TBEP 7 | Rent Control

Prince Edward Island, unlike other provinces, has unit-based rent control, with rent being tied to the units instead of the tenant. However, there is no formal mechanism to know what rent was paid by a previous tenant, despite a provincial bill passed to establish one in 2019. Join Cynthia Belaskie and Robbie Brydon as they talk to Darcie Lanthier, a member of the Green Party of Canada and an advocate of rent control. Darcie founded My Old Apartment to help past tenants tell current tenants what the legal maximum rent should be. In less than a year they added 10% of all apartments in Charlottetown to the registry and have helped tenants get back money – up to $20,000 – that was charged above that maximum. Tune in as Darcie discusses the importance of rent control and advocates for tenants on the housing market.

Listen to the podcast here:

Making Rent Control Work

Enforcing Policy Through Citizen Activism

RB: What are we talking about?

CB: That’s a great question, and I’m going to let someone else answer it. We’ve got a special guest host, Michelle Verbeek, one of the favorite people that I’ve met during the pandemic. She is working as a Project Coordinator here at the Canadian Housing Evidence Collaborative. She’s leading this really neat project that could develop data-driven solutions through the CMHC housing supply challenge. Her team’s research is going to help municipalities track the overall gains and losses of affordable market rental units in their communities. It’s a big project. It’s something that hasn’t ever successfully been done across Canada Michelle is the right person to be leading it.

MV: Thank you for having me. I’m excited to be here.

CB: Michelle, can you tell us a little bit about the work that you’re doing and then also, what are we going to be talking about on this episode?

MV: To set the context, housing across Canada is extremely hard to track, and it’s harder than most people realize. We lack the capacity to understand what’s going on in our housing markets, such as who’s buying where, how much rental units are going for or even where secondary suites exist and the list goes on from there. We understand bits and pieces everywhere but not a full and complete picture anywhere. In my team’s research for the housing supply challenge, we became interested in long-term rental licensing and how it’s implemented across the country.

We hope that we could use these licenses and our research to understand the actual updated prices of rental units. Although that avenue didn’t end up bearing any fruit for our work, an interesting case study popped up in PEI that we had to dig into a little bit deeper. I’m excited to share with our audience what we’ve found and why it’s important.

RB: Charlottetown PEI has been through the wringer on housing in the last few years, and that’s a situation that will sound familiar to a lot of communities across the country. We usually hear more about the big cities and less about a city of 50,000. Decreases in affordability, vacancy rates, influxes of outer province buyers, rental stock being converted to tourist-focused short-term rentals, all of these things are on their list and then everything that’s gone down with the pandemic in the last few years. It’s got a legislative twist that is unique in the country.

MV: Here with us is Darcie Lanthier, the Founder of My Old Apartment. It is a crowdsource rental registry website disrupting local and provincial housing policy with the intention of protecting renters in fighting illegal rent increases.

RB: Darcie Lanthier, welcome to the program.

DL: It’s nice to meet you. Thanks for having me.

MV: You started this website called My Old Apartment. Can you tell us what it does?

TBEP 7 | Rent Control

Rent Control: Two years ago, PEI should have had a rent registry and then absolutely nothing was done about it. So we have that feel-good motion. And then we’re just prepared to let tenants blow in the breeze for another two years.

DL: I started it to help renters get their extra rent back. We have a system here that says that rents are unit-based. They’re attached to the apartment, not to the tenant, so the price of the rent shouldn’t change more than a regulated amount every year. That includes when one tenant moves out and another tenant moves in. You’d have to know the previous tenant or have some other means of finding out what the rent for that apartment should be. That was a gap.

I had the idea that maybe people should write home to their old apartment to tell the current tenant what they used to pay for rent. That was my idea to get everybody to write home and then I started talking to a lot of young people and newcomers, they just don’t send mail. They didn’t even know how to do it. They’re like, “Where do I get a stamp? How much do they cost? What are you talking about?”

I came up with the Twitter account and then it became a website. I developed this card so people could send a card to their old apartment. Myself and a couple of other great groups who decided to help me have made it as easy as possible, “You can go to a location, fill out a card and we’ll mail it for you.” That’s how it started. My Old Apartment started with writing a letter to your old apartment to tell them how much rent you were paying so they can find out if their current rent is illegal.

RB: You developed this website where that information can be centralized and you can see any apartment. When did you start the letter-writing campaign?

DL: We started that and launched the Twitter page in February 2021. It happened really fast. We blew up quickly. The international attention was surprising. We know there’s a housing crisis in Charlottetown and we know that Canada has a problem, but what I wasn’t expecting was this broad support that came from all over the world.

People contacted me from England, Australia, certainly the English-speaking world and all over the US, almost every state. I would be surprised if any were left out. It went crazy because people don’t have anywhere to live, and if they do have somewhere to live, it’s quite likely they can’t afford it. When you have housing that’s insecure or unaffordable, it really dominates every aspect of your life.

RB: That’s certainly a theme that’s come out in a bunch of the work that the Canadian Housing Evidence Collaborative is doing across the research network. For me, I was blown away when I heard that PEI had unit-based rent control. I didn’t realize we had that anywhere in Canada. That just goes to show you how little coverage PEI gets in national conversations. Can you tell us a little bit more about the nuts and bolts of the system? Ontario, BC and a couple of other provinces are familiar with tenant-based rent control. How did unit-based rent control come about in PEI, and how was there such a gap in the ability to enforce it?

DL: The unit-based rent control started in the late ‘80s. 1989 is when the legislation was set and the first annual rent increase was set. Every year, landlords and tenants can have public input. It’s actually open until Friday, August 13, 2021, that members of the public can apply to IRAC to have input on what the rent rental increase will be for 2022. This year, it was 1%. In 2021, you can increase the rent by 1%. It’s controlled. This goes right back to 1989. The highest allowable increase was I think 5% a year. Some of them are 2%, some of them 1%, 2020 was 1.3% and at 1 year it was 0.

RB: Presumably, that will be influenced by the rate of inflation amongst other things.

When you have housing that's insecure or unaffordable, it really dominates every aspect of your life. Share on X

DL: It’s influenced by the rate of inflation and some other costs. It varies according to what style of heat the units have so there’s one rental increase for oil-based and one for electric if the heat is included. They do factor in the price of electricity and heating oil. Once they’re posted, for a landlord, you have to increase the rent even by the legal amount. You have to complete a form and deliver it to the tenant.

If you have to give them 60 days notice, the tenant has a period of time in which they can respond to combat that increase. If it’s a legal increase, it’s probably not going to be all that well-received and then your rent goes up 1%. It still carries on when the unit changes hands. If your rent is $800 and you move out, then the next person should be able to rent that apartment for $800. It’s an $800 apartment. If there’s a 1% increase, then it’s an $808 apartment. It’s not that the tenant turnover the landlord can make it a $1,200 apartment.

Unfortunately, because there was no rent registry or no way of keeping track of the rents, landlords routinely did this. The whole system, great system, great legislation, a lot of public input, good oversight, but the only thing that was lacking was the fact that all the landlords were just on the honor system. There are no penalties for dishonor. If you do, in fact, change the rent from $800 to $1,200 and you get it and the current tenant doesn’t complain about it, then they’re paying $1,200. If they knew that the previous tenant only paid $800, they can file a form with the Island Regulatory and Appeals Commission and get their extra $400 a month back.

That’s where we’ve been having a lot of success. In the first few weeks when the Rent Registry was up, by the time we started having hearings, we returned about $10,000 a week from landlords back to tenants in illegal rent increases, and that’s so significant. We’re going to talk about life-altering. If you fill out a form and you go to a hearing, and at that hearing, you’re awarded let’s say $6,000 and a $200 a month rent decrease, that’s a life-changing amount.

MV: Your website is specifically addressing that gap that that honor system is leaving open. We can see how it’s impacting tenants in the local community. If you’re able to talk a little bit more about that and then also if it all is impacting local policy and policymakers in PEI and affecting them at all?

DL: It certainly did have an impact. A couple of years ago, in our legislature, there was a motion put on the floor by the green opposition to bring in a rental registry to address this gigantic loophole, this honor system that the landlords are on. It passed with unanimous consent. It was a unanimous motion a couple of years ago that PEI should have a rent registry and then absolutely nothing was done about it.

We have that feel-good motion and then we’re prepared to let tenants blow in the breeze for another two years. I talked to a couple of people about starting a registry. I had a volunteer who said, “I can build that for you,” and in fact, did. In less than a week, we had a working model that we were testing. In two weeks, we made it public. It’s a registry that’s built over top of the Civic Address Database. It’s constantly updated every week. When a new subdivision is created, those roads are automatically added to the Civic Address Database.

This registry is built right on top so if you live in a place that has an address, you can add it to the rent registry. It’s easy to do. You sign in and include your rent. We’re asking people to include the rent at their current apartment and also to go in and add the rent at their last apartment. There’s little opportunity to upload a snapshot of your lease agreement, a rent receipt or anything that can be used as evidence in a hearing. A lot of people are doing that as well. It already has the Civic Address.

It collects the rent and the date you moved out with just the month and year. Knowing that the rent was $1,000 in 2018 would let a person know that it should only be $1,010 in 2019 and $1,021 in 2020. If you’re paying more than $1,021, you’re probably paying an illegal amount of rent. If the rent on that is $1,400, it’s very likely that you’re paying almost $400 a month. That’s too much. If you can go to IRAC with a little bit of information or that little tiny bit of evidence from the registry then you can file to get your excess rent back. Any amount that you were overcharged, you can have that returned.

TBEP 7 | Rent Control

Rent Control: The only thing that was lacking was the fact that all the landlords were just on the honor system and there’s no penalties for dishonor.

MV: Just to clarify for our audience that may not be familiar with what IRAC is, do you mind explaining?

DL: IRAC is the Island Regulatory and Appeals Commission. They’re the home of the residential property. They manage all the residential property laws as well. They set prices for oil and gas. They also run the rental office.

MV: The governing body?

DL: The governor is a very different branch of regulation. It’s hard to get the information from. You could file FOIPs until your writing hand got tired and they don’t really care.

RB: As I understand it, you have been filing some FOIPs.

DL: I haven’t been getting very far. There was a good report that came out from CMHC that said that the average market rent on PEI was $916 a month. It also told us that 72 apartments had had their rent legally increased above the standard amount in the previous year. Only 72 apartments applied for and received legal increases above the standard 1% amount.

RB: You can do that if the landlord has made exceptional investments in the property or had exceptional cost increases?

DL: That’s what the landlord can do. The landlord can file to get a higher rent. They need to justify it. It can’t just be to put an extra $12,000 in their pocket every year. It has to be justified. They have to submit their expense statements. IRAC, the Island Regulatory and Appeals Commission would determine what’s a reasonable return on investment. There aren’t really proper legal definitions for some of the terms but you can read through the rulings. I read through a bunch of them. There are some spots where you have to wonder how the judgments come down.

I get a lot of anecdotal information because people are messaging me on Twitter, Facebook and they’re emailing the website. I hear a lot of specific situations. Someone whose rent is being increased by $300 a month because the landlord is building a deck. The tenant would probably much rather have $300 a month than have a deck. They don’t get any say in it. They’re likely going to have to move and possibly to a place with no deck.

MV: You said 72 were filed. Did that feel like a low number to you than what you were seeing anecdotally in daily life and what you’re hearing from people?

DL: Absolutely. That’s only about 1%. About 1% of the apartments got legal increases above that fixed amount of 1%. What we’re finding with rents though is rents seem to be up 20% to 30% almost right across the board. We are seeing very good-sized amounts of return to tenants. Almost $5,000 is about the average. We had one tenant go after $20,000. We’ve had a couple of smaller ones like $2,000 or $3,000 but it’s the lump sum. Getting the lump sum back can be quite life-changing if you’ve only ever just been working to get your rent paid, try and keep enough food in the fridge.

We have a system here that says that rents are unit-based, they're attached to the apartment, not to the tenant. The price of the rent shouldn't change more than a regulated amount every year. Share on X

Having that lump sum of cash is amazing, but having your rent lowered by $180 to $500 a month, that’s the part where all of a sudden you can take a deep breath. You can think about things. You can put your kids in a sport, get a car, save something or put something in that education fund. It changes everything having that extra bit of cash every month.

As far as politics go, I slid in under the radar. I opened the Twitter account because I needed an address to put on the card or get that on the card. Once the cards became available, it was built quietly and anonymously. I thought I could do My Old Apartment not being me, just as My Old Apartment. It turns out you can’t get any media or anything if you are new and become an individual.

That’s why I had to come out as My Old Apartment, but it was under the radar for a little bit. I did a national public radio interview because this is a global issue. Everyone is interested in housing. I did this national public radio interview and it fell in California Heard It, who happens to be friends with the Minister of Housing on PEI, who I know quite well, Brad Trivers. The friend called Brad and said, “What’s going on with housing on PEI? Isn’t that your job?”

I must say he mentioned to Brad what I was up to. I got a message from Brad within an hour, “We should talk.” I have had a talk with the housing minister and we talked about the rental registry, which was unanimously supported but still not done. He explained that, “It would take a long time. We’d have to do a study first and perhaps I knew a not-for-profit who might like to get some cash to do the study. It seemed like something else we’re going to do that we’re going to let slide for another couple of years.”

That’s when we went ahead and built the rental registry when the government said they need to study it first and it might be a couple of years. We had it up and running in two weeks and it works perfectly. There was to be new landlord-tenant legislation to come out and the fall sitting of the legislature. I’m seeing now media reports that that’s being pushed back to the spring and we’re expecting this spring provincial election. It’s just being pushed off until after the election. That seems to be how governments at all levels deal with housing issues.

They’ve just pushed them off. If you’re spending $400 a month on rent, waiting two more years is too much. That’s almost $10,000. You can’t afford to wait. You can’t afford to continue to pay that out. What long-term harm it does to have this brand poverty. It prevents you from saving for your future, taking those extra courses and putting your kids in sports. I had a lady who had her rent lowered by $120 a month.

It doesn’t seem like much but for her, a senior on OAS, it was massive. It changed her life. It let her go back to the movies with her friend, go out to lunch, to bingo or whatever it was that she needed to do to have a life worth living. These amounts of money, even when they’re tiny are still so important and it’s completely overlooked at the municipal, provincial and federal levels.

MV: Just because you can pay rent each month doesn’t mean it’s still affordable. Even if you’re making it still not affordable, it takes away from other aspects of life. It sounds like you’re disrupting the policy landscape for sure.

RB: The extension is you talked about how your coverage is a little over 10% and the government has the ability to get close to 100% coverage. From your perspective, is it the optimum that government does this and gets full coverage? Do you want to try and expand your coverage and have this run as a private service?

DL: As long as it remains completely open to the public, then it doesn’t matter to me who runs it and it practically runs itself. This is one of the least labour-intensive parts of my week, but what we would want is for every legal rent amount. When the Island Regulatory and Appeals Commission sets a legal rent either by adjusting a rent or setting new rents, whenever there’s a legal rent set, we would like that to automatically be included in the registry. Those 72 apartments who got legal rent increases, let’s get those in the registry and put them in blue ink so you know, “Here’s a verified rent.”

I would really like if the Island Regulatory and Appeals Commission put data into the registry whether they want us to run it, take it over and write it themselves, either way, but to get that baseline in would be fantastic and to have leases filed the same way deeds are filed. When you sign the lease, it should be filed and we should be able to put that amount into the registry.

Leases are being signed. The lease forms come from IRAC, they’re a standard lease and those leases, once they’re completed, need to be filed. If we had that going on, just that simple work requirement to submit a lease, every time a new lease is signed to submit it, that would be all the information needed to keep a registry up-to-date. Until then, we have to motivate tenants to do this. Tenants are doing this work and thankfully, they are.

TBEP 7 | Rent Control

Rent Control: Having that lump sum of cash is amazing. But having your rent lowered by $180 to $500 a month, that’s the part where all of a sudden you can take a deep breath.

RB: There are existing government rental registries in other parts of Canada. Not commonly but London, Ontario is an example of a place that has a registry. They don’t have unit-based rent control but there are other elements to it whether from the municipalities’ perspective, often we just want to understand what our private rental market is. If you don’t have a rental registry, you often don’t have the data to know what your private rental market is. CMHC is limited to primary built in most of their data. They’ve got a little bit of condo stuff out, but it’s not as exhaustive a list as you could get from the registry that you’re talking about. On the other side, you’re making sure that it’s a way to keep track and make sure that units are safe and for tenants to make sure that they’re not being swindled.

I don’t know if you have this much in Charlottetown but every now and then you get the Global News story in Toronto or Vancouver where someone pretends to be a landlord, puts a posting up on Craigslist or Kijiji and shows up to show the unit, takes a deposit, it vanishes and they actually have no association. If you’ve got a registry where you can go on and find out who the owner is, you’ve got some protection against that.

DL: That happens here with houses that go for sale. We had a unit in our building here that was up for sale so there’s a for sale sign and there was somebody out with a couple on the lawn and went out to talk to them. It was someone trying to rent that unit that is for sale, and not the seller, the potential buyer or a realtor. It happens a lot here with international students. They would book an apartment online and send 2 or 3 months rent. They land in Charlottetown and find out this apartment does not actually exist.

RB: It’s probably not likely to provide a lot of protective factors there where the international students are not likely to know about the existence of the rental registry. If it existed, the school might be able to provide that information ahead of time to say, “Check this.”

DL: Make sure it’s legit.

RB: I want to wander back a little bit to that rent control conversation. My training is in Economics. I remember sitting in my Econ 101 class and having the prof lecture about how rent control was a terrible thing. In theory, when you limit the price of something, you get less supply and you end up with either bottlenecks where you’ve got 0% vacancy rates, you can’t find a place to live even if you want one, or black markets or both, where despite the legal limit, people are agreeing to more because they can’t find anywhere else to live.

This is where the question comes, what does this look like in Charlottetown? Your system is designed to address a knowledge-based gap where landlords are charging too much, not because tenants are agreeing to it, but because tenants don’t have the information to say, “No, this is what the rent should be.” Have you run into supply bottlenecks or do you get the sense that there are tenants who would quietly pay more just to be able to find a place?

DL: I don’t technically know if a part from an actual form filed with the Island Regulatory Appeals Commission, if you can actually agree to pay more rent under the table. I don’t know if that’s something that could hold up. I would say to any tenant who agreed to do that, “Just about two months before you move out, you should file a Form 2 and see if you can get your money back,” because it would be an illegal increase. We had a massive problem with vacancy here. We were the worst in Canada. There was a Federal Minister who came into town and said that Charlottetown is great, we had no homelessness. Wait a second, we had a 0.2% vacancy rate in 2018. It got worse before it started getting better. A lot of it was because of short-term rentals.

We have a huge economy here. We get 1.2 million visitors in the run of the summer, and you can rent a house by the night for a couple hundred dollars a night. It’s really quite attractive compared to renting it year-round. If you can afford to buy a spare house, why wouldn’t you just want to maximize the revenues? What we had was almost 5% of the housing in Charlottetown was tied up in short-term rentals and was taken out of the housing market.

A 5% vacancy rate allows for a lot of movement and allows for markets to work properly. When you take all those houses and apartments out of long-term housing and put them into short-term, then we had a real crisis. We had a crunch where people literally had nowhere to live, and we had the government put people in hotel rooms while houses were being used as hotels.

MV: I’m glad that you brought up short-term rentals because this is a really fascinating case across PEI but specifically in Charlottetown. We know that during the height of the pandemic, the Atlantic provinces implemented a bubble to restrict travel in and out of the region. As we know, this had a direct impact on PEI short-term rental market, as no tourists were able to come in and the regular inflow of travelers did not arrive last summer. We know that a lot of the short-term rentals in 2020 were converted into long-term rentals. As things are opening up again, something that I’m interested to know about is whether those individuals that shifted their units in 2020 from short-term to long-term, and now maybe are thinking of staying in the long-term, are they still increasing their rent? Are they still trying to maximize their profits in the same way that they would in the short-term rental market?

DL: Some of them are. We’re catching some of them and hopefully we’ll catch more. We only have about 10% of the apartments registered. A little over 10% are registered in the registry now. Of the first 45 that had double entries, a new occurrent rent and an old rent, so that comparison a marker, of the first 45, 25 of them had egregious rent increases like visibly, “Gosh, that’s awful. That’s a $200 to $700 a month increase.” 25 of those first 45 double entries, 10 were slightly over. Instead of making it $1,010, they maybe went $1,025. They just increased maybe 2.5% instead of 1%, but you could see a path how they would get from one number to the other, but it’s not quite legal. It seemed about 10 of them fell within the parameters of what’s allowed. Of the first 45 to find only 10, it was pretty sad. It’s a pretty low rate of compliance really.

RB: In the economics of the situation, that makes a lot of sense if there is a good demand to pay that level there. There’s no enforcement of the regulation. One expects that that price is going to be charged. There are a couple empirical studies out of the US where rent control was brought in or taken out in ways that provided a natural experiment. Some buildings got it, some buildings didn’t, depending on a specific policy slice. The one in San Francisco found that the implementation of a rent control policy worked for renters. People were 20% less likely to move out of San Francisco if they were in these buildings than in ones that didn’t get rent control applied, both to leave the building itself and to move out of the city entirely.

On the flip side was they found that those buildings that were rent controlled were more likely to be taken off the rental market entirely. These are multifamily buildings, so they were to be moved into condos typically, or torn down entirely and rebuilt with much higher cost rentals within them. The takeaway from this was not the impact on those units themselves, where you’ve got a trade off, but the market-wide impacts that says when you take the supply off the market, it has ripple effects beyond that. Charlottetown doesn’t face that in the same way because every existing unit is already rent controlled. You don’t get a ripple effect across the market so long as you have enforcement in place. I wonder what we can learn about the difference between tenant-based and unit-based rent control?

I want to take this away and throw a couple academics at it and say, how well has this been studied? Is there a way that we can study these market-wide effects? What you’re talking about here with the movement to more and more Airbnbs, that’s happening across the country and anywhere that you’ve got tourist hotspots, it’s potentially exacerbated by a policy where you’re getting less money from rent. It’s a possibility that drives more people into Airbnb because the discrepancy from what you can get is even higher. Is that actually what’s going on? You need to measure that and say, “What’s Charlottetown like compared to other places?”

TBEP 7 | Rent Control

Rent Control: We have no regulations on short-term rentals. Both the city and the province have been dragging their heels on this for quite a while.

We're just going to let developers take over, but that's not going to secure housing for everyone. For the most vulnerable, we need to build great public housing. Share on X

DL: We have no regulations on short-term rentals. Both the city and the province have been dragging their heels on this for quite a while. Both the city and the province have no regulations for short-term rentals. In Charlottetown where we had 500 of them spring up, they’re supposed to be registered with the Department of Tourism. Some of them are, some of them are not. There’s no municipal zoning restricting them from anywhere. In some neighborhoods, you’ll stand on the porch and you’ll be able to see the neighbor to the right, two houses down to the left, the one across the block, that one over there beside the park. You’d be able to see 5 or 6 of them right from your front door. It absolutely changed the community completely. In some neighborhoods, there are almost more Airbnbs on the block than there are permanent residents.

RB: I’m sure that will sound familiar to readers in Canmore and Banff and similar places.

DL: What we’re expecting the city to do is to finally move forward. They just basically back-burnered it for two years. Somehow, constant ongoing harms to tenants are not really considered a motivating factor to get legislation move forward. It’s just like, “Suffer for another year. We’re busy.” We need a rental legislation. We need to remove them from single-family dwelling neighborhoods. We’re hoping for some piece of legislation that is owner occupied, which would mean you can’t just own the eight houses and rent them out. The other thing in Charlottetown is vacancies. Because the housing prices are so much lower comparatively to more expensive markets, we have people buying houses here and then just leaving them sit vacant.

MV: Is there any vacancy tax in place in Charlottetown? It’s fairly new in a lot of other places. I believe that Toronto only just implemented it.

DL: That’s another thing we would hope for, Vacancy Tax to deal with the empty houses that are just sitting there empty, and some short-term rental legislation. Certainly, they should be paying taxes as if they were commercial properties. They shouldn’t be allowed in neighborhoods where commercial properties are not permitted. If they do bring in legislation that requires owner-occupied, that makes sense.

There are a lot of folks in Charlottetown who have a house in town and maybe a cottage out in the country, or people who live here in the summer and then live somewhere else in the winter. For those folks, Airbnb is a great thing. All the summertime, actors and musicians who come to the Confederation Center of the Arts, for example, they need places to stay in the summer. They often rent houses and apartments from folks who also have a cottage that they move out to. That Airbnb, that short-term rental is good for everybody, but this buying of 6 or 8 houses, and then just keeping them either empty or for tourists, this is problematic.

MV: A small question about that is I’m not sure what the situation is in Charlottetown because it’s different, but you certainly see this in Southern Ontario, and I have a feeling it might be creeping towards the Atlantic region, is a lot of the individuals that own these Airbnbs may not even be individuals anymore. They may be REITs or Real Estate Investment Trusts. Are you seeing any pattern like that creeping towards PEI and your local housing market?

DL: I’m not seeing it so much in a housing market. I haven’t seen any of it in the actual housing market, but certainly REITs are owning a lot of apartment buildings. The REITs are buying up apartment buildings.

RB: Living on multi-family units rather than the single-family.

MV: Thank you so much, Darcie, for taking the time to chat with us. It’s been great learning more about what’s happening in PEI and the housing challenges that the people there are facing and how an old apartment is tackling them head on. Before we let you go, are there any final comments you have to our audience across Canada who may have never heard about the housing challenges facing Charlotte town and what they can take away from this conversation?

TBEP 7 | Rent Control

Rent Control: Tenants need to organize and always remember, there are a lot more tenants than there are landlords. If we do this properly, we should come out ahead.

DL: The most important thing that tenancy can do is organize. There are lots of actions that tenants can take if they organize themselves. Landlords organize. They have associations here and associations is formed and hired. A former politician as an executive director is also known as a lobbyist. Tenancy to organize and always remember, there are a lot more tenants than there are landlords. If we do this properly, we should come out ahead. What we never mentioned was the role of governments in housing, in building and operating housing.

We just stopped doing this and thought, “We’re just going to let developers take over,” but that’s not going to secure housing for everyone. Certainly for the most vulnerable, we need to build great public housing. There’s no reason for it to be crap. It should be perfectly nice and people should want to live in it. Until we get more housing, more cooperatives, more multi-generational housing, we can build great public housing, there’s no reason not to. The fact that we stopped I think is what’s causing all of this pressure right across the country.

RB: Thank you so much.

CB: There is something about Darcie. She is very cool, but she’s also got this infectious spirit to bring people together and get some collective action together and making change. I love listening to her talk. One of the things that strikes me as I listened to everything that you and Robbie talked about, Michelle, is that PEI on paper looks so good.

It’s going to deal with incentives for rent eviction. It’s going to preserve affordability. The policies are all there. What we hear from Darcie where you ground this out is that policy is not enough on its own. There has to be some mechanism to both implement and sustain what the policy is meant to do. What we see from Darcie is the onus has really been dropped on the people who have the fewest resources to defend their own rights. You end up with a policy without teeth until someone like Darcie comes along and helps people with those resources that they need to make the policy mean something.

RB: If I can expand on my own ignorance, I talked in the interview about being stunned that PEI had unit-based rent control. That also exists in Quebec. The entire province of Quebec has legislation that’s a little more convoluted. It’s not as clear cut but renters can request the tribunal fix rent relative to what it was under the previous tenants’ occupation. If you think PEI’s loopholes were big, Quebec’s are enormous.

The tenant did not need to be notified of what the previous rent was. That has just come into effect as of July 2021 that a landlord is required to provide that information. The tenant has ten days from signing a lease to file an application for the rent to be adjusted. That goes up to 60 days if the landlord does not provide what the amount was. It’s this case where the burden to enforce falls squarely on the people with the fewest resources and they’re the least likely to be able to secure those rights for themselves.

CB: I think that Quebec might need a Darcie.

MV: You said it earlier but I’ll mention it again that Charlottetown doesn’t get a lot of national coverage, but its lessons might be valuable to a lot of people in smaller markets at this moment in time. The pandemic has led to housing price booms in many smaller cities and towns, but Charlottetown has already been facing many of these problems that the larger cities have been experiencing for years. Someone like Darcie who’s so embedded in that community can add a compelling narrative and fill in some of the qualitative stories around discrepancies between what policy says should be happening, and what the evidence shows is actually happening on the ground now.

CB: For anybody who wants to pop online and see what Darcie is up to, her entire database is at MyOldApartment.org. Another way that I love Darcie is she’s so forward-thinking. It’s that she’s made her data completely accessible. For folks who want to look into this more or for the academics reading who want to do some research, you can download those files.

What I should add is she’s also good at privacy. The people who have uploaded their old leases or have uploaded old rent receipts to the database are not available online. They’re only ever used if somebody does need to approach the tribunals. It’s great. Darcie has thought of everything. This is the collective action that’s crowdsourcing. It’s the cusp of where we’re heading with housing research in this country.

RB: Research meets policy meets practice.

CB: You nailed it.

Important Links:

About Darcie Lanthier

TBEP 7 | Rent ControlDarcie Lanthier is the founder of My Old Apartment, a crowdsourced registry of rents that tenants have paid for rental apartments on Prince Edward Island. Tenants can “pay it forward” by documenting their rent; future tenants can then use that information to make sure they’re being charged a legal rent. She is President of Solar Island Electric Inc, a business created to fund community solar development. One of her favourite projects was redeveloping an 1845 heritage building in Charlottetown, P.E.I. She transformed the upper floors into the energy efficient “Mermaid Suites”, a Canada Select 4-star Suites Property that was named Downtown Charlottetown Inc.’s 2005 Business Improvement of the Year.
In her previous work as a Public Legal Information Officer, Darcie helped people understand the law and navigate the justice system.
Darcie has served as a Green Party organizer, recruiter, treasurer, campaign manager, interim leader, deputy leader, and as a candidate both provincially and federally. Lanthier is also a lifetime member of the PEI Women’s Institute and has served on the Provincial Board.

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