A Red Deer woman is speaking out about the province’s lax rent rules and says she wants to see others rally together to bring about change.
“I’ve had enough,” said Laura Baril, who has seen her rent go up multiple times over the past few years. “When you see an injustice, you need to speak out.”
Unlike some other provinces, there are no rent controls in Alberta. This means the province has no say in how much landlords can charge for accommodations and properties but it does regulate how often rent can be increased — once a year.
The latest rental report from the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corp., released in December, found average rents in the city have continued to climb.
The survey shows the average monthly rent in the city was $876 in October 2013, as compared to $804 a year earlier.
Baril, who is on disability due to spine problems and other health issues, receives $1,600 a month to help cover the cost of living, such as rent.
“Renting a place is hard to do when you’re on disability with rent prices going up every year. And that affects not only those of us on assistance but pensioners, those people making minimum wage, single moms. … It gets to the point where a lot of those people can’t afford to have three meals a day if they’re making rent,” she said.
The CHMC report also revealed average rent for Red Deer bachelor suites in October was $611, an increase from $568 in 2012. One-bedroom rents jumped to $796 from $736, two-bedroom units increased to $937 from $867, and rents for three-bedroom apartments were up to $1,057 from $961.
Staff at the Red Deer Housing Authority agree that the absence of a provincially backed rent control system is causing a number of dire problems, especially for those in subsidized housing.
“We see lots of rent increases every month through our rent subsidy plan and there isn’t anything we can do about it,” Outi Kite, housing administrator said. “Even for us when we look at providing house subsidies, we only get an annual budget and if there were rent controls in place, we would be able to help more people get into affordable housing.”
Many clients have approached the authority to complain about the fact they are on the brink of losing their housing due to rent increases, Kite added.
“(Rent controls) would make a big difference because we’re going to have more homeless people otherwise.”
Kite said the organization has noticed average increases of $150 to $200 a month for the majority of their clients over the last year. One Red Deer resident on a subsidy plan experienced a rent increase of $400, and while they were provided with the required three month notice, such an increase can be too much to handle in the long run, Kite said.
Service Alberta, the body that regulates renting in the province, says rent controls can cause problems.
“They discourage development of new rental housing, which exacerbates the problem. It reduces the ability of the landlord to maintain and upgrade the rental property so it actually has a negative effect in that it makes less rental units available,” said Mike Berezowsky, assistant director of communications with Service Alberta.
Baril, 54, said she hasn’t noticed any upgrades done to her Eastview neighbourhood apartment building since rents started going up.
She understands a rent freeze is not the answer but said she still thinks the system needs reforming.
“I just want someone to tell me what a reasonable rent is and set a reasonable standard that landlords can increase rents by,” she said.
Baril said she called Cal Dallas, the MLA for Red Deer South and the province’s International and Intergovernmental Relations minister, to express her concerns.
Baril, who spearheaded changes in a bylaw regarding the responsibilities of sporting goods stores in Hope, B.C. ,years ago, is ready to start a petition but said it will be hard with her limited mobility.
“I’m going to try my best to get that going,” she said. “Someone needs to speak out for those who are never heard. As low-income people, we’re brushed aside a lot of the time. I’m trying to get the word out to Albertans to get a hold of their MLAs, MPs, whatever it takes to get rent controls put in place.”
Ontario, Manitoba and Nova Scotia are some other provinces with rent controls, which stipulate allowable rent increases each year.
To contact Baril, email firstname.lastname@example.org.