Landlords warn that P.E.I.'s housing crisis is about to get worse

Judy Zuppan-Grialdi said she gets 'ridiculed' for posting rents higher than people want to pay. (Wayne Thibodeau/CBC - image credit)
Judy Zuppan-Grialdi said she gets 'ridiculed' for posting rents higher than people want to pay. (Wayne Thibodeau/CBC - image credit)

An association representing P.E.I.'s landlords warns that the housing crisis in the province is poised to get even worse, given that fewer new rental properties are being built and large and small companies alike are selling off their rental units.

Judy Zuppan-Grialdi said she is barely breaking even when she and other building owners rent out units these days, though prospective tenants might think otherwise.

"When I advertise a property for $2,300, I'm totally ridiculed, being told I'm gouging and greedy," she told CBC News on Friday.

Yet interest rates have soared, property taxes are up, and regulations are taking a toll, said Zuppan-Grialdi, who's also a property manager for other owners as well as a builder.

"The tenants, on the other side, are paying the maximum amount they can pay, so it's a real struggle for both the tenant and the landlord."

June Ellis is the executive director of the Residential Rental Association of P.E.I.
June Ellis is the executive director of the Residential Rental Association of P.E.I.

June Ellis is the executive director of the Residential Rental Association of P.E.I., which held a meeting Thursday night that attracted about 60 landlords. (Wayne Thibodeau/CBC)

June Ellis, the executive director of the Residential Rental Association of P.E.I., said landlords need the right to bring in rent increases that reflect the inflated cost of doing business these days.

Everything from heating fuel to landscaping has risen in price, she pointed out.

"There's the maintenance. There's appliances. All the other costs have gone up, significantly. Like, they've skyrocketed. And when we had zero per cent [rent increases], you just couldn't do any extra upkeep on a place either, so it's hurting the tenants too."

Affordable housing advocates on P.E.I. have long said tenants simply can't afford any more rent increases, with consumer inflation up but most incomes not keeping pace. At the same time, the province's rock-bottom apartment vacancy rate at a time of high demand has led to the classic economic result: higher prices for what is being offered.

Ellis said landlords have to be able to make a profit to stay interested in owning units.

"P.E.I. is the most difficult province in Canada for residential property owners and they're not going to invest, they're not going to invest anymore," she said.

Secondary unit plan recommended by planning committee.
Secondary unit plan recommended by planning committee.

Prince Edward Island's rents have been rising as the province's vacancy rate stays in the cellar. (CBC)

Zuppan-Grialdi has seen what that looks like.

"A lot of them are selling, unfortunately. We seem to be losing properties instead of gaining properties," she said.

"I've probably sold seven different properties this year for my investors. They just can't take the stress of the loss every month.… They're out of pocket $400-$500 a month and properties that are being rented out now for about $1,995 to $2,150 are taking a huge loss."

Pressures like that were top of mind when more than 60 landlords took part in the first annual meeting of the Residential Rental Association of P.E.I. Thursday night.

This chart from the WorkPEI site is based on Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation data.
This chart from the WorkPEI site is based on Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation data.

This chart from the WorkPEI site is based on Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation data. (WorkPEI)

The meeting was closed to the public, but Ellis said it was a chance to discuss concerns facing the industry, and search for possible solutions.

She said landlords would like to see a freeze on property taxes, and changes to regulations so that when a tenant moves out, rents can be increased to current market value.

That's not allowed on P.E.I. at the moment.

CBC News reached out to Housing Minister Rob Lantz for an interview Friday, but he wasn't available.

His office sent a statement saying they understand landlords' concerns, but also have to balance those with tenants' need for affordable housing.

It also said there are programs to help landlords, including the recently announced HST rebate on new rental housing construction.