News / Calgary

‘The market here is out of control’: Stories of rent hikes and real estate in Calgary

When Cathy Janes heard Mayor Naheed Nenshi admonish some Calgary landlords for price “gouging,” it struck a chord.

The mother of two said she works two jobs to support her two sons, who spend half their time with her and half with her ex-husband, as part of a shared custody arrangement in which she receives no child or spousal support. She had been paying $1,300 a month to rent one side of a duplex in Cedarbrae with a master bedroom and two “tiny” bedrooms for her boys, up from $1,200 the year before, which she figured was a “totally acceptable” increase.

Then she got a call this summer, informing her the rent would rise in November to $1,700 – an increase of 31 per cent.

Janes said she tried negotiate but the property management company told her the owner “was not interested” and the reason for raising the rent was simply “because she could.”

Despite the “unreasonable” rent hike, Janes opted to sign another year’s lease rather than scramble in her limited spare time to find a new home on short notice.

“Frankly there isn't a lot out there that is any better,” she said, adding that she’s now considering cancelling her cable, Internet and landline service to help make up the extra $400 a month in rent.

Randy Tate, meanwhile, said he got a call from his landlord after a “brief spike” in the price of natural gas last spring, informing him the utilities-included rent at his Cambrian Heights home was going to jump to $1,425 from $1,175, an increase of more than 21 per cent.

Tate said his rent has increased a total of 42.5 per cent in the past five years, something he suspects is more tied to the price of real estate than the price of natural gas.

“As housing prices go up, rents seem to follow,” he said. “(Premier Jim) Prentice says: ‘Let the market decide.’ … Well, the market here is out of control.”

The City of Calgary employee is now looking at buying a place through the Attainable Homes program.

“But my fear is that, even though I make a decent wage as a municipal employee, if I don’t act soon, Attainable Homes may not be attainable,” he said.

Bill Blake, a member of the Alberta Landlords Association, said rent prices do “follow the market” to some extent, but many of his fellow members were upset by Nenshi’s on-air accusation last week of price gouging.

That likely happens in some instances, Blake admitted, but it’s not a widespread practice, especially among experienced landlords who want to keep good tenants.

Blake also noted that, while times are good for many landlords today, it was just five years ago that many were “struggling financially, themselves” in the wake of the recession.

“There weren’t a lot of tenants out there wanting to rent from them,” he said. “Meanwhile, the mortgage bill had to be paid.”

That’s something he said all landlords – especially the largely “mom and pop landlords” that make up his association – need to prepare for by raising rents incrementally and building up savings when cash flows are strong.

“With oil prices dropping these days, who knows how things are going to be next year?” he said.

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