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Prior Tenants Alert Current Tenants To Illegal Rent Raises On Prince Edward Island

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

Now, how do you know if you're paying too much rent? In Prince Edward Island, Canada, the rent on any apartment can only go up a certain percentage each year by law. But how would you know if you've just moved in? To find out if your rent is too high, you would have to know what the previous tenant paid. And that gave Prince Edward Island resident Darcie Lanthier an idea. Why not connect the dots, get the previous tenant, tell the new tenant their rent? She told us about the plan she hatched last week.

DARCIE LANTHIER: I thought I could just encourage people to write home, like, to their old address. But then I realized they needed a lot more information. So I just developed a card, like about the size of a Christmas card that, says on the front, are you paying too much rent, when I moved out and it has a place for the date, I was paying this much rent. And then it tells them about the increases. So right away, you know, if I moved out and it was $1,200 and you're paying $1,500 well, you're paying too much rent. So then it just - inside it has some very direct information on exactly how to fix the problem.

KELLY: OK. So to summarize, this requires the previous resident just to fill in two things - date they moved out and how much rent they were paying. What kind of reaction are you getting as you go around knocking on doors and handing them these cards?

LANTHIER: Well, the very first card that was delivered was actually delivered by a friend of mine. And the current tenant was paying - that was that $1,200 to $1,500 jump. If they file a form too, which the instructions are in the card, they will probably get $5,400 back in overpaid rent.

KELLY: Wow.

LANTHIER: And their rent will be decreased back to the legal limit.

KELLY: That is worth filing your form, too.

LANTHIER: It's a life changing-event, in many cases.

KELLY: I'm guessing landlords might not be quite so happy with this project. And in fairness, there are some legit reasons to raise rent if you've done renovations or something, right? What kind of feedback are you getting from them?

LANTHIER: The first bit of feedback I got was great from landlords who do follow the rules and the process, and they're not really happy with their reputation being tarnished by the people who are not. There is a process. If you do renovations, you can apply for a non-standard rent increase, but they're not going to give you $500 a month if the only thing you did was, I don't know, paint the bathroom.

KELLY: I saw you've got a Twitter account set up - @apartmentold. How much attention are you getting on social media? How big do you imagine this could become?

LANTHIER: I was absolutely floored. You know, I've been on Twitter for 10 years. I think I have 2,600 followers. This account was open for four days and it has just over 10,000.

KELLY: Yeah, I'm looking at it now. You've beaten 10,000 and still going.

LANTHIER: Which tells you housing is an enormous issue everywhere. People from across the States have written to me. I had a long chat with a fellow in Wisconsin. And there's a group, as a result of my Twitter feed, are going to do the same thing in Montreal, try and organize something on the ground there.

KELLY: I can't let you go without asking about the name - My Old Apartment. I read that's an allusion to a song by Barenaked Ladies, the Canadian band.

LANTHIER: That's right. So they have a song called "Broke Into My Old Apartment" (ph), and we don't want any of that going on. But it just got in my head as I was thinking about the problem. And once you listen to that song, you will find it in your head, too.

KELLY: (Laughter) I think you've just given us the music we're going to need to go out on.

LANTHIER: That would be great.

KELLY: That is Darcie Lanthier. She is the force behind the My Old Apartment project in Prince Edward Island, Canada.

Thank you so much.

LANTHIER: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF BARENAKED LADIES SONG, "THE OLD APARTMENT") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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