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Source: CPAC

Rooming house evictions could make tenants homeless: legal group

By Jacob Moore May 30, 2024 | 6:24 PM

Tenants at a 29-unit rooming house on North Street in Halifax won’t be able to renew their leases in September because of alleged rent evictions, according to a legal team.

Some of these tenants have been homeless before, and if they’re evicted, they could be homeless again, says legal worker Sydnee Blum for the Dalhousie Legal Aid Service.

“People in the building have already experienced homelessness,” she says. “Folks are really worried that they’re going to wind up back on the street or back in the shelter system.”

The company tried to raise rents by 30 per cent for people on income assistance in 2022, according to reports, which was much higher than the rent cap at the time.

Legal worker Sydnee Blum says the company may be trying to get around the rent cap again by evicting tenants to renovate, or “renovict.”

“The landlord’s actions raise questions about whether this renoviction is being done in good faith. Across the province, we see situations where landlords are using renovictions to get around the rent cap,” Blum writes in a news release.

The North Street rooming house has 39 tenants. Many of them are low-income and have been homeless before. Many of them pay less than $1000 a month for rent and wouldn’t know where else to go if they’re evicted. On top of that, the province is dealing with a housing and affordability crisis, being short about 27,000 housing units.

Blum says all of the tenants received notices they wouldn’t be able to renew, and at least one received a notice that specifically cites renovation as the reason.

This is the notice sent to all 39 tenants of a rooming house on North Street in Halifax that says they won’t be able to renew their lease in September. (Dalhousie Legal Aid Service)

To evict tenants for renovations, the landlord has to have “all the necessary permits and approvals required by law” to renovate the building, according to the Residential Tenancies Act. 

The owner of 6273 North Street, CB MacDonald Properties, doesn’t have an active building permit for that location, according to the Halifax Data, Mapping and Analytics Hub, which has open data about building permits issued and completed in the municipality.

The city confirmed in an email that CB MacDonald hasn’t applied for building permits.

“The fact that [the permit] doesn’t exist raises a lot of questions about whether or not this [eviction] is in good faith,” says Blum.

She says she’s been door-to-door in the building, and most tenants in the building were unaware that they could be forced to leave when their lease is up. They also say no one explained why they have to resign the leases.

Building in terrible condition, says tenant

The building has been in terrible condition since the current owners bought it, says Harris Romkey, who’s been living there for 26 years, says in the Dalhousie Legal Aid release.

“There are bugs, mold, and the bathrooms barely work. Now these landlords are trying to evict 39 low-income people in the middle of a homelessness and housing crisis. It’s not right.”

Housing Minister John Lohr says that CB MacDonald contacted his department in late March. His department told them about the Rental Residential Rehabilitation Assistance Program, which offers funding for owners of affordable housing for low-income people.

However, his department hasn’t received an application yet, he says.

Community Services Minister Brendan Maguire says his department is now involved, too. They plan to see what services are already provided at the rooming house and try and help people find places to live, despite how limited their options are in the current housing market.