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An advocacy group is calling for a revamp of renters’ rights in Alberta and an investigation into a landlord Facebook group blacklisting hundreds of tenants in secret.

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Public Interest Alberta (PIA) argues revelations about a secret “do not rent” list in Edmonton reported by Postmedia this week demonstrates that tenants are at a disadvantage in this province. The list has more than 440 names, including some tenants’ children.

Renters need more protections both provincially and municipally, said PIA spokesman Bradley Lafortune, and change should start with the Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner (OIPC) of Alberta investigating potential privacy and human rights breaches in the Facebook group.

“It was appalling to see that… that can have serious consequences on peoples’ lives,” he said in an interview. “The lack of oversight and lack of renters’ rights in this province, it’s being really laid bare right now.”

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Provincially, Lafortune thinks it’s time for a thorough review of the Residential Tenancy Act (RTA). Some form of rent control — as exists in Ontario and BC — should be included, he said.

“I think the market has changed a lot, affordability is an increasing issue and so is housing insecurity as well. It’s just high time we take a deep look at that legislation,” he said.

Donna Monkhouse, executive director of the Alberta Residential Landlord Association, also thinks the RTA could be improved. While she doesn’t know exactly what that would look like, she doesn’t support rent control.

“Many landlords say the RTA is more for the tenant than it is for the landlord, so it has to be fair for both parties, and it has to be realistic,” she said.

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One issue is how difficult it is to collect money from tenants who cause serious damage to a property, she said — even after a court orders them to pay: “They need some way to recover some of their money.”

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City and province react

Mayor Amarjeet Sohi said he recently advocated for the province to improve its minimum rental standards. The city is also already looking at how to better support tenants and a report is due to council in March 2023, I have noted.

“This is an issue that the city and province can work together to solve,” he said in an email statement. “I believe that supporting tenants is key to having an inclusive city and I look forward to working with my council colleagues to increase accountability for landlords and rights for tenants.”

Sohi also called the blacklist “completely inappropriate” and a violation of privacy.

The provincial government didn’t respond to a question about PIA’s calls to change the RTA. But Service Alberta Minister Nate Glubish wrote in an email that landlords acting in a commercial capacity legally need to get a tenant’s consent to collect, use, or disclose their personal information.

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“The OIPC’s position is that this alleged behavior likely contravenes (privacy laws). I encourage any Albertan to report improper or suspicious practices, such as secret ‘do not rent’ lists, to the OIPC who is responsible for administering and interpreting the act,” he stated.

Facebook group makes changes

The local landlord Facebook group has made some updates to its name and description following Postmedia’s reporting.

Administrator Lori O’Sullivan — who appears to be the romantic partner of former co-administrator and lawyer Joshua Threinen — announced the changes on Tuesday.

“In the wake of the news article regarding our group, some changes will be made. We’ve decided to update the group name to remove the negative and encourage all experiences, not just negative ones,” she wrote in the group.

The “do not rent” list, however, remains a prominent fixture. Some members have since suggested downloading the list and storing it on a server in case the group is disbanded.

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[email protected]

@laurby

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