A housing advocate is declaring Lanky Court Apartments uninhabitable and calling for a state of emergency on behalf of low-income tenants after a rat was captured in one of the units of the Northview building recently.

Lisa Thurber, community advocate and founder and executive director of the newly-formed Tenants Association NWT said this week that after a “big, hairy and black” rodent was trapped by a tenant at Lanky Court within the last two weeks that it’s clear that landlord Northview is not being properly held accountable to maintain its buildings.

“This particular tenant has already been trying to get into public housing and is on the public housing waiting list,” Thurber explained. ”She first relocated herself because of mould and cockroaches and she is really ill. So she had to get out and in the process came across some sort of droppings. She presented the picture to me saying this (the rat) is what I got in my apartment today.”

Although the tenant initially believed it was merely a mouse, Thurber — a longtime NWT resident — pointed out that it was much worse.

“I said, ‘That is not a mouse and that is a rat,’” Thurber recalled, noting that it was the first time she had ever heard of a rat in the NWT.

Thurber has been advocating on behalf of the tenant to get a response from the territorial government. She’s calling for a state of emergency to be declared and a thorough extermination of any pests in the building the building, which she says would require moving all tenants out until all rats are removed.

“But the problem is where do you put these people with such a housing crisis in Yellowknife?” she asked.

Thurber said the discovery of the rodent exacerbates a problem that has already been well documented in the Lanky Court building, which includes cockroaches due to extensive moisture and uncomfortably cool temperatures for tenants.

She said she remains frustrated that Housing NWT seems incapable of responding and holding Northview accountable to address these problems. She added that both parties blame each other whenever she raises complaints.

“I just can’t believe that for a territory of 45,000 (residents) and so many households, which is just a fraction of Edmonton, that we can’t provide healthy homes.”

A staff member at Northview in Yellowknife who answered the phone told Yellowknifer, “I don’t believe we have any rats here,” but declined to look at a photo of the dead rodent in question.

A pest control specialist in British Columbia, who asked not to be named, said the presence of a rodent may not be a serious problem if immediate preventative measures are taken, such as blocking potential points of entry, inspecting areas like roof soffits and using snap traps to eliminate the rodents that could be present.

“You would want to figure out how it has gotten in because it would be more noticeable than a mouse getting in,” the spokesperson said, noting that if there is one, there is a good chance there are more.

“They can tend to breed pretty quickly and can be a problem if not corrected.”

Rent control

Thurber said she’s also calling for a rent cap or short-term legislation that would prevent rent increases until there are more market housing options available. She pointed out that low-income tenants in some apartments in Yellowknife have seen sharp increases in rent of up to 46 per cent over the last year despite there being constant complaints about mould, heating and other problems not being addressed.

“We need (the rent cap) because if you think of some tenants in places like Birchwoord (Townhomes) — some of whom got a 46 percent rent increase and the majority of tenants in that building are low income families who rely on income assistance — why is the landlord doing this and why is there such a high rental increase in buildings with no heat?”

Yellowknifer sent questions on March 9 to the GNWT Department of Municipal and Community Affairs and Housing NWT for comment about the situation.

Responses were still forthcoming as of Thursday afternoon.

Great Slave MLA Katrina Nokleby said she’s supportive of Thurber’s efforts and she tabled a successful motion in the legislative assembly on Thursday calling for the Residential Tenancies Act “to include maximum allowable rent adjustments which are no more than the five-year average of the Canada consumer price index.”

However, the motion also calls for the act to ensure “that increases to rent above the five-year average of the Canadian consumer price index can be applied for by private landlords to the NWT rental officer.”

The motion passed 9-0 with all of cabinet abstaining.

Nokleby said she wants better accountability for low-income renters.

“I’m hoping increased pressure and the creation of the tenancy advocacy group will help empower and protect tenants,” she said. “I want to see the GNWT hold Northview and other landlords accountable for maintaining their buildings better.”

The Tenants Association announced in a Facebook message that there will be a town hall meeting on Saturday at the Makerspace Unit at 101, 5001 Forrest Drive.

“We will be hearing from tenants and their concerns with their rentals, and showing how coming together in solidarity we can fight landlords for better rental buildings in the NWT,” the association stated on Thursday.

Correction: A previous version of this story misstated which riding Lanky Court Apartments lies in.

Simon Whitehouse

Simon Whitehouse came to Yellowknife to work with Northern News Services in 2011. Simon obtained his journalism education at Algonquin College and the University of Ottawa. Simon can be reached at...

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