As governments across Canada work to build more housing and take measures to address affordability, some Canadians who live in the rental market say they’re feeling forgotten and want the premiers to take action when they meet next month.
“We vote these people in, and yet they do nothing for us,” Beverly Henry, a tenant at a Toronto-area apartment building, said.
Henry said she has lived at her apartment at 33 King St. for nearly a decade, but says as a retired senior with a fixed income, she has been unable to keep up with price increases she says have seen her rent increase by more than $400 in the last nine years.
“I work for over 30 years and now I can barely afford to put a roof over my head,” she said.
A recent report by Rentals.ca found that nationwide, average rental costs remained above $2,000 a month in April – an increase of 9.6 per cent year over year from 2022 and 20 per cent compared with the pandemic low of 2021.
In the country’s biggest cities, rent for a one-bedroom unit can cost anywhere from about $1,860 in Halifax to $2,500 in Toronto and as much as $2,800 in Vancouver. That number increases by nearly $1,000 for a two-bedroom unit in some municipalities, with some units in Vancouver averaging about $3,740 a month.
With prices on the rise, organizations are urging the provincial and territorial governments, as well as their federal counterparts, to step up, including when the premiers gather for the Council of the Federation next month.
“It’s really important that our government, at all levels, whether it’s federal or provincial and municipal governments as well, play an important role,” Bahar Shadpour, director of policy and communications at the Canadian Centre for Housing Rights (CCHR), told Global News.
“Accept this reality as one that they have to work collaboratively together to solve.”
She said that depending on where Canadians live, regulations can vary on rental price increases, and she wants to see lawmakers work together to have “basic minimum protections in place” for renters across the country.
Some renters like Henry say they’re faced with above-guideline rent increases (AGI), in which the owner or landlord applies to the Landlord and Tenant Board for approval to raise rent higher than the province’s maximum amount allowed.
In Ontario, the current guideline is 2.5 per cent per year. Landlords can only raise rent above the provincial guideline if they have done or will do capital work on the property, or if they have provided or will provide a new or additional service.
Sharlene Henry, who is chair of the tenant association for 33 King St. and has no relation to Beverly, said seeing these increases “makes your stomach hurt as soon as you open the envelope.” She said they’ve faced about a 22 per cent AGI over the past five years.
“Our wages aren’t going up, our space is decreasing,” she said, referencing construction at the building.
“But when a person has to choose between paying their rent at the end of the month, because they pride themselves in paying it on time on the first, and putting food on their table, there’s a problem, a huge problem, and the governments need to recognize that.”
Dream — the company that owns 33 King St. — provided a statement saying it was working “one-on-one with tenants” to develop individual payment plans to “help alleviate financial pressures.”
Hero Mohtadi, vice-president of residential operations and asset management, also said previous rent increases had been done for work on the building with more construction underway to ensure the “long-term viability and safety of the building.”
She added that the company had increased the amount of affordable housing units exempt from AGI increases, that she said represents 40 per cent of the building.
Ahead of the Council of the Federation meeting in July, Shadpour said governments need to work to ensure people have access to adequate, affordable and secure homes.
Asked if the rental market would be addressed during the meeting of premiers, Manitoba Premier Heather Stefanson, who serves as council chair, said in a statement that the premiers were working to address affordability challenges.
“This has been a constant focus area, as Canadians face rising prices, cost of living increases and housing concerns,” she wrote.
However, she did not say if rental prices would specifically be a focus during the upcoming summit.
In Canada, six provinces have rent control policies in place, while the remaining jurisdictions have rules in place on how and when rent increases can occur — but not a firm limit on the amount that it can be raised.
While rent and regulations surrounding it are primarily managed by provincial and territorial governments, Shadpour says the federal government can still bring the premiers together and provide guidelines on what good rent regulation looks like.
Babajide (Anthony) Alao, who lives in a Toronto building without rent control, said the lack of such regulation leaves people worried.
“It brings a lot of fear and uncertainty to young professionals (and) virtually everyone living in the building,” he told Global News.
Alao says he’d like to see premiers help strengthen tenant advocacy groups, and close legal loopholes that allow for rent increases above provincial guidelines.
Another way the federal government could get involved is in a way similar to the Canada Health Act, according to Andy Yan, the director of the city program at Simon Fraser University.
“We have the (Canada) Health Act, which is intended to create a level of standardization across the provinces when it comes to health care,” he said in an interview. “That should be something that’s going to be occurring in housing, that we should have a housing equity act at the federal level.”
The Canada Health Act lays out the criteria for “reasonable access to health services without financial or other barriers,” meaning Canadians must have access to insured health services for essential care without facing direct charges for treatment.
So why not lay out a similar basic standard for reasonable rental access?
Two months ago, the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corp. released a forecast that found Canadian renters have a tough few years in store due to a mixture of the unaffordable housing market and a limited supply of rental homes.
The CMHC pointed out that the existing rental supply is already low, and competition for these units is getting hotter as Canada sees strong immigration levels.
In a 2022 report, the organization said 22 million housing units would be required by 2030 to achieve housing affordability “for everyone living in Canada.”
CMHC chief economist Bob Dugan told reporters in April that short supply is most evident during turnover in markets like Toronto, with the average rent of a unit that changed hands soaring 29 per cent from the previous tenant’s rate.
Yan said a beneficial tool that governments could look into is rental registries nationwide, saying it could help in making housing policy and addressing issues facing renters and owners.
“This is where something like a rental registry helps begin to provide the answers and to provide actually basic information like what (are) the ongoing rents,” he said. “It’s going to be a combination of policies around supply, demand and finance that is really going to help us move forward into the future.”
Shadpour added that a rental registry would not just help governments, but also renters in terms of information on what rentals are available in their city.
“(It) would be a really advantageous way to inform tenants about just what the previous tenant was paying so that even if there are these competing applications that renters are putting into a particular unit they like, they’re not really going above and beyond what the previous tenant is paying,” she said.
But as advocates hope the premiers will take action, renters remain concerned they’ll be left without housing as they face issues ranging from rent increases to evictions.
“It’s hard because you feel like you don’t have control of your living situation,” Sidonia Cole, who is being evicted, said.
Cole said her unit, which is not rent-controlled, saw a rent increase of about $300 in the past year. Then, only a week ago, she said she and her partner were given two months’ notice they were being evicted as the landlord said she wanted to move her daughter into the unit.
Now, the couple are left trying to decide where they can live next and are even contemplating moving in with their parents while they consider saving to eventually buy a home as they’re being priced out of the rental market.
“It’s kind of a sh—y feeling and I just feel resentful that it’s something we feel we have to do because we’ve been put in this situation,” she said.
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