation changes
WATCH: A New Brunswick tenants’ rights organization says they were not consulted before the government introduced changes to the province's tenancy legislation. That's contrary to what Minister Mary Wilson told a legislative committee. Silas Brown has more – May 26, 2022

A spokesperson for a New Brunswick tenant organization says the government failed to consult them before introducing changes to the Residential Tenancies Act.

Matthew Hayes of the NB Coalition for Tenants Rights says the group met with Service NB Minister Mary Wilson during pre-budget consultations, but that those discussions were mostly focused on the government’s intention to cut property taxes, not on expanding protections for tenants.

While facing questions during a meeting of the standing committee on economic policy Wednesday, Wilson said she had consulted two tenant groups on the proposed legislation.

“There are two main groups, the New Brunswick chapter of ACORN and the New Brunswick Tenants Coalition. We consulted with both groups prior to recommending these legislative changes,” she said.

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During his budget speech on March 22, Finance Minister Ernie Steeves announced a one-year cap on rental increases of 3.8 per cent, along with new requirements for landlords looking to terminate tenancies. After some initial confusion over how to implement the promised reforms, legislation was introduced on March 29.

Hayes said the coalition requested a meeting with Wilson in April to talk specifically about the legislation but was turned down.

“While we are grateful for the time we were able to spend with the minister in the pre-budgetary consultations, I think it would have been advantageous to everyone if we would have had an opportunity to interact (on the bill),” Hayes said.

Other comments from the minister have raised the eyebrows of the coalition as well. When asked if tenant advocacy groups were on board with the rent cap being only a temporary measure, Wilson said they “understood” why that was necessary.

“Of course the tenants’ groups would have preferred a permanent cap, however, they understood the need to continue to monitor the situation and make further changes if required and we have committed to further consultation with these tenants’ groups,” Wilson said.

Service New Brunswick Minister Mary Wilson says the province will close any loopholes in new tenant protections. Silas Brown / Global News

Hayes disagrees.

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“If there’s any understanding at all, we understand that we don’t agree and that this government is not committed,” Hayes said.

“They are committed to appearing like they are reacting to the housing crisis, but they are not actually committed to doing anything. That we understand.”

One of the coalition’s main concerns with the proposed legislation is that the rent cap is only in place until the end of the year. Wilson says the government is committed to reviewing it but says a permanent rent cap policy would do nothing to alleviate the housing crisis in the province.

“Implementing rent caps permanently could have a negative impact on the development of additional rental units and slow down investment in the housing sector. For this reason, it was decided to implement this measure temporarily,” Wilson said.

The coalition takes an opposing view, claiming that a permanent cap would do nothing to stem investment in new apartment buildings. Hayes pointed to sky-high demand for apartment housing in the province. A rent cap would also not apply to newly constructed units.

“What we’re talking about is preserving the affordability of current rental stock,” he said.

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“That’s where we have a problem.”

While the coalition does applaud the baseline tenant protections introduced by the bill, which will no longer allow landlords to terminate a lease without cause, Hayes says those protections need to be stronger, particularly when it comes to so-called renovictions.

Green Leader David Coon agreed, proposing an amendment to the bill that would require a landlord and tenant to agree to terminate a tenancy, forcing landlords to apply to the tribunal with supporting documentation in order to terminate a tenancy. The current proposal would see the onus land on the tenant, who would have to apply to the tribunal within 15 days of receiving a termination notice if they’d like to dispute it.

Coon’s amendment was defeated by the government, with Wilson saying the changes were not necessary.

“We are confident that the legislation goes far enough and that an amendment is not necessary,” Wilson said.

The proposed legislation is still being studied by the standing committee on economic policy, but it’s expected to receive royal assent before the end of the legislative session in June.

And while Hayes agrees that changes are needed, he believes those on offer are not enough.

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“The legislation that they’ve brought forward is not adequate, so they’re going to have to do more or the housing crisis is going to get worse.”

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