P.E.I. Housing Minister Brad Trivers told reporters Tuesday a rental registry may not be required to enforce limits on rent increases in the province.
That appears to walk back a commitment he made a year ago, when he told the house government had committed the necessary funding to make the registry a reality.
The shift in position came as Trivers confirmed an update to P.E.I.’s 30-year-old rental laws likely won’t be tabled in the legislature until the fall.
The idea of using a rental registry to track changes in rental prices over time was originally put forward by the Opposition in a non-binding motion that passed in the house in November 2019.
In March 2021, Trivers told the house “we have funds earmarked and we’re going to go out and we’re going to find out exactly how we can do a rental registry properly, so that we can make it a reality.”
On Tuesday, Trivers said the province is still awaiting a consultant’s report on the subject, raising doubts about whether government considers the registry necessary.
“Really, the question isn’t ‘Do we need a rental registry?’ It’s ‘How are we going to make sure our legislation and regulations are properly enforced and adhered to?'” he told reporters.
Maximum 2021 rent increase: 1%
Increases in rents on P.E.I. are governed by the Island Regulatory and Appeals Commission, which sets an annual maximum increase. For 2021, the maximum increase was set at one per cent.
Landlords who wish to increase rents beyond that amount are supposed to apply to the commission, and the limits remain in place even if one tenant moves out of a unit and a new tenant moves in.
But the law is only enforced on a complaint basis — meaning a new tenant has to know how much the previous tenant in a unit was paying, then come forward to IRAC with a complaint if they believe the landlord raised the rent more than allowed.
The idea of a rental registry is meant to provide a repository for that information, and a grassroots registry set up by a federal Green Party candidate in the province led IRAC to order landlords return thousands of dollars to tenants who discovered they were paying too much.
Housing costs are one of the factors pushing up P.E.I.’s inflation rate, which for months has been the highest in the country.
Highest rent increase in a decade
In 2021 the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation concluded average rents on P.E.I. — including rents from newly constructed units, which wouldn’t initially fall under the province’s rate controls — increased by eight per cent, the highest increase in a decade.
Vacancy rates have also remained stubbornly low, with the rate for 2021 determined by CMHC to be 1.5 per cent.
The province has been working on new rental legislation for years, a task begun under the previous Liberal government.
Trivers said when the new Residential Tenancy Act is ready to be tabled in the legislature — likely during the fall sitting — it could be enforced without having to track how much Islanders are paying in different apartments across the Island.
“So that we don’t end up having a third-party solution to try and catch people who aren’t — and a relatively small number is what it is — that aren’t adhering to [the law],” Trivers said.
“Any draft that we’ve tabled of the legislation does not preclude a rental registry. That could happen if deemed necessary, for sure.”
‘Financialization’ of housing market: Greens
On Tuesday members of the Green Party cited the lack of movement on a rental registry as just one example of where the King government has failed to address the housing crisis in the province.
In a motion calling for government to regulate housing purchases similar to the way it regulates land ownership through the Lands Protection Act, Peter Bevan-Baker described the “financialization” of the housing market in P.E.I., “housing that is bought not as a residence for the owner, but as an investment.”
Forty per cent of rental units in the province are now owned by real estate investment trusts or REITs, the Greens said Tuesday, claiming much of the rental revenues and the income taxes those units generate are now going off-Island.
“When housing is both a human right and an investment opportunity, government needs to ensure that the rights and needs of the more vulnerable community are protected,” he said.