New federal measures for renters are welcome, but lack important details

March 28, 2024

Yesterday, the federal government announced measures from its upcoming 2024 budget which it says will “make the playing field fairer for renters.”

Creating a new Canadian Renters’ Bill of Rights 

Renters’ rights are a patchwork across Canada. Each province and territory has its own laws, and they vary dramatically from place to place. To take just two examples, different provincial laws provide vastly different protections – or more often, lack of protections – against evictions and excessive rent increases

It is high time that the federal government take a leadership role in establishing standards for fair, robust legal protections for renters everywhere in Canada. Today’s announcement is welcome, but the proof will be in the pudding. The government says that it will develop its bill of rights in partnership with provinces and territories. We hope that it will also work closely with renters and renter organizations to understand the real issues they face in the housing crisis. 

It is clear that the government needs the help. For example, it says that its bill of rights will “require landlords to disclose a clear history of apartment pricing so renters can bargain fairly.” That would be hugely beneficial in Manitoba, Prince Edward Island, and Quebec, where current laws provide some protection against rent increases between tenancies. But in other provinces, deeply harmful “vacancy decontrol” policies allow landlords to raise rents between renters by any amount, regardless of what they previously charged. The government needs to consult with renters to ensure that the bill of rights includes effective protections such as ending vacancy decontrol. 

Only the provinces have the legal authority to amend residential tenancies laws, but a bill of rights would establish national standards for the provinces to meet. Done properly, a renters’ bill of rights has the potential to bring fair, robust protections to renters across Canada. 

Launching a new $15 million Tenant Protection Fund

Renters need legal support. As rents across the country climb out of control, more and more renters are struggling to pay the rent each month – and facing the threat of eviction when they fall short. Eviction cases are decided by tribunals whose proceedings can be hard for renters to understand and navigate – and which are not always set up to be fair. Legal representation can help level the playing field.  

Seven provinces and territories provide little or no legal aid for renters facing eviction. The other provinces provide some legal aid, but it’s often plagued by funding shortfalls and cuts. In every province and territory, most renters have to represent themselves in eviction proceedings. 

We are glad to see the federal government recognizing that legal aid for renters is important, but $15 million is a drop in the bucket that does not respond to the depth of need and the enormous number of evictions taking place across Canada.

Making sure renters get credit for on-time rent payments 

Finally, the federal government says that it will make sure that rental payment history is taken into account in renters’ credit scores. This is a problematic proposal. Although the government says that renters’ credit scores will improve when they pay their rent on time, we are in a housing and affordability crisis. More and more renters, through no fault of their own, are struggling to pay their rent on time. We urge the government to ensure that late or missed rent payments do not negatively impact renters’ credit scores. 

What’s missing

While it is encouraging to see greater federal leadership on renters’ rights and protections, these measures alone will not be enough to tackle the housing affordability crisis. As outlined in our federal pre-budget submission, significant investments are needed to build and preserve affordable housing across the country, prioritizing the public, non-profit, and cooperative housing sectors that provide deep affordability over the long term. Moreover, low-income and other marginalized renters need direct short-term support to maintain their housing in the midst of rapidly escalating costs. We also call on the government to adequately fund an Urban, Rural, and Northern Indigenous Housing Strategy, take concrete action to curb the growing financialization of housing, and support the implementation of the right to housing in Canada. 

We hope these initial measures announced for renters are the first among many new initiatives in the 2024 budget to ensure all people in Canada can live in secure and affordable homes.

Get the latest updates about the right to housing in Canada