Karen Sharp has no evidence that angry tenants were responsible for last week’s shooting of two vans emblazoned with her company logo.
“But it seems targeted,” said Sharp, owner of Leading Edge Property Solutions on Somerset Street in north Saint John.
As far as she knows, no other vehicles in the parking lot outside the company’s office were hit on the night of May 10.
Saint John police say the damage appears to be consistent with that caused by pellet guns. They say they are still investigating. No one has been arrested or charged.
A van was fired three times through the front windshield. A second van was shot through the driver’s side window. Police said there were also dents in the bodywork.
Sharp, who worked in Saint John property management for 15 years and started her own business seven years ago, said she detected more animosity and hostility between tenants and landlords, including property managers.
“We definitely saw a little split between landlord and tenant, and that seemed to happen at the end of March,” Sharp said.
That’s when the province announced it would impose a 3.8% one-year cap on rent increases retroactive to Jan. 1.
A small number of tenants now feel empowered to refuse reasonable rent increases, Sharp said. Meanwhile, homeowners feel ambushed by legislation they haven’t factored into their investment decisions.
Sharp says his company runs 500 units and 85% of his customers are out-of-town investors.
These investors face rising costs across the board, she says. This includes higher property taxes and utility bills.
They also have to absorb the costs when the apartments are damaged. Sometimes the units are left in disrepair and it costs “thousands of dollars” to get them repaired, Sharp said.
Tenants’ attorney says mood is tense
Jill Farrar said she hasn’t heard of any tenants attacking landlords or their property.
“That doesn’t mean it’s not happening,” said Farrar, secretary of the New Brunswick chapter of ACORN, a national organization that represents low- and middle-income people and often advocates for affordable housing. “There are certainly people on both sides, I’m sure, who have done unsavory things.”
She thinks the current mood is tense.
“People are getting rent increases that they just can’t afford with the salary they’re earning. Market values are going up, so it’s hard to buy a house, and it’s creating a lot of stress, frustration and even trauma for families and people looking for housing.”
It didn’t help, she says, when a video emerged showing about 20 Moncton-area landlords and property managers openly discussing various ways to get around the cap on rent increases.
“There’s still no protection against ‘renovictions,'” Farrar said. “So hearing that it’s possible and that landlords are talking and planning and sharing ideas on how to get rid of people, that creates anxiety among tenants.”
2,500 names on Saint John’s blacklist
Gerry Webster said there were still issues between some landlords and tenants, and he didn’t detect more tension than usual.
“There will always be a conflict when one person has to pay and the other collects,” said Webster, president of the Saint John Apartment Owners Association.
“We only have one source of income, and that’s rent, and if the tenant can’t pay the rent, that’s not the landlord’s situation,” he said.
Webster said damage to apartments is a factor in rising rents, which is why his group maintains a list of problem tenants, accessible only to the association’s 100 members.
He said there were up to 2,500 names on that list.
“It’s a major issue and it needs to be reflected in the rents,” he said.
The staff are afraid of the future
Sharp said she was asking her staff to take precautions they hadn’t had to take before.
Vans are no longer parked in front of the office overnight.
Employees have been encouraged to travel in pairs if they expect to encounter an unhappy tenant.
And Sharp has retired from social media. When she posted photos of damaged apartments, she said she was accused of being a sleepy landlady.
She predicts that the problems will get worse if all parties do not come to a better understanding.
“I’m all about a rent cap,” she said. “As long as it’s fair to both parties. We have to figure out what the market rent is.”
“A lot of these buildings that sell, they have long-term tenants who paid, say, $650 for a two-bedroom. That’s not market rents today. Maybe 15 years ago.
“But because the previous owner didn’t have a mortgage, he didn’t have to post a raise. Now the buildings are selling way beyond demand and the new owners can’t come in and make [the numbers] work.”
Meanwhile, she says, she lives with some anxiety about what might happen next.
“I loved my job,” Sharp said. “Now it’s at a point where I’m like, ‘What’s going to happen today?'”