Skip to main content
The Globe and Mail
Support Quality Journalism
The Globe and Mail
First Access to Latest
Investment News
Collection of curated
e-books and guides
Inform your decisions via
Globe Investor Tools
Just$1.99
per week
for first 24 weeks

Enjoy unlimited digital access
Enjoy Unlimited Digital Access
Get full access to globeandmail.com
Just $1.99 per week for the first 24 weeks
Just $1.99 per week for the first 24 weeks
var select={root:".js-sub-pencil",control:".js-sub-pencil-control",open:"o-sub-pencil--open",closed:"o-sub-pencil--closed"},dom={},allowExpand=!0;function pencilInit(o){var e=arguments.length>1&&void 0!==arguments[1]&&arguments[1];select.root=o,dom.root=document.querySelector(select.root),dom.root&&(dom.control=document.querySelector(select.control),dom.control.addEventListener("click",onToggleClicked),setPanelState(e),window.addEventListener("scroll",onWindowScroll),dom.root.removeAttribute("hidden"))}function isPanelOpen(){return dom.root.classList.contains(select.open)}function setPanelState(o){dom.root.classList[o?"add":"remove"](select.open),dom.root.classList[o?"remove":"add"](select.closed),dom.control.setAttribute("aria-expanded",o)}function onToggleClicked(){var l=!isPanelOpen();setPanelState(l)}function onWindowScroll(){window.requestAnimationFrame(function() {var l=isPanelOpen(),n=0===(document.body.scrollTop||document.documentElement.scrollTop);n||l||!allowExpand?n&&l&&(allowExpand=!0,setPanelState(!1)):(allowExpand=!1,setPanelState(!0))});}pencilInit(".js-sub-pencil",!1); // via darwin-bg var slideIndex = 0; carousel(); function carousel() { var i; var x = document.getElementsByClassName("subs_valueprop"); for (i = 0; i < x.length; i++) { x[i].style.display = "none"; } slideIndex++; if (slideIndex> x.length) { slideIndex = 1; } x[slideIndex - 1].style.display = "block"; setTimeout(carousel, 2500); }

Calgary renter and activist Anne Landry recently received a rent-increase demand of more than 17 per cent from Boardwalk REIT, the owner of the apartment in Calgary’s Beltline neighbourhood where she has lived for 21 years.

Jeff McIntosh/STRJMC

The development of new, high-end rental apartments in Calgary’s inner-city neighbourhoods is putting pressure on rents in existing buildings and leading to calls for more tenant protections.

“This is part of a pattern of gentrification when you start to get new developments in an area because land rent is sufficiently low,” says Ms. Kate Jacobson, a member of the Renters Action Movement (RAM), an activist organization that aims to expand the scope of laws that protect tenant rights.

With the arrival on the market of new buildings charging premium rents, the owners of some existing buildings see an opportunity to increase the rents they charge and boost their profits, she says.

Story continues below advertisement

“While we consider apartments to be a home, landlords consider apartments and other properties they rent out to be financial investments and they treat them like financial investments. When you can get a higher return on your investment by making the rent go up by five, 10, 15, 20 per cent, you are going to take that opportunity,” says Ms. Jacobson, who rents her home in and older building in downtown Calgary.

“In Alberta we have no form of provincial rent control, which means that your rent can go up as long as your landlord gives you sufficient notice. It can go up by any amount. My landlord could call me on the phone tomorrow and as long as they gave me sufficient notice, they could triple my rent.

“That is completely ridiculous because it removes the ability for tenants to plan long term and to actually invest themselves in their communities, in their schools, in their workplaces, because their housing is so precarious.”

A total of 2,236 purpose-built rental units came onto the market in Calgary so far in 2019, says Andie Daggett, manager, rental market date (Alberta) for Urban Analytics. The average rent is about $2 a square foot, but can be up to $2.44 a sq. ft., which is higher than most older legacy buildings, because these ones are new, with high-end finishings and extra amenities.

“What we’re finding happening is obviously the brand new purpose-built rental buildings are achieving market-leading rents, so they are pushing the boundaries on what renters are willing to spend per month on rental rates,” Ms. Daggett says.

While this may be good news for the developers, it can be bad news for tenants of legacy buildings, often dating back 40 or 50 years, who are seeing their rents go up faster than inflation, according to Anne Landry, who has a background in strategic planning, data analytics and project management.

She recently received a rent-increase demand of more than 17 per cent from Boardwalk REIT, the owner of the apartment in Calgary’s Beltline neighbourhood where she has lived for 21 years. Last year, the landlord wanted to increase her rent by 19.5 per cent.

Story continues below advertisement

Parts of these increases were attributed to the end of previous rent incentives and parts to raises in the normal rental rate, but to Ms. Landry, they amount to more than she says she can afford as an unemployed soon-to-be-senior citizen suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

Each year, she has pushed back and had the original demand reduced – last year to four per cent and this year to a rate still to be negotiated, but the landlord’s latest offer is six per cent.

She considers the demands to be excessive considering that a raise matching the Consumer Price Index (CPI) this year would have been 1.42 per cent.

A spokesman for Boardwalk REIT said the company negotiates potential increases with residents and considers financial hardship. He said this year’s increase was 5.8 per cent because she chose not to renegotiate, instead going on a month by month basis. He noted that her rent is still less than it was in 2015.

In a recent presentation to Calgary City Council, she said: “I will soon be a senior and I can’t afford these exorbitant rent increases or the mental stress of the repeated rent negotiations.”

She called on city council to transform its affordable housing strategy to provide protection against soaring rents. “We need to change direction at the City of Calgary immediately, because we’re past crisis, we’re into an emergency.”

Story continues below advertisement

Ms. Landry says there needs to be 'a conscious and intentional decision by the City of Calgary' to implement some form of rent control.

Jeff McIntosh/STRJMC

To support up her claim, Ms. Landry cites the city’s own statistics. These show that about 89,000 Calgary households, or 21 per cent, earn less than $45,000 a year and do not have sufficient income to afford an average rental apartment. Among major Canadian cities, Calgary has the highest rents in the bottom tier of rentals, with 68 per cent of low-income renters over-spending on shelter.

Meanwhile, the City’s affordable housing strategy is focused on the tiny proportion of homes supplied by non-market, public-subsidized housing, not on the much larger private sector, where most renters live, she says.

Only 3.6 per cent of Calgary’s housing stock is publicly owned and subsidized, compared with the national average of six per cent. The city says that 15,000 of these non-market homes are needed and wants to increase to the national average. However, that would require between 2,000 and 2,500 non-market units to be added every year. The city has averaged about 300 per year and in 2018 the figure was 120, she says.

Ms. Landry called on the city to look for inspiration to Vancouver City Council and municipal authorities in Burnaby, B.C., and Banff, Alta., where plans are in place focusing on how to accommodate those earning low to moderate incomes.

Vancouver has a plan to provide 72,000 homes over the next 10 years in the private and non-market sectors, but with 20 per cent of the floor area of these homes to be set aside for renters on incomes of $30,000 to $80,000 a year. Rent increases for these moderate-income units are capped, she says.

The Vancouver affordable housing strategy has the support of some landlords and developers, including the group Landlord BC, which represents 3,300 members.

Story continues below advertisement

Ms. Landry has called on Calgary to expand its strategy to include the private sector because its plans for public housing will never be able to meet demand. She’d like to see some form of rent control, such as a tenant-loyalty program that restricts rent increases to CPI, plus a reasonable extra amount for capital improvements.

“There has to be … a conscious and intentional decision by the City of Calgary, it needs to happen, regarding what level of rent increase is appropriate and, by intimation, needing to consider what level of capital return is appropriate.”

If a landlord is making $600 to $1,000 a month in profit from rent, how much is it appropriate for the rent to be increased, she asks.

Ms. Jacobson says that “rent caps are absolutely a good idea, rent controls are absolutely a good idea,” but may not be enough. If the market place is fundamentally unable to meet the affordable housing needs of citizens, the role the state plays can be expanded.

For example, restrictions can be placed on how long landlords can leave housing units vacant. Cities can be given the authority to take over properties from negligent landlords, as happened recently in Vancouver where two buildings were expropriated for $5 each.

“We believe housing is a human right and we believe it should be available to everyone. … we believe that the best way to ensure that housing is seen as a human right is to ensure large proportions of your society live in de-commoditized housing,” Ms. Jacobson says.

Story continues below advertisement

“In cities like, say, Vienna, almost 50 per cent of people … live in social housing. That means that social housing is not something that is stigmatized, it’s not only for people who are poor, vulnerable, in a moment of crisis, it is something that is very ordinary and average to live in and it creates really strong communities.”

Your house is your most valuable asset. We have a weekly Real Estate newsletter to help you stay on top of news on the housing market, mortgages, the latest closings and more. Sign up today.

Editor’s note: (Jan. 24, 2020): An earlier version of this article did not include Boardwalk REIT's response.
Report an error Editorial code of conduct
Due to technical reasons, we have temporarily removed commenting from our articles. We hope to have this fixed soon. Thank you for your patience. If you are looking to give feedback on our new site, please send it along to feedback@globeandmail.com. If you want to write a letter to the editor, please forward to letters@globeandmail.com.

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff.

We aim to create a safe and valuable space for discussion and debate. That means:

  • Treat others as you wish to be treated
  • Criticize ideas, not people
  • Stay on topic
  • Avoid the use of toxic and offensive language
  • Flag bad behaviour

Comments that violate our community guidelines will be removed.

Read our community guidelines here

Discussion loading ...

To view this site properly, enable cookies in your browser. Read our privacy policy to learn more.
How to enable cookies