‘Housing is a basic human right’: Tenant protest happens over Zoom

    A group of around 40 tenants gathered on Zoom last week to speak out against COVID-19 evictions and rent increases. (Submitted: Tricia Robinson)

    A group of around 40 tenants gathered on Zoom last week to speak out against COVID-19 evictions, advocating for a two per cent cap on rent increases and extending the grace period for late rent to 30-days instead of the current seven-day period.

    On Jan. 29, New Brunswick ACORN held a Virtual Tenant Protest. The link to the protest was open to the public.

    Sarah Lunney, a member of the N.B. ACORN, facilitated the protest and acted as the moderator. She is also a board member at the Saint John Community Food Basket, a food bank located in Uptown Saint John.

    “I just think that housing is a basic human right,” said Lunney.

    “No one should have to be subjected to homelessness, especially in a country as rich as Canada where we pride ourselves on being champions for human rights, yet we’re leaving a large portion of the population behind who are in very vulnerable situations.”

    ACORN is a membership organization made up of low to moderate-income people fighting for change. Their campaigns are dedicated to social and economic justice.

    The organization is a non-profit and each member pays a monthly membership fee of $15 to $30, whatever the member can afford, to contribute to the funding. ACORN has been active since 2004 and there are currently 24 chapters across nine cities in Canada.

    Sarah Lunney, a member of the N.B. ACORN, facilitated the protest and acted as the moderator. (Submitted: Sarah Lunney)

    Lunney is a member of the N.B. ACORN because she advocates for the increase of tenant rights in the province. She said N.B. has the least number of rights that benefit tenants and since the start of the pandemic, rent increases have been a concern. She said the government is trying to say it’s not a big issue within the province right now, but the protest showed otherwise.

    During the hour and 45-minute long protest, tenants spoke out about their personal experiences with evictions. There were guest speakers, phone calls made to MLA offices and a dial-in option for people who couldn’t attend the Zoom call.

    Lunney is not facing eviction, but hearing everyone else’s stories motivated her to get involved.

    “It’s becoming increasingly prevalent during the pandemic,” she said.

    Another member of the N.B. ACORN, Ty Wolfe, joined the organization because of how they’re fighting for people’s rights. Wolfe is experiencing tenancy and landlord issues. They attended the Zoom call to bring attention to the on-going issue within the province.

    “It’s such a heavy thing that is overlooked by a lot of people,” said Wolfe. “Some people think that they might be the only people experiencing this kind of thing, and it’s not the case.”

    Wolfe first moved into their Moncton apartment in December 2019 and there were already issues with the unit.

    Ty Wolfe, a member of New Brunswick’s ACORN chapter, is experiencing tenancy and landlord issues. (Submitted: Ty Wolfe)

    The biggest issue upon moving in was a hole in the bathroom ceiling. The hole was repaired as they moved in, but eight days later, water started pouring out from the bathroom vent. Wolfe drilled holes in the ceiling to allow the water to drain into the bathtub.

    When the pandemic started in March, Wolfe explained to their landlord that they were losing work and would have a hard time paying rent. They offered to move out, but their landlord told them they’d figure it out.

    Multiple other issues had continued to occur over the year such as having to replace a heater, water damage, moldy baseboards and multiple drafts throughout the unit. Wolfe continued to inform their landlord and was told someone was coming to fix it, but no one showed up.

    After bringing up the problems, Wolfe was told by their landlord they would be fixed once they could pay back the two months they missed during lockdown. Wolfe told their landlord that they had proof they had tried to work something out.

    On Jan. 18, Wolfe was served eviction papers.

    Their landlord came into their apartment, pulled out the eviction papers and walked out. Wolfe ran after the landlord to their car but was ignored.

    By the eviction notice, Wolfe would have to move out of their apartment by Feb. 2, but they realized the address on the notice does not match their current address. Since then, Wolfe attempted to contact their landlord and even wrote a four-page letter that they planned to send with everything that went wrong in the past year.

    Wolfe’s main goal right now is to advocate for tenant rights and landlords doing their jobs.

    “People in charge of living conditions should not be allowing their tenants to live in unfair conditions and to disregard certain things like people’s health over the fact of your profit.”