Disagreement over IRAC holding paper-based meetings
CODY MCEACHERN Cody.McEachern @saltwire.com @CodyInHiFi
CHARLOTTETOWN – P.E.I.'s rental authority says it is holding paper-based meetings for rental increase applications to simplify the process, but Island housing advocates say the process is prohibitive. The Island Regulatory and Appeals Commission's Rental Office is shifting its hearings for greater than allowable rental increase applications from over-the-phone meetings to on-paper meetings, which will see both tenants and landlords submit written evidence and submissions in place of presenting them personally. In response to questions from SaltWire Network on whether on-paper hearings were being used or not, Jaclynne Hamel, policy analyst and communications advisor for Island Regulatory and Appeals Commission, said the Rental Office is trying the new meeting format for • Between Dec. 1, 2022, and Feb. 1, 2023, the Island Regulatory and Appeals Commission’s Rental Office received 76 applications for greater than allowable rental increases, said Jaclynne Hamel, policy analyst and communications advisor for IRAC. • Those 76 applications account for 780 units across the Island, said Hamel. rental increase applications to lighten the load on the parties involved. “Greater-than-allowablerent-increase hearings can be cumbersome for the parties; they often involve a high volume of confidential evidence and financial information and may involve many participants,” said Hamel in an emailed statement. “The threshold that landlords must meet, as set in legislation, to have an increase approved is unchanged regardless of how the hearing is conducted. The idea behind paper-based hearings is to simplify this process for parties.” However, Cory Pater, a volunteer with P.E.I. Fight for Affordable Housing, said the process is not only prohibitive to tenants who may have literacy or accessibility issues, it also takes away the tenants' ability to fully represent themselves. “It's disempowering, is the way I would put it,” said Pater. “When you are in this situation, where a lot of the time the landlord is represented by legal counsel, it's very empowering to state your case in your own voice before the person who's making the decision. What this is doing is taking that power away and turning it into a process of paperwork.” Relying on paper-based hearings for greater-thanallowable rental increase applications could also cause issues for those who do not speak English or French as a first language, said Pater. He said the Island is home to many international students and newcomers, for which an over-the-phone or in-person meeting would benefit. While he and other members with PEIFAH haven't heard from anyone who has been given an on-paper meeting yet, he said having the meetings on paper is in line with a trend IRAC has been following since COVID-19 hit in 2020. “These meetings used to be held in person. You would actually be presenting in front of the Rental Office representative yourself (before 2020,)” he said. “Since then, there has been no effort to get back to that. We've seen efforts in pretty much every other field, and COVID restrictions have dropped across the board. However, these phone meetings have been held over and are now moving further from in-person hearings.” Pater also said the move to on-paper hearings for greater-than-allowable rental increases opens the door for IRAC to hold other hearings on paper. When asked if other meetings would be held on paper, Hamel said all other hearings would continue to be held by phone. However, Hamel also said under the province's Rental of Residential Property act, the director of Residential Rental Property can decide how a hearing is held. “It has always been an option for the Rental Office, like any administrative tribunal, to use a written process to conduct hearings,” said Hamel. “Paper-based hearings are also used by rental tribunals in other jurisdictions such as Ontario and Nova Scotia.” Hamel said the Rental Office would consider any request for accommodation related to future hearings on a case-by-case basis. Pater said tenants facing on-paper meetings should use that to request a different method of hearing. “I think everyone who has a hearing on paper should say, ‘Hey, I see this as an accessibility issue. I want to be able to make my case heard in the sense of people actually hearing my voice.'” he said.