An advocacy group is calling for a review of Alberta tenancy rights and an investigation into a landlord Facebook group that secretly blacklisted hundreds of tenants.
Public Interest Alberta (PIA) states that revelations about a secret “don’t rent” list in Edmonton reported this week by Postmedia show tenants in this province are at a disadvantage. The list contains more than 440 names, including the children of some tenants.
Tenants at both provincial and municipal levels need more protection, PIA spokesman Bradley Lafortune said, and change should begin with Alberta’s Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner (OIPC) investigating possible privacy and human rights violations in the Facebook group.
“It was horrifying to see…that can have serious consequences for people’s lives,” he said in an interview. “The lack of oversight and lack of tenant rights in this province is really being exposed.”
Provincially, Lafortune thinks it is time for a thorough review of the Housing Rental Act (RTA). Some form of rent control — such as those that exist in Ontario and BC — should be included, he said.
“I think the market has changed a lot, affordability is an increasing problem and so is uncertainty about housing. It’s just high time we took a close look at that legislation,” he said.
Donna Monkhouse, executive director of the Alberta Residential Landlord Association, also thinks the RTA can be improved. While she’s not exactly sure what that would look like, she’s not a fan of rent control.
“A lot of landlords say the RTA is more for the tenant than it is for the landlord, so it has to be fair to both parties, and it has to be realistic,” she said.
One problem is how difficult it is to collect money from tenants who cause serious damage to a property, she said — even after a court orders them to pay: “They need a way to get some of their money back.” .”
City and province respond
Mayor Amarjeet Sohi said he has recently called for the province to improve minimum rent standards. The city is also already looking at how to better support tenants and a report is due to be presented to the council in March 2023, he noted.
“This is a problem that the city and county can solve together,” he said in an emailed statement. “I believe supporting tenants is the key to having an inclusive city and I look forward to working with my community colleagues to increase landlord responsibility and tenant rights.”
Sohi also called the blacklist “completely inappropriate” and a violation of privacy.
The provincial government did not respond to a question about PIA’s calls to change the RTA. But Alberta’s Secretary of Service, Nate Glubish, wrote in an email that landlords acting in a commercial capacity must by law obtain a tenant’s consent to collect, use or disclose their personal information.
“The OIPC’s position is that this alleged behavior is likely to violate[privacy laws]. I encourage any Albertan to report inappropriate or suspicious practices, such as secret ‘do not rent’ lists, to the OIPC, which is responsible for enforcing and interpreting the law,” he said.
Facebook group makes changes
The local landlords’ Facebook group has updated its name and description in response to Postmedia’s coverage.
Administrator Lori O’Sullivan – who appears to be the romantic partner of former co-administrator and attorney Joshua Threinen – announced the changes on Tuesday.
“Following the news item about our group, some changes will be made. We’ve decided to update the group name to remove the negative and encourage all experiences, not just the negative,” she wrote to the group.
The ‘don’t rent’ list, however, remains a prominent part. Some members have since suggested downloading the list and saving it to a server in case the group is disbanded.