Protection fund, bill of rights for renters coming; ‘renters matter,’ Trudeau says

Protection fund, bill of rights for renters coming; 'renters matter,' Trudeau says
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau speaks during a news conference for a housing announcement in Vancouver, Wednesday, March 27, 2024. The federal government wants to support those who rent their homes with a protection fund, a bill of rights and a plan to give reliable renters credit when they step up to by a home.

A federal government announcement that rental history could be used on a credit score is a “gamechanger” for those who have been faithfully paying their rent for years, said a longtime advocate of the idea.

Jackee Kasandy, CEO of the Black Entrepreneurs and Businesses of Canada Society, said getting funding from banks remains a challenge for longtime renters like her, unlike homeowners who can put up property as collateral.

“I’ve rented successfully for 20 years. Why doesn’t that count?” Kasandy said. “I’ve always asked that question.”

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced the plan Wednesday, along with other supports for renters, including a renters protection fund and a bill of rights.

He said there’s something fundamentally unfair about paying $2,000 a month for rent, while those paying the same for a mortgage get equity and build their credit score.

“Renters matter, and young Canadians put a lot of their hard earned money toward rent. We think that should count for a lot more,” he said during the announcement.

Trudeau told a small crowd at a Vancouver community centre that the government wants landlords, banks and credit bureaus to make sure rental history is taken into account on credit scores, giving first-time buyers a better chance at getting a mortgage, with a lower interest rate. =

“This will make it easier to qualify for a mortgage or even qualify you at a lower rate. And just think about all the other things that will come from having a better credit score; a loan to help you start a small business for example,” Trudeau said.

Kasandy said she realized that she and many other immigrants to Canada don’t own homes but end up paying a big portion of their incomes on rent, payments that could be tracked and help build credit over time.

“That should count for something and it hasn’t counted for anything,” she said.

“It’s fantastic news for all of us really,” she said of the announcement.

The measures announced are part of next month’s federal budget and include a $15-million Tenant Protection Fund, which would pay provincial legal aid groups to help tenants against unfairly rising rents, “renovictions” or bad landlords.

The Canadian Renters’ Bill of Rights would also need partnerships with provinces and territories to require landlords to disclose a history of unit pricing and create a national standard for lease agreements.

Rob Patterson, a legal advocate with the Tenant Resource and Advisory Centre in Vancouver, said he is “most intrigued” by the promise of a bill of rights for renters.

“The biggest way to prevent the continuing rent gouging that we’re seeing in the market is, first off, to make sure people aren’t getting unnecessarily evicted,” he said in an interview Wednesday.

He said national measures could help ensure “that no matter where you are in Canada, you have a reasonable level of security of tenure (and) the ability to feel like you can actually put down roots in your home and your community.”

Requiring landlords to disclose pricing history may not solve price gouging directly, but it may add some social pressure that minimizes it, he said.

The changes would also lay the groundwork for provinces to “take steps to start to regulate rent between tenancies, which is what’s really necessary, ultimately, to curb the eviction crisis that’s just running rampant across the country,” he said.

“We’ve certainly heard from government (that) why they haven’t gone toward regulating rents between tenancies in some fashion is because the data is not there,” Patterson said. “So getting the data in the first place is the foot in the door that enables some more protective measures to be done to cool the market between tenancies.”

Patterson also lauded the planned tenant protection fund, noting his organization is overwhelmed by the demand for their legal services.

“We’re trying to drink the ocean with a spoon,” he said. “At the end of the day, it’s clear that there needs to be more support for tenants.”

Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland was also at the event and said a no-holds-barred plan in the upcoming budget will help young Canadians “wrestle down” the cost of owning and renting a home.

“We need to make real the promise of Canada for younger Canadians,” Freeland said. “We are going to pull every single lever and push every single button to deliver more housing without delay.”

The government’s budget will be presented on Tuesday, April 16.

Federal government ministers fanned out across the country on Wednesday making the same announcement.

Housing Minister Sean Fraser told media in Toronto that some of these issues are in the provincial purview, but the goal is to help people, no matter whose responsibility it is.

“The signal that we’re trying to send today is not to bully another level of government to get their house in order, I wish all would do more. It’s to help people who are calling us desperately saying life is too expensive, we think you can do something to help.”

The Quebec government said Wednesday that the proposed federal measures encroach on provincial jurisdiction.

Jean-François Roberge, Quebec’s minister responsible for Canadian relations, said its “response is simple: No.”

“It’s out of the question to tolerate this new invasion of Quebec’s area of jurisdiction by the federal government, which wants to come in with new conditions (and) meddle in our affairs,” Roberge said in Quebec City.

The federal government should instead focus on reducing the number of temporary immigrants and asylum seekers in the country to relieve the housing market, he said.

A Canada Mortgage and Housing Corp. report on housing supply released Wednesday says new home construction is at an all-time high, but demand for rental housing is still outpacing supply.

— With files from Darryl Greer and Brieanna Charlebois in Vancouver and Thomas MacDonald in Quebec City

This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 27, 2024. 

Nono Shen, The Canadian PressNono Shen, The Canadian Press

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