As Manitoba’s rent increase guideline goes up, tenants and advocates call for action – Winnipeg | Canadian

Les Scott is looking at a nine-per cent increase to his rent next month.

A tenant of 300 Furby St. and a longtime resident of the West Broadway neighbourhood, Scott is seeing the area, a historically affordable neighbourhood with multi-unit buildings, increase in price.

Last week the Manitoba government advised it would set the 2024 rent increase guideline to three per cent, the first increase in three years.

Scott, a volunteer for grassroots organization the West Broadway Tenants Committee, said rent control guidelines mean nothing as landlords can apply for above-guideline increases.

“The rent control guidelines are just that — guidelines. Or suggestions,” he said.

Buildings less than 20 years old, owned by a government agency or units renting for $1,615.00 or more per month are exempt from the guideline and can increase rent by market value once per year, with only three months’ prior written notice to tenants.

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Tenants can challenge above-guideline increases but it’s a lengthy process with no guarantee a decision will be made, Scott said.

The community advocate fears the impacts of annual increases and granted exemptions in neighbourhoods like West Broadway, where over 90 per cent of residents are renters, will be much greater as a lot of tenants are on a low or fixed income.

“You get thrown out of your apartment or you don’t eat, that’s your choice.”

Provincial data suggests the Residential Tenancies Branch, the province’s body that deals with renters and landlords, approved above-guideline increases for 25,381 rental units at an average increase of 9.8 per cent in 2022.

From 2018 to 2022, the cost of rent rose above the provincial guideline for an average 23,521 units each year.

Josh Brandon, a community animator with the Social Planning Council of Winnipeg, attributes increases over the last two years despite the guideline freeze to repairs and so-called improvements done in suites or the building at large.

“If it was just cosmetic repairs, theoretically, (Residential Tenancies Branch is) not supposed to give the landlord an above-guideline rent increase approval, but very often, they have been over the past couple of years and we will probably continue to see that,” Brandon told 680 CJOB’s The Start.

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Brandon said if landlords need to apply for increases the ask should be justified and not based on frivolous repairs, and exemptions should be managed better.

A previous statement provided to Global News from the RTB said all applications for above-guideline rent increases go through reviews to ensure they are in accordance with the Residential Tenancies Act.

“Rent increases must be cost-justified,” a provincial spokesperson said in an emailed statement in January.

Avrom Charach, a spokesperson for the Professional Property Managers Association, said despite the increase, landlords are still falling behind due to inflation and the cost of materials for building repairs.

If one is happy, the other usually isn’t, Charach said. Tenants would be happy with no increase to their rent but landlords would foot the bill for maintenance and hydro increases, while increases would placate landlords’ worries, but would affect tenants.

“One of us is losing no matter what,” he said.

Brandon argues that if the province continues to rubber-stamp above-guideline increases, renters will leave the province for affordable housing elsewhere and skilled workers won’t settle down or build homes in Manitoba, affecting the economy.

“The role of government is to make sure that everybody does have housing that they can afford.”

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For Scott, he wants to see an alliance of all three levels of government to ensure housing is a right and not a real estate investment opportunity.

As for paying rent, as long as the RTB continues to approve above-guideline increases, residents like Scott will continue to see their cost of living increase with little recourse.

“The rent control guidelines just don’t seem to mean anything.”

with files from Teagan Rasche

Click to play video: 'Rental market report suggests increasing costs hitting Manitobans hard'

Rental market report suggests increasing costs hitting Manitobans hard

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