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Harris Romkey has lived at the North Street rooming house for 26 years. (Jacob Moore/Acadia Broadcasting)

Halifax rooming house landlords serve incorrect eviction forms: legal group

By Jacob Moore Jun 10, 2024 | 6:00 AM

Many tenants at a rooming house in Halifax won’t have to move out by September, despite letters from the landlord saying they would be evicted, according to Dalhousie Legal Aid.

Many of the 39 tenants have short-term leases, and based on the paperwork the landlord asked them to fill out, they can’t legally be evicted, according to Sydnee Blum, a legal worker with the group.

“Based on the information that we’ve seen from tenants, the right forms have not been served to them. And so they wouldn’t have to leave for September first. They can effectively ignore the [eviction] notice that they got,” says Blum.

Dalhousie Legal Aid and Nova Scotia Legal Aid workers, along with MLA Gary Burrill, visited the rooming house, located at 6273 North Street, on June 3 to gather information from tenants and provide legal aid services.

Some of the tenants have previously been homeless. Because they’re low-income, and because of the housing crisis in Halifax, they could end up homeless again if they’re evicted, Blum previously told our newsroom. 

One of the bathrooms at the North Street rooming house is pictured on June 3, 2024. (Jacob Moore/Acadia Broadcasting)

The building’s conditions are also poor. Inside, for instance, there’s garbage on the hallway and bathroom floors and mold in the showers.

Blum says they found there are multiple tenant-landlord arrangements in the building.

Fixed-term tenants can be evicted, says legal worker

Several tenants have fixed term leases, many of which end in September. People in these situations can be evicted once their lease runs out without much reason, she says.

Mostly, Blum says they were trying to give those people resources to find new places to go, because “they haven’t really heard anything” about where to go in September or where to find support.

Some of the tenants are on periodic leases, which means they rent month-to-month. Blum says the legal teams wanted to give those folks as much information as possible, because they could have some legal protections.

Some tenants don’t have leases at all says Blum.

Joe Rulz lives at the rooming house on North Street in Halifax, and he doesn’t know what he’s going to do if he’s evicted in September. (Jacob Moore/Acadia Broadcasting)

Harris Romkey, who’s lived in the building for 26 years, says that he was “grandfathered” in when the new owners took over.

“When I came in, I gave them the cash, paid the damage deposit and that was it,” says Romkey.

He doesn’t know what situation that puts him in, and he doesn’t know where he would go if he moves.

“It’s like being told to jump off a ship in the middle of the ocean and there’s nowhere to go, right?”

Incorrect forms to evict periodic-lease tenants, says legal worker

Based on the forms sent to tenants, the legal groups found many of the forms weren’t the right ones to evict people for renovations, or the forms weren’t filled out properly.

“Effectively, people can ignore the September first deadline. They haven’t been served an eviction order,” says Blum.

Blum says tenants received a DR5 form. If the landlord and tenant sign this form, then they both agree the tenant will end their tenancy so the landlord can renovate.

But tenants don’t have to sign this form. If they don’t, the landlord would have to apply for an order to vacate from the director, a written decision from a residential tenancy officer, says Blum. Tenants haven’t received that order, either.

Instead of an order to vacate, Blum says many tenants also received a Form F, which is a notice to quit for additional circumstances, not because of renovations. Blum says that’s not “an appropriate form for rent eviction.”

On the Form F, where the landlord lists the reason for eviction, some forms say “pending major renovations.” But on other forms, there was no reason given, says Blum.

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)

“Even [a Form F] alone is not necessarily enough to evict a tenant, so effectively, until [the tenants] get word from the Residential Tenancy Board that an officer of the director has ordered vacancy for the unit, they don’t have to be out,” says Blum.

Periodic-lease tenants would also be entitled to money equal to three months’ rent or three months living there for free if they get an order to vacate from the director.

Building permits needed for eviction

The landlords also need proper building permits to get the order to vacate, which they don’t have.

The Acadia Broadcasting newsroom previously reported that CB MacDonald Properties doesn’t have an active building permit for the North Street rooming house, according to the Halifax Data, Mapping and Analytics Hub.

The city also confirmed that the owners didn’t have any building permits for the properties.

Blum says the Residential Tenancies Act is explicit: if landlords want an order to vacate for renovations, they need an order to vacate.

Some tenants may challenge fixed term leases

Some tenants say they were previously on periodic leases, but then the new owners, who took over in 2021, went around and told people they had to resign. When tenants did, some ended up signing fixed term leases, says Blum.

Because some of the residents didn’t understand the change or how it would impact them, Blum says they may be able to challenge the terms of their fixed-term leases.

“Not just in this building but anywhere in the province, if that were to happen, tenants would have a case to challenge the term of their lease,” says Blum.

Another bathroom on the second floor of the North Street rooming house is pictured on June 3, 2024. (Jacob Moore/Acadia Broadcasting)

Blum wouldn’t say how many tenants were on periodic or fixed-term leases, in case tenants challenge their leases, which would change those numbers change.

But that depends on what tenants want. If they choose to challenge their leases, Dalhousie Legal Aid will help them out, she says, but they won’t tell anyone what to do.

Owners say they followed proper steps

The owners of CB MacDonald Properties, Tom Jockel, Dan Jockel and Adam Conter.

In an emailed statement from Conter, the owners say they’ve followed every rule in the Residential Tenancies Act.

They say they’ve reached out to nearly 20 housing organizations in the last three years for guidance on staffing and other supports.

“We were told that the only way we can get support is to be a charity, and that a charity would only want to support if the building was empty. We’ve reached out to provincial bodies and we’ve even offered to work with the City of Halifax on the shelter opportunity,” the statement reads.

They say accusations against landlords grab headlines, but they’ve “offered to act as partners and work towards a constructive solution for the community.”

In a different email, Conter says this is a “far larger” issue than landlords and tenants.

“The system is widely broken and needs us all to re-evaluate and help,” he writes.

Gary Burill, NDP MLA for Halifax and Chebucto, says he was happy to visit tenants at the rooming house because he represents them in the legislature.

For those people to get an eviction notice in this housing crisis, he says, that’s “a one way ticket to the street.”

Burrill says, if the housing crisis is causing extreme circumstances like this, then the government needs to do more for affordable housing.

“It’s the people who live in situations like those in the North Street rooming house who are paying the price for that,” he says.