Norris Turner unpacks and settles into his new home in Edmonton.
It’s been a long journey for the blind 74-year-old man after a rent increase in his former apartment, which was being renovated, forced him to leave.
But Turner also celebrates a win. Alberta’s housing dispute resolution service recently ruled that its landlord’s rent increase “was not an actual rent increase, but rather an economic eviction,” according to a copy of the decision obtained by Breaking:.
“It was a great relief. I can finally relax properly,” said Turner.
According to the decision, the landlord has violated the Housing Rental Act by “disturbing the peaceful enjoyment of the rental property through extensive renovations in and around the rental property”.
It rejected a request for unpaid rent from the landlord and ordered the landlord to pay Turner one month’s rent and expenses.
“I am rid of that building and the people who own it. They have no hold over me anymore,” he said of the decision.
Turner has lived in the building in Edmonton’s Old Strathcona neighborhood since 2009.
In January, Turner received notice saying his rent had increased from $870 a month to $1,500 a month. There is no limit on rent increases in Alberta.
It said the increase was due to “rising living costs”.
“I was amazed and in awe that they would do something like that,” he told Breaking: in early May.
The senior lives off his working pension, CPP and OAS and said such an increase would have forced him to draw on his savings.
Each province and territory is responsible for rent issues, so there is little national data on economic evictions, also known as renovations.
Tim Patterson, an attorney at the Edmonton Community Legal Center who worked on Turner’s case, said he’s seen more cases like this.
“From this year to last year, we’ve seen an increase in the number of tenants coming to us with landlord issues and some of those are definitely about rent increases that they think are happening because the landlord wants them out,” he said.
Patterson said there are rules landlords must follow when it comes to terminating contracts to make renovations, but some landlords are raising rents to get around those rules.
“That’s where people’s rights are violated. And unfortunately it’s the most vulnerable people who can’t afford to pay a big rent increase that will be most affected,” he said.
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Laura Murphy, research coordinator for the Affordable Housing Solutions Lab at the University of Alberta, said tenants are at the mercy of third-party landlords and financed landlords, who are beholden to shareholders and investors, not tenants.
“We really need to regulate things and make sure we get the investment piece out of housing,” she said.
“It’s financialized owners holding cash, 15 percent more than demanded. We’re being pushed out of housing by investors, whether it’s rent or homeownership.”
Murphy calls these types of evictions “serious.”
“It’s life and death in terms of just the impact of financialization and resurgence. We’re seeing the erosion of neighborhoods across Canada,” she said.
Marie-Josée Houle, Canada’s federal housing advocate, said her role is to hold Ottawa accountable for its human rights obligations around housing.
The federal government invests $82 billion over 10 years in housingand Houle emphasizes that this should be a priority.
“The government needs to invest more in social housing. Social housing is the only form of housing that will make housing affordable forever. We’re not seeing that yet. They really need to prioritize this because this is the only solution,” she said.
“We don’t have immediate solutions for people, but we need to keep focusing on them and stop being distracted by other pressing issues, such as creating housing that people cannot afford.”
As for Turner, he’s thankful to have found another place to live.
And for those facing the same problem he did, he recommends working with a lawyer and fighting back.
“Don’t take it lying down. You have rights.”