Graphic by Valerie Thai
Canada is in the midst of a housing crisis, and one perpetuating factor is the skyrocketing cost of rent. Rent control is a type of provincial rent regulation law that limits rent increases. While every province and territory restricts the frequency of rent increases, only four provinces have some sort of policy that caps the percentage by which rent can increase. Although some provinces enacted a freeze on rent increases at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, only a couple extended the freeze as the pandemic continues. Here is a closer look at rent control policies across the country.
The B.C. government enacted a rent increase freeze at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in March 2020. Although the rent freeze came to an end on January 1, 2022, the Vancouver Tenants Union has advocated to reinstate the freeze since many tenants remain in precarious conditions due to the ongoing pandemic.
The Manitoba government’s rent freeze, a temporary measure first enacted in April 2020, has been extended until the end of 2023, but critics have concerns over the actual implications of this policy. The province’s Residential Tenancies Branch has the authority to approve ad hoc requests to increase rent—a power which they exercised 100 percent of the time during the 2019–2020 fiscal year, according to a document obtained by the Opposition NDP through a freedom of information request.
Much like B.C. and Manitoba, the Ontario government passed legislation in October 2020 to freeze rent until the end of 2021. Organizations such as the Advocacy Centre for Tenants Ontario and the East York chapter of the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN) have noted the importance of reinstating the rent freeze.
Although the Tribunal administratif du logement has a system for landlords and tenants to agree on a rent increase, the process is not legally required. Moreover, tenant advocates, including the Regroupement des comités logement et associations de locataires du Québec and the Comité d’action de Parc-Extension, note that the power imbalance between tenant and landlord can result in inequitable rent increases, and are lobbying for better laws to protect tenants in Quebec.
In November 2020, the government of Nova Scotia passed rent control legislation due to the state of emergency caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. This is a temporary measure though: it first expired in late 2021, but the two percent annual cap has been extended until the end of 2023 as a result of the work of community organizers, housing advocates, and tenants.
Prince Edward Island
P.E.I.’s unit-based, rather than tenant-based, rent control means that the amount of rent increase should be the same regardless of whether the property changes hands. But housing advocates, such as the P.E.I. Fight for Affordable Housing, note a lack of systemic accountability that can result in unlawful rent increases. Moreover, the Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corporation found that average rent hikes in 2020 were well above the rent increase guideline.