No one knows how many rental units there are in Halifax or what state they are in, but a new rental registry coming sometime next year could change that.
On Tuesday, the new Halifax regional council amended the Respecting Standards for Residential Occupancies bylaw, also known as M-200. The bylaw outlines the minimum standards that residential properties must meet with fire safety and basic living conditions. Last year, a request from council asked municipal staff to prepare amendments to the bylaw “that include provisions for mandatory registration of rentals,” but instead those will be included in a separate report expected to be ready for council in the spring.
Coun. Waye Mason was pleased the amendments provided “clarification around what is a bylaw violation.” For example, noise complaints create conflict between property owners and university students renting in the area about who is responsible. Under the amended bylaw, the landlord must submit a written plan to the city on how they will deal with a valid noise complaint.
“There’s so many pieces in here that my residents – and all of our residents – have been demanding for years,” said Mason, who represents Halifax South Downtown.
The amendment introduces tiered fines for violations. A first offence has a minimum $150 fine, a second offence is $250, and a third is $450. The amendment does not change the maximum penalty of $10,000 or two months in prison.
Mason said that the bylaws will “have to go a step further” to deal with landlords that try to force evictions. “I think if you take the doors off of somebody’s unit – as had happened right before the election – you should be fined $10,000 without any further debate. Clearly that kind of behaviour should not be allowed but that’s for another day.”
Currently, tenants report violations of the bylaw to the city by calling 311. Since September, the city has entered this information the Open Data website. It currently has 20 entries beginning on Sept. 10 of this year and has no historical data.
The number of rental units in the city is unknown. A consultant’s report in 2011 found 61,380 units while a recent HRM analysis found 57,000. Thirty-five per cent of building records do not provide unit counts at all. The hope is that the rental registry, by gathering this sort of information, will stop problems before they start. Matt Covey, division chief of fire prevention for Halifax Regional Fire and Emergency, said that “proactive inspections are definitely part of our goal.”
Coun. Kathryn Morse raised a concern that the bylaw amendments and rental registry would raise costs that would be passed onto renters. Covey said that the “fees to register are nonexistent” and that the plan is to “try to reduce costs.”
“The regulations that we’re expecting, the level of the standard is very reasonable. We understand that we don’t want to risk landlords having to invest a lot of money on properties and increase the rents,” said Covey.
About the author
Preet Bhogal is a journalist in Halifax and has a dog named Cole. He writes about politics, health, and social justice issues.