Legislative assembly on the last day of the fall sitting in Whitehorse on Nov. 22, 2018. The government and opposition party voted down a motion brought forward by the NDP on Dec. 9 that proposed a six-month freeze on rent increases to help renters during the pandemic. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)

Legislative assembly on the last day of the fall sitting in Whitehorse on Nov. 22, 2018. The government and opposition party voted down a motion brought forward by the NDP on Dec. 9 that proposed a six-month freeze on rent increases to help renters during the pandemic. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)

Proposed six-month freeze on rent increases voted down in legislature

The Yukon has no limit on annual rent increases.

The government and opposition party voted down a motion brought forward by the NDP on Dec. 9 that proposed a six-month freeze on rent increases to help renters during the pandemic.

The NDP had asked the legislature to pass a ministerial order under the Civil Emergency Measures Act to prevent rent-increases until July 1, 2021.

“What we’re proposing will help folks directly as we keep working to get through this pandemic together,” said NDP leader Kate White.

“Rent right now is the biggest cost that many Yukoners have to pay each and every month, and ensuring that this cost doesn’t increase during a pandemic should be our priority in making life here more affordable,” she said.

The Yukon has no limits on annual rent increases. Both British Columbia and Ontario have caps on annual rental increases and have decided to freeze rent increases during the pandemic. Nova Scotia has decided to introduce a new limited cap.

“So, there are, I guess, examples of it across the country, but not everyone is doing it — that is for sure,” said Minister John Streicker.

The Liberals suggested the third party didn’t bring enough evidence to the legislature that renters were struggling with the costs of rent during the pandemic. Ministers referenced existing pandemic supports – including CERB and the Canada-Yukon Housing Benefit.

Minister Ranj Pillai and Streicker suggested the NDP did not do their homework prior to the motion. The wording does not refer to residential or commercial rents, for example, and ministerial orders can’t have a fixed date like July attached to them.

The NDP responded that the Liberal government – which has an entire staff to help craft policy – could have reacted constructively to the motion, adding to it in order to get it to a workable place.

Both the Yukon Party and Liberal MLAs spent considerable time describing how a restriction on rent increases would be a burden to landlords in the territory.

“Rather than limit what landlords and property owners can charge for the use of their property, we wonder if providing direct support to renters who need it may be the better option,” MLA Geraldine Van Bibber said.

“It is easy to dismiss property owners, but the reality is that they are Yukoners too and, in many cases, depend on the income from their properties to provide for their families,” Van Bibber said.

Pillai agreed, referring to landlords as “people who have saved their money, invested in an asset, and now they’re renting it out.”

Only Liz Hanson and White voted in favour of the motion.

“That is all we’re asking for. Let tenants get through the pandemic without being at risk of losing their homes because of rent increases, and the government has said no. It is too bad,” White said.

“I have said that it is not illegal. Is it right to increase someone’s rent by 30 per cent, 40 per cent, 50 per cent, or 100 per cent? That’s a matter of opinion,” she said.

Pillai suggested the motion was an attempt to score political points before an election.

“But right now, my sense is that, if the Yukon Party and our government vote this down — what this is really about is: ‘We’re nice; you’re mean’ — and that’s what it’s about,” he said. “At the door during an election — to be able to walk up to someone’s door and say, ‘You know what? I tried to make sure that there was a rent freeze, but the other folks voted it down.’”

“Well, you know what? It doesn’t hold weight. The work wasn’t done,” he said.

Contact Haley Ritchie at haley.ritchie@yukon-news.com

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