Policies for the people
We’d like to start by referring to a couple of very basic beliefs which the tenant action group believes must form the backdrop to all legislation referring to residential tenancies and then I will move into legislative changes which it is advocating for.
- Firstly, tenants must be viewed as citizens who want stable, secure and long-term homes, just like homeowners. They are equally disrupted, and negatively affected when their home is threatened.
- Secondly, many tenants choose tenancy as a lifelong form of housing. Homeownership is not everyone’s goal. So, all housing arrangements must be viewed as equally desirable and of equal value.
To combat suspicious unit rent increases by some landlords, a free and public registry is needed
The Tenant Action Group has heard from tenant after tenant who has received an eviction notice on the basis that the landlord wants to do renovations or the landlord or his close family wants to move in. Very often these eviction notices turn out to be bogus. Tenants find, a few days after moving out, that their unit is now listed unchanged on Airbnb or there is a new tenant moved in paying $250 more in rent.
The Rental of Residential Property Act must be reviewed and amended so that it better serves the stability of PEI’s tenant population and better protects existing affordable rental units. Tenants must, of course, be consulted as part of any legislative review.
There are three legislative changes which the Tenant Action Group is asking for right away:
Firstly, the creation of a rent registry. In PEI’s legislation rents are considered attached to rental units rather than tenants. This means that, theoretically, landlords can not raise the rent with every new tenant. However, as we have learned, this provision is useless unless rents are registered and tenants have a way of finding out what rent was charged on their unit before they moved in.
We want a registry that is accessible to the public free of charge and that includes information on current and past rents, past applications and reasons for rent increases above the guideline and information on reviewed capital expenditures. Legal orders, including orders to do repairs must also be included. Refusal of a Landlord to file would result in fines.
The registry would be similar to the existing Deeds Registry Offices at which property owners or prospective home buyers can view all sales transactions, mortgages, legal orders, liens etc. against a particular property.
Secondly, tenants are asking for some legislative changes around cases involving evictions. These include:
- An increase in the notice requirement for ending a tenancy on the basis of renovations which require vacant possession or demolition from two months to four months.
- A requirement that landlords offer existing tenants first right of refusal if the landlord is successful in getting an eviction order on the basis of proposed renovations.
- A requirement that any increase in rent on a unit after renovations have been completed be subject to a rent review hearing.
- Penalties for a landlord who, after successfully obtaining an eviction order for renovations or landlord’s own use, does not carry out the supposed plans.
- The right of a tenant, in these circumstances, to sue the landlord for costs incurred as a result of the move including compensation for pain and suffering.
Protocol and procedure at Rentals Board hearings around these issues must be rigorous. Landlords must be required to present conclusive evidence of their intention to do renovation work and tenants must be given full rights to cross-examine, bring their own witnesses and introduce contradictory evidence.
Thirdly the introduction of a Maintenance Standards By-law. Although Maintenance Standards By-laws are usually municipal laws, given the size of Prince Edward Island it might be more practical to introduce this at the provincial level. It will provide tenants with a non-threatening, neutral party to reach out to if they are having difficulty getting repairs done.
The by-law would set out required standards of day-to-day maintenance of rental units such as non-functioning stove elements and refrigerators, rising floor tiles, unkempt common areas and lack of front and back door security.
It would be enforced on behalf of the public by inspectors who can issue landlords with a list of any violations with a time frame for doing repairs.
Maintenance standards by-laws would play an important role in maintaining the integrity of the rental housing stock and preventing loss of affordable housing through neglect across PEI.
These are only initial changes which the Tenant Action Group is advocating for. Others must follow. But we believe that if our provincial legislature is serious about planning for a future in which our communities are affordable and accessible for people of all incomes we need to have landlord tenant laws which support that endeavour.
- We call upon the provincial government to create a searchable rental registry accessible to the public. Make the registry a requirement of all landlords. If they refuse to register then they will be fined.
- We want strict enforcement around the standard of evidence to prove the good faith and intentions of the landlord.
- We want the ability for tenants to sue for damages if they were proven to be wrongfully evicted.
- We want the Rental of Residential Property Act to better define what is considered a “good standard” unit.
- We want IRAC to define the exact timeline of when repairs should happen. Enforcement of a daily fine should occure if repairs have not been met within the decided timeline.