Lewes Boulevard apartments seen on May 17. (Dana Hatherly/Yukon News)

Lewes Boulevard apartments seen on May 17. (Dana Hatherly/Yukon News)

Yukon’s temporary rent freeze recapped at 3.3%

Opposition parties continue to debate whether rent cap works after first year of interim policy

Landlords must not bump up rent by more than 3.3 per cent, effective on or after May 15.

As of May 15, 2021, residential rent increases are being indexed, or tied, to inflation. The consumer price index (CPI), which is calculated by the Yukon Bureau of Statistics each year, is used to calculate the annual rent index.

The inflationary adjustment went up from one per cent last year.

There is no rental cap on what new tenants can be charged.

The interim policy change took place under the Yukon Liberal Party-NDP confidence and supply agreement, which ends Jan. 31, 2023, in order to secure support in a minority government.

The government’s website indicates the change is part of a “broader approach to achieving stable affordable housing” alongside building new lots and providing subsidies to renters.

The official opposition has criticized the rent control policy.

Yukon Party MLA Brad Cathers asked about rent control during question period on April 28, the last day of the legislative assembly’s spring sitting.

“Since the Liberal government imposed the disastrous rent control policy, Yukoners have seen serious negative impacts on the rental market,” Cathers said.

“Rent is going up across the board. Landlords are selling units. Tenants are being evicted. An investment in new construction of rentals will suffer. The facts are clear that this policy simply doesn’t work.”

In reponse, Minister of Community Services Richard Mostyn said the government is working to increase the lot inventory and housing stock across the territory. Mostyn explained the rent index is an NDP commitment that will end in less than a year.

Despite what the official opposition argues, the NDP takes the position that the rent cap works when it comes to preventing rent hikes and stabilizing the rental market.

“This is a standard approach to bring balance between landlords’ rights and tenants’ rights,” reads an NDP news release issued on April 28 following the debate in the legislature.

“Prior to the implementation of the rent cap, our office was regularly contacted by Yukoners being faced with 40 per cent or even 60 per cent rent increases. The rent cap has helped people fighting against these unfair, unaffordable and unsustainable rent hikes.”

Gary Brown, senior information officer with Yukon Bureau of Statistics, said the market here has been tight, with a low vacancy rate, for years.

“The impact of the rent controls really didn’t play into the vacancy rate at all, because it was already tight,” he said.

“We thought it was tight 10 years ago, but it’s nowhere near as tight as it is now. Our population is increasing the highest in the country [and] there’s continued pressure on the housing market.”

READ MORE: Yukon’s rent control is so far, so predictable

The bureau of statistics releases territory-based rent data, which tracks the median rent and varies by year and location.

In February, the Yukon Bureau of Statistics published the results of its October 2021 rent survey, when the median rent for rental units in all types of buildings in Whitehorse was $1,233 and the vacancy rate was 2.3 per cent.

At the time, the median rent for buildings with three or more rental units, which is most common, in Whitehorse was $1,100 and the vacancy rate was 1.9 per cent.

That is $50 higher than October 2020 and $29 higher than the April 2021 survey results, when the vacancy rate was 2.1 per cent.

Brown said that increase in rent over time is part of a continuing trend upward.

“To say that that was due to the new rules is, we couldn’t say that – that’d be a stretch.”

Historical data suggests the median rent for buildings with three or more rental units was $800 in Whitehorse in 2011.

The cost of rent went up from $775 in 2011 to $884 in October 2021 in Watson Lake.

For Dawson City, rent went from $650 in 2011 to $1,000 in April 2020 to 2021, then it climbed to $1,200 in October 2021.

The statistical report flags it is difficult to analyze the data for Watson Lake and Dawson City due to high variance or a small number of responding units.

Brown explained one criticism of the survey is that it uses median rent, which means half the rent prices are below it and half are above it, so, for example, it includes long-term tenants who might be getting a break on the cost of rent.

President Lars Hartling of the Yukon Residential Landlord Association characterizes the temporary rent control measure as a “clear populist policy” that is actually more of a supply and demand issue.

“No one’s rent went down,” he said, adding that the rental housing supply cannot keep up with the Yukon’s booming economy.

Hartling criticized the government’s use of CPI to calculate the rent index in that it is too general.

Moving forward, Hartling wants to see more consultation with the landlord’s association on policies that directly impact the housing market before such policies go ahead.

The auditor general of Canada will be releasing a report on Yukon housing to the Yukon Legislative Assembly later this month.

That report will determine whether the Yukon Housing Corporation provided Yukoners with “adequate, affordable and suitable housing when and where needed” and also whether the Department of Health and Social Services “supported vulnerable Yukon residents who were homeless or at risk of homelessness by providing access to housing to meet their needs.”

READ MORE: Survey from landlord association details effects of Yukon rent increase freeze

Contact Dana Hatherly at dana.hatherly@yukon-news.com