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Rents go up at Yellowknife apartments plagued by heating issues

Birchwood Apartments in Yellowknife on December 7, 2022
Birchwood Apartments in Yellowknife on December 7, 2022. Caitrin Pilkington/Cabin Radio

Residents of Yellowknife’s Birchwood Apartments and Townhomes say their battle for heat continues – and they now face rent increases, some as high as 46 percent.

One tenant who was paying $1,975 for a three-bedroom unit reported an increase to $2,950 a month. The CMHC reports average rent for a Yellowknife three-bed unit was $2,095 in 2021, the latest available data.

For one resident, who asked not to be identified to discuss the sensitive matter of their tenancy, these increases add insult to injury. Heating problems and other issues at the apartment complex, first reported in December, have been ongoing for years and are continuing with the building under new ownership.

“These places are most definitely not worth $3,000 a month,” she said. “These units are unfit.”



That tenant described more than two years of huddling with her kids to sleep on the ground floor because of the cold and the poor condition of the bedrooms.

Mold in the bedroom ceiling at Birchwood in a photo provided by a tenant.

“The mold in the master bedroom is right above my bed. We would wake up all the time when the snow melted bits of the ceiling down on us,” she said.

“We had to shut off power to the bedroom because the light kept filling up with water. I was scared it would catch fire.”

She says her two-year-old has developed a chronic cough and her other young child is falling behind in school due to constant colds.



“The heating is still a huge issue,” she said. “It’s always freezing cold. I’ve brought it up so many times now, and it keeps getting pushed to the back burner.

“It’s taken a huge toll on us all. My mental health is going down the drain having to deal with all of this, and my kids are always sick.”

Frost forming on the inside of a Birchwood residence earlier this month.
A Birchwood tenant sent this image of curtains frozen to windows.

“Most tenants don’t have heat,” said another resident. “They have some machine on-site to temporarily help with the heat issue, but neighbours still have the issues. And when we call in, there are long periods of time before – or even if – anybody comes.”

Kenny Ruptash took ownership of the buildings in November 2022.

Asked about these issues, an unnamed representative of Ruptash’s business, Nahanni Construction, answered and said the “majority” of units are heated.

“The maintenance of the heating systems at Birchwood has been ongoing, with the majority of townhomes’ heat back on full time,” the representative wrote in an email.

“There are a few townhomes that are periodically experiencing heat issues and are being dealt with as they arise. A permanent installation will be required when temperatures allow.

“In the meantime, residents with any maintenance issues can contact the property manager who has, and will continue to be, responsive in rectifying issues as quickly as possible.”



The property manager, Direct Management, did not respond to a request for comment.

Landlord has ‘increasing cost pressures’

On top of problems related to heat and mold, several tenants said they were informed that raw sewage is leaking underneath some units.

“Everyone feels that they are trying to have us all move out,” said another tenant. “That is why they are raising the rent so high. How can people afford jumps like that?”

But Ruptash’s representative said that while the cost of living may have risen for workers, so has the cost of being a landlord.

“Increasing cost pressures that face all homeowners have resulted in a substantially higher cost of operations,” they wrote.

The representative listed increases to city property taxes, a “consistent increase in the prime lending rate by the Bank of Canada,” the ending of carbon tax rebates on home heating fuel (a change due to take place in April), and “general inflationary pressures impacting all goods and services required to operate and maintain housing stock.”

The representative also clarified that some tenants are seeing higher increases than others due to an effort to standardize the amount everyone is paying.

“Rents have been aligned with current market rates available for comparable units (base rent and included utilities) in Yellowknife,” they wrote.

But tenants feel that even with these additional costs, a 30-percent increase or higher in a town with few other options is unfair.

“We understand the need for increases, but there has to be something changed to cap these amounts,” said one tenant. “People will end up homeless.”