A rooming house in Halifax will raise rent by 30%, but only for tenants on income assistance

After living in a rooming house in Halifax for nearly 14 years, Barry Smith came home from work one evening in June to find a disturbing letter taped to his door.

The memo from its new landlords says the monthly rent per room in the 29-unit house at 6273 North St. will increase to $700 per month on August 1.

Smith currently pays $540 a month for her room, which includes a bed, table, sink, fridge, air fryer and microwave. His part of the building has no kitchen and residents share a bathroom.

The new rate represents an increase of almost 30% for Smith. Nova Scotia currently has a rent cap in place that prohibits any rent increase of more than 2% until December 2023. It also states that rent can only be increased once a year and that notice of four months must be given.

“It’s money. It’s greed, that’s all. They want more money for it,” Smith said.

The North Street rooming house was licensed in 2019 to have 29 units and 39 occupants. (Patrick Callaghan/CBC)

The letter said that the lease of those who do not pay the rent increase “will be terminated”.

Smith, who works as a labourer, said he did not plan to pay the illegal raise, but also did not want to move at a time when there were so few affordable options.

The rent increase notification letter received by Barry Smith. (Submitted)

“Where would I go? Live in a tent in a city park? I’ve been here [almost 14] years, I’ve never missed a rent payment,” Smith said. “I fight against that.”

Shortly after receiving the letter, Smith went to Dalhousie Legal Aid for help.

According to public property records, the rooming house is owned by CB MacDonald Properties Ltd. since 1983. Late last year, three men bought the business and took ownership of the North Street property in December 2021.

When CBC News contacted the owners of the building for comment, a representative emailed a statement.

“We were told we were able to adjust rents according to the housing organizations we consulted, but we believe we may not have had all the information,” the statement said.

In a subsequent email, the rep said the landlords had decided to only increase rent for tenants in the building who receive income assistance.

Rent increase is ‘100% illegal’, says legal worker

One of the owners said he estimated that more than two-thirds of the occupants of the building were receiving income assistance and that their social workers had approved the increase. He said tenants not on income assistance, including Smith, will receive notice “within 24 to 48 hours” that their rent increase is cancelled.

At the time of publication, Smith had not yet been informed.

Mark Culligan, a community legal worker with the Dalhousie Legal Aid Service, said the owners’ decision was discriminatory.

“If that is the landlord’s position, he is blatantly violating the rent cap and doing so in a way that discriminates against tenants based on their source of income,” Culligan said.

“It’s 100% illegal,” he said. “Landlords can’t raise the rent beyond 2%. It’s as simple as that.

“And what we have here is a landlord trying to get vulnerable people to pay more money at gunpoint. He can’t evict people for refusing an illegal rent increase, and they don’t can’t terminate everyone’s lease for August 1.”

A rent cap applies to any lease, depending on the province

According to the provincial department responsible for the Residential Tenancies Act, what CB MacDonald Properties is attempting is breaking the law.

“The rules set out in the Residential Tenancies Act and rent caps apply to rooming houses and weekly leases because they involve a tenant-landlord relationship,” said Blaise Thériault, a representative of the Department of Services Nova Scotia and Internal. Services.

The only tenants to whom the rent ceiling does not apply are those who have a commercial lease, those in HLM or those who rent a site in a park of mobile homes.

Theriault said tenants or landlords can request a hearing if they believe the other party is not following the rules set out in the Residential Tenancies Act or the interim rent cap.

Mark Culligan, a community legal worker with the Dalhousie Legal Aid Service, said tenants live in “unsafe, unsanitary and unaffordable” buildings because there are “no other options”. (Dylan Jones/CBC)

Lisa Ryan, housing support worker and executive director of the South Shore Open Doors Association, said community agencies are seeing a “dramatic increase” in requests for rent increases from service providers.

“I think renters are frustrated with the rising cost of living and, of course, the rising cost of property taxes, etc. They’re looking for ways to offset further cost increases,” Ryan said.

“But these increases in the cost of living are also having a rapid impact on renters. And a more immediate impact is felt by people who are on welfare or on fixed incomes.”

This photo shows the size of the building, which extends back from the street. (Dylan Jones/CBC)

Smith said if he doesn’t receive notice to cancel his rent increase, he will pursue a hearing with residential leases.

“Every tenant in this province has the right to be treated fairly and every landlord must respect those rights whether they like it or not,” Smith said.

“There are some things in the tenancy rules that landlords don’t like, there are some things in the tenancy rules that tenants don’t like. But we both have to abide by them.”