Nothing is more intimidating for the average person than trying to wade through a piece of government legislation. That’s where the Calgary Residential Rental Association (CRRA) comes in. Since 1959, this non-profit society has been helping landlords and tenants navigate the legislation surrounding the residential rental market.
The association was founded by the original owner of the Elbow River Casino as a means to facilitate networking for landlords in the city. Since then, it has grown in scope and size. Members now fall into one of three categories: owners and managers of residential rental properties; service companies that provide a product or service in support of the residential rental industry; or non-profit organizations that either provide affordable housing solutions or consist of professional trade associations.
It was formerly called the Calgary Apartment Association, but in 2010 the organization changed its name to better reflect the ever-evolving member demographics. With a membership of around 1,050 across the province at the end of 2015, ranging from large property management and residential leasing companies to small landlords with one rental unit, the CRRA is the largest residential rental association in Alberta. Its mandate is simple: to help its members succeed in their business.
“We want to make sure that our members have all the tools that they need to be effective and successful in their business,” says Gerry Baxter, executive director of the CRRA.
To achieve this end, the CRRA offers a number of valuable resources to its members. Eight times throughout the year, the CRRA hosts seminars and luncheons at Hotel Blackfoot. Seminars are geared more toward property managers and landlords, while luncheons are more general and cater toward the membership as a whole.
These luncheons often feature high-profile speakers such as Mayor Naheed Nenshi and Brian Burke from the Calgary Flames. These events present members with a great opportunity to network and learn from others in the industry.
“Being a smaller landlord can be quite isolating, but when they come to our events, there have been lifelong friendships forged – it’s very cordial and it’s a good sense of community,” says Nikki Petrowitz, administrative assistant at the CRRA.
The atmosphere is friendly at board meetings, seminars and luncheons, the growing trade show event, and social events like the awards gala and annual golf tournament. While many members are competing with each other in the marketplace, when they gather at CRRA events they are always willing to share information. Representatives from larger rental companies are happy to help those from smaller ones learn the business.
“When you put them in a room together, they share information and work very well together, and it’s one thing that has always impressed me. It’s a harmonious working relationship,” Baxter says.
The CRRA is happy to share information as well. Five times per year, Gerry Baxter teaches a two-day course on the Residential Tenancies Act of Alberta. It covers the legislation from start to finish and guides people through best practices and how to apply them to their businesses. In 2012, the provincial government awarded the association with a Consumer Champion Award of Merit in the Non-Profit category for this two-day course. Since 2007, nearly 1,100 residential property owners and managers from Calgary and elsewhere in Alberta have taken the course.
While these seminars and luncheons are open to non-members, membership saves attendees 50 per cent off the cost of attendance. In many cases it’s cheaper to join the association and take advantage of the discounts available than to pay full price at the events. Members can also take advantage of deals extended from service providers.
“We have an exclusive discount program, and some of the service members partake in it and offer a tangible discount to our members,” says Sarah Harrison, financial administrator and event coordinator for CRRA.
The service companies in the association work in a wide range of businesses, with some of Calgary’s best plumbers, electricians, bailiffs, roofers and restoration companies among them. Members enjoy reduced rates from many of the 143 service companies that also hold memberships.
However, the discounts are not the only benefits to membership. The CRRA provides members with information, assistance, discounted forms and documents, and referrals that help them in running their rental business.
“We are like insurance for our members. They may not need us all the time but when a problem arises most of our members find a simple call to our office is all that is required to solve it,” says Jordan DeBarros, business development and marketing manager of the CRRA.
The four members of the CRRA staff have all taken the Residential Tenancies Act course, so they are very familiar with the legislation and can answer most questions that are posed to them. With such a complex industry, there are bound to be questions that in-house staff can’t solve, but they will make sure members are connected with an outside source who will have the answer.
They aren’t lawyers so they can’t provide specific legal advice but they can provide information about the legislation specifically as well as what is happening in the industry in general in order to put members on the right course.
“We are one of the few associations that we’ve found that actually provides that service right out of the office. We are a great resource for people,” says Baxter.
Owners can join the association and immediately start enjoying the benefits of having this knowledge base at their fingertips. There’s no wait time. As soon as they have paid the membership fee and agreed to the code of ethical principles, they can access all that the CRRA has to offer.
The code of ethical principles is also required for membership from prospective service and non-profit members. This agreement states that members must comply with all laws and regulations applying to their business and the industry, carry on work in a way that enhances the image of the profession and the association, and act in a professional manner. The CRRA also asks that its members continue to upgrade their knowledge and to treat those they encounter in their business with fairness and respect.
“We just expect our members to be honest, ethical and to treat customers and others with dignity and respect – that includes from the owner/managers and the tenants too,” says Baxter.
Membership is open to any residential rental property owner or manager regardless of how many units they own or manage. Many of the CRRA’s members are smaller businesses with one or two units. Often they have purchased rental units as investment properties to supplement their incomes, and they use the rent money to help pay down their mortgages, put their kids through university or build their retirement portfolio. Nearly 60 per cent of CRRA members own or manage fewer than 11 units, and 38 per cent have fewer than four.
It’s these members that the association is eager to attract most. For many of these owners, the rental property is a side job and they don’t consider it a business. They don’t realize that if they don’t follow the rules and do things right, it could get very costly for them. The association guides these owners through the process and strives to alleviate the disconnect often experienced between being a small landlord and being a businessperson.
Small and large landlords aren’t the only ones who can be confused about the legislation. Tenants often don’t understand the expectations related to residential rentals. The CRRA works closely with many groups in the community to educate people about the rights and responsibilities of landlords and tenants. Over the past five years, the CRRA has reached 1,200 people through presentations to student groups like those at Bow Valley College and Chinook Learning Services, organizations including the Centre for Newcomers and the Calgary Catholic Immigration Society, and First Nations groups including Siksika and Tsuu T’ina Nations.
“We provide them with a fair and balanced presentation about the Residential
Tenancies Act talking mostly about landlord and tenant rights and responsibilities under the legislation,” says Baxter.
This arms people with the right information so they can ensure their landlords are doing the right things, and it makes them better tenants knowing what their responsibilities are as well. Both the CRRA and its members are active in the community, lending a hand wherever they can.
Most recently, CRRA members provided housing solutions for evacuees during the Fort McMurray fire and supplied many units to Syrian refugees looking for housing in Calgary. Many members also work with non-profit social housing agencies in helping house thousands of homeless Calgarians.
The association has also partnered with the Calgary Housing Company and the Calgary Homeless Foundation on projects that provide a hand up to individuals and families in need. In 2007, the New Start program saw members stepping up to provide more than 1,000 rental units over the course of a year for families and working-poor Calgarians. At the end of the four-year program, 2,200 people had rent-supplemented housing and were on their way to self-sufficiency. Last December the Home for the Holidays program obtained funding and members provided housing for around 30 families in time for Christmas.
In fact, the association and its members are very active with social agencies on a regular basis. This goes against the stereotypical image of a landlord who isn’t concerned with the well-being of tenants and the community at large. The truth is they are hard-working, compassionate people who are invested in their community.
This truth is something the CRRA wants to convey to the government as well. Most landlords are small businesses who work with social agencies to support the community. The association has had a great working relationship with municipal and provincial governments and acts as the voice of the industry to government. Members of the association participate on government committees relating to the housing and rental industries to ensure that initiatives and laws represent what is best for the industry as a whole.
“It’s important that we have our ear to the ground on behalf of our members because we work hard to ensure the laws work well and that they are fair to both landlords and tenants,” says Baxter.
Since 1959, the CRRA has been helping residential rental owners and managers grow their businesses and be successful. With incredible resources only a phone call away, and with an amazing network of members, the Calgary Residential Rental Association is an essential tool for Alberta landlords, service companies and non-profit organizations.