© Ty Dunham
The apartment building complex being constructed on Circular Road in Labrador City may alleviate some of the concerns of tenants in Labrador West, but it won’t fix all of them.
Labrador West had the largest attendance from the Residential Tenancy Act review meeting held last week compared to other communities across Newfoundland and Labrador, showing the dire need for solutions with the housing crisis in the area.
The act, a body of law governing both tenants and landlords, was called for a review by Labrador City mayor Karen Oldford in August. Consultants met with close to 50 local residents to hear the concerns of the community.
Noreen Careen, chair on the Labrador West Housing and Homelessness Coalition, said a number of issues was brought up at the meeting. One of the major issues was rent stabilization.
“Things need to be put in place to protect landlords and tenants. Things so rent can only be increased once a year, or landlords can't increase rent just because they want to.”
Careen wants to see landlords having to apply for a rent increase and justify why they are asking for an increase, and the increases should be tied to inflation.
Accountability was also a major topic of discussion, with a call for registration of boarding houses and rental units in town and a suggestion for a regional tenant board for accountability.
“One of the concerns was that we don’t have an inspector here in town, and apartments don't get inspected aside from the fire inspection. Landlords should be required to register with the municipalities, for monitoring and inspection purposes.”
Careen said there should be a greater awareness for tenants and landlords over tools available to them for the eviction process and how to appeal it.
“It’s not as simple as ‘I’m evicting you.’ They might have the greatest of reasons, but there is a procedure the tenants can go through. And here you live from November to April in extreme conditions, so if anyone gets the notice to be out on the street in two days, awareness is very important.”
Annette Byrde, Labrador City, was one of the tenants voicing her concerns. For one year she was living with her daughter while trying to find a place for her and her husband to live. On the last week of each month she ran through her list of 14 landlords, and each month she was told there was nothing available.
“I would go to someone who owns an apartment, and they would say ‘Oh, we really only cater to contractors. We have something fully furnished, would you like something furnished for $2500-3000 a month?' No, I have my own stuff”
She was finally able to move in an apartment in May but now she worries about the rumours of rent skyrocketing in April, after the rate guarantee expires.
“You hear all kinds of rumours about it going up, and that it could double. It’s rumour only, and it's never come from the owners. But there's always that fear that it will happen to us.”
Byrde’s husband is on pension and she works in the service industry, which she said is not an ideal situation to have her rent doubled.
“Who can afford $1600 a month for an apartment? There are also widowed seniors in our building. If it was allowed to be raised that much, that's a 100 percent increase on them. And it's happened to other buildings. It's a rumour, but it's also an option after April.”
Byrde said such rate increases are akin to being evicted, which has also happened in the area, and she said the argument to buy a house isn’t reasonable.
“People say if you can afford $1600 in rent, why not buy a house? But look at the prices of houses in town, and what the banks require as down payments now. And some people, like seniors, just don’t want to own a house.”
Byrde said it takes everyone, even those working lower paying jobs, to build a community.
“If all the affordable housing is gone to the big contracting companies who have no limit on their budgets, how am I going to afford to live here working at a hotel or restaurant? How do we do that? And where do you find the balance?”
Byrde understands the point of view of the landlords making top dollar, but that doesn’t help the situation.
“If a company needs 30 workers here, they don't care what they're paying a month; they'll pay top dollar. So if you have a landlord who can get $800 a month from me or a contractor who will give double or triple that? It's hard for them to turn it down. But on the other side of the coin, it's the people living here suffering.”
Discussions will continue across the province, and will go to the Legislative Assembly in spring.