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Landlord-tenant law overhaul underway

Bill gets positive reviews despite lack of details

The Selinger government is overhauling the law governing landlords and tenants to make rent increases more predictable and transparent and to address several other long-standing grievances from both groups.

The province will also make it easier for landlords to evict dangerous lawbreakers and protect renters from needless displacement due to building renovations. And it will allow landlords to increase pet-damage deposits to new tenants in the hope more buildings will open their doors to pets.

Consumer Affairs Minister Jim Rondeau said Bill 40 (the Residential Tenancies Amendment Act) will enable the government, in consultation with landlords and tenants, to establish a formula to govern annual rent hikes.

The current annual government-set increase has been criticized for appearing to be purely arbitrary.

Rondeau said the government wants to establish a formula -- possibly based on the consumer price index -- for rent increases the public can readily understand.

At the same time, it will tighten requirements for above-rent guideline increases and limit the size of increases due to renovations to lessen the immediate impact on tenants.

Bill 40 generally got positive reviews from both landlords and renters on Wednesday. But the legislation itself contains few details. How it ultimately affects both sides will be determined in the crafting of the accompanying regulations.

Rondeau promised Wednesday there will be lots of consultation.

"We're going to be talking to both landlords and tenants to see what is fair," he said, in responding to questions about the proposed rent-increase formula.

Avrom Charach, spokesman for a prominent landlord group, said he was pleasantly surprised to see the province is finally looking at devising a predictable rent-increase formula.

His group has been advocating for such a move for many years. Manitoba is one of the last provinces with rent controls to adopt a clear formula for increasing rents, he said.

"If it's fair and transparent, that's what's most important," said Charach, a board member with the Professional Property Management Association, which represents owners of some 65,000 apartment and housing units in Manitoba.

Brent Mitchell, who rents in the West Broadway area, said he hopes the new rules will prevent landlords from jacking up rents sky-high after undertaking mainly cosmetic building renovations.

A common complaint from renters is landlords neglect their properties for years and then apply for rent-guideline exemptions to fix up their buildings. Some have repeatedly applied for exemptions, something the province is looking to limit.

Mitchell said he and other tenants in his building are being asked for an above-guideline increase right now.

"In our case our (hallway) carpet was deteriorating over (the) years... because nobody was shampooing it, nobody was vacuuming it. And then they replaced the whole thing and now they're asking us to pay for it," he said.

Mitchell, a member of the board of the West Broadway Community Organization, said his area has lost more than 1,000 affordable housing units in recent years due to rapidly rising rents.

larry.kusch@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition May 16, 2013 A6

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