MLAs stand in support of a motion to limit rent increases on March 8, 2023.
Northwest Territories MLAs have passed a motion requesting that the territorial government institute a rent cap.
The motion, put forward by Great Slave MLA Katrina Nokleby on Thursday, was supported by all nine regular MLAs in the House at the time. Cabinet abstained.
Nokleby’s motion called on the NWT government to update the territory’s Residential Tenancies Act “to include maximum allowable rent adjustments which are no more than the five-year average of the Canada consumer price index.”
The motion recommends that rent increases above the cap be possible only through an application to the NWT Rental Office.
The NWT government has 120 days – the standard period of time when a motion like this passes – in which to respond. However, with a territorial election coming just after that point, any concrete action on rent caps will almost certainly fall to the newly elected government.
“Excessive and unexpected rental increases in private rental units can result in debilitating rents, especially upon low-income earners,” said Nokleby as she brought the motion forward.
She noted that the territory’s low vacancy rate and strong demand place significant upward pressure on rental prices. The Residential Tenancies Act sets no limit on the extent to which rents can be raised, though it does limit the frequency with which rent increases can occur.
“It leaves our residents vulnerable,” said Nokleby. “As we have seen, it’s very apparent to large landlords that they can just come in and increase rents in apartments without doing any updates and sometimes not even providing any heat.
“I think it sets a dangerous precedent if we don’t do anything to stop this, because there’s nothing that’s going to stop large REITs like Northview from deciding that they don’t want to rent to low-income families and that they would rather rent to professionals and students.”
Tu Nedhé-Wiilideh MLA Richard Edjericon, who has frequently raised housing issues in the legislature, said the NWT government needed “a mechanism, a tool in our tool chest,” to manage rent increases.
Yellowknife MLAs Kevin O’Reilly and Caitlin Cleveland were supportive but recommended further discussion before proceeding.
“This is one of the tools that we can have in our arsenal to try to prevent homelessness,” said O’Reilly. “If you look at the motion, this is a request for this issue to be examined … I do think we need to have this discussion and debate, and I look forward to the response from the government on this.”
Cleveland said the territory needed to balance the interests of tenants with the sustainability of the housing sector and the NWT’s ability to attract developers.
“We don’t want to end up with no one willing to enter the housing game because there’s no certainty in them being able to recoup their costs,” the Kam Lake MLA said.
“I will be supporting this motion today because it simply asked the government to explore the balance between affordable housing and sustaining the industry for developers.”
Nokleby said exceptions could be made for developers and small landlords in some circumstances.
“The intent is not to kneecap landlords, particularly not small landlords,” said Nokleby.
“I really want them to feel that they’re supported and that they’re really needed in our territory.
“I wanted to get the dialogue started. I wanted the territory’s residents to understand that their leadership is listening to them, that we hear them, and that we do understand that the cost of living is becoming unbearable.”
Ultimately, the Department of Justice has the final say on whether to amend the Residential Tenancies Act.
Justice minister RJ Simpson did not attend the vote. He is out of the territory this week attending meetings regarding immigration alongside other territorial, provincial and federal ministers.