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Is it time for rent control in Alberta? Some Calgarians say yes

As the city’s rental market continues to heat up, some Calgarians say they’ve experienced steep rental hikes when their leases have come up for renewal. 

Lindsay McNally, 30, has lived in her one-bedroom Beltline apartment for two years, paying $1,350 a month for rent and parking. When it came time to renew this summer, McNally said she was told it would be an extra $365 a month — too expensive at this stage of her career. 

“I’m still trying to get ahead with life,” said McNally, who works in beauty sales and has recently taken a second job at a steakhouse.

Jason Ertl, 38, found himself in a similar situation after the rent in the bungalow he shares with his family was raised by $500 a month. 

“I was actually shocked, I had to give a double take and a reread of the lease agreement,” said Ertl, an oil and gas drilling engineer. 

Ertl said his family could absorb the extra cost if they had to, but it would cut into their ability to save for a house of their own. Still, he knows there are many out there who aren’t so fortunate.

Inn from the Cold, which provides emergency shelter and support services for the homeless in Calgary, has seen an increase in demand in recent months.

In some cases, an increase in rent is what pushes a family from just making ends meet to facing eviction and temporary homelessness, said Nathaniel Miller, director of programs at Inn from the Cold.

Ertl and McNally told CBC News their experiences have left them wondering if Alberta should look at bringing in a cap on rental increases, similar to what other provinces have in place. 

“Putting some kind of limit, I think, definitely is, in my mind, the right thing to do,” said Ertl. 

“I think it would [have] a massive impact,” said McNally. 

Why doesn’t Alberta have rent control? 

In British Columbia, the maximum rent increase for this year is 1.5 per cent. In Ontario, it’s capped at 1.2 per cent, although there are exemptions.

In Alberta, there are restrictions that limit how often rent can be raised and how much notice property owners are required to give, but no rent control policy. 

In a statement, a provincial spokesperson said rent control could hamper the market long-term by discouraging development and reducing landlords’ capacity to maintain and upgrade existing units.

A University of Calgary professor agrees it would make housing more scarce.

“It really means that developers kind of pull back and say, ‘You know what? Maybe we shouldn’t invest in building more multifamily housing.’ And what that does is make housing more scarce going forward,” said Alexander Whalley, associate professor of business and economics at the U of C. 

“It really has these unintended consequences.” 

Not all experts agree on that front. 

Nemoy Lewis, an assistant professor in the school of urban and regional planning at Toronto Metropolitan University, noted that Ontario has an exemption on rent control for new buildings occupied for the first time after 2018. 

Since then, he said, the province hasn’t seen a marked increase in the supply of affordable rentals. 

“What we see instead is more developments for condominiums,” he said. 

A 2020 study commissioned by the Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corporation found the relationship between rent control policies and rental supply was “inconclusive” and that further investigation is required. 

Andy Yan looks at the camera. He is wearing a pink shirt and a brown coat.
Researcher Andy Yan says Surrey, B.C., has successfully built a large number of homes, but the city severely lacks in housing for people with special needs. (CBC)

Andy Yan, director of the city program at Simon Fraser University, said it’s a complicated conversation, in part because housing isn’t just an economic product — it’s a human need. 

“Rental housing isn’t a Popsicle,” he said. “If you can’t afford that Popsicle, well, you can move on to something else. But if you can’t afford shelter, there aren’t [many] more dire situations.” 

Striking a balance

Ertl, who is also a landlord himself, believes a balance on rent control can be struck that suits both tenants and property owners.

While Ertl doesn’t have a specific figure in mind, he said a cap on rent doesn’t have to be identical to what other provinces have.

For example, it could offer a slightly higher ceiling to help landlords cover their costs while still giving tenants a bit more stability. 

“As a landlord, I do feel that it needs to be a mix to appease both parties,” said Ertl, who rents out a condo in Fort McMurray and another in Calgary. 

As for him, he’s gearing up to move into a nearby condominium with his family. The smaller space means they’ve had to downsize some possessions but will have more money to put away at the end of the month. 

McNally, for her part, is on the hunt for a new apartment, but she hasn’t had much luck so far. 

“It’s so hard right now,” she said. 

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