Tenants rally for rent control

Crowd gathers in downtown Halifax to demand affordable rent

More than 100 people gathered in Halifax on Saturday to call for rent control in Nova Scotia.

ACORN Nova Scotia, a community union that advocates for low-and moderate-income people, organized the rally and march. It wants the province to cap annual rent increases at three per cent. A previous rent control law was scrapped in 1993 by the Liberal government of the day.

Jonethan Brigley, former Dartmouth chair of ACORN, attended the rally outside Halifax City Hall. Brigley said his apartment building in Dartmouth was bought by a new property management company earlier this year.

“In the 10 years I’ve lived there, I’ve lost count how many landlords have been there,” he said.

Brigley said his building has become run down and some rents have been raised hundreds of dollars after common areas and units received “cosmetic repairs.”

He added that many units had unaddressed pest issues, including bedbugs.

Corrine Gilroy shares her story at Saturday’s rally.   Anastasia Payne

Corrine Gilroy said she and her husband were paying $800 a month for an apartment in south-end Halifax, but they were forced to leave in 2015 because of safety issues that included fires and broken security doors smeared in blood. Rent at their next place was $300 more a month.

“I was willing to pay anything to feel safe,” she said. “I didn’t really think about the injustice of it much until later. I just wanted to leave.”

Gilroy said tenants at that south-end apartment building have told her that the rent is now close to $1,200 per unit.

Despite having a “moderate income,” Gilroy doesn’t like to spend money on entertainment.

“We also feel like we can’t do anything with our disposable income, because we could require it for rent at the next increase,” she said.

One person carried a sign mocking Stephen McNeil’s position on rent control.   Anastasia Payne

In 2019, the average two-bedroom apartment in Halifax was approximately $1,200 per month, according to the Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corporation. The city, home to thousands of university students, has a vacancy rate of one per cent for one-bedroom units and less than one per cent for two-bedroom units.

ACORN says it has heard stories from Nova Scotians of rents being raised hundreds of dollars, forcing some tenants to choose between rent or essential medicines. The group has held several online events this year to educate tenants about their rights.

Last month, Premier Stephen McNeil  said rent control is not the solution to Nova Scotia’s housing problem. He said it hasn’t worked in other places and called it a “philosophical issue.”

The provincial NDP has tried twice to have rent control reintroduced in Nova Scotia. In 2017 and 2018, the NDP introduced a bill that would cap annual rent increases, with the cap to be set annually. Both attempts were squashed by the ruling Liberals.

Crowds gather in Grand Parade for Saturday’s rent control rally.   Anastasia Payne

Hannah Wood, chair of Nova Scotia ACORN, said rent control is just one part of a multilateral solution to Nova Scotia’s affordable housing crisis.

“It’s an idea that’s already out there in other provinces,” she said. “We want to attach on to that because it’s something people know how to do, but we want to do it better than other provinces.”

Wood encourages tenants to keep lobbying.

“Every good thing that we have, every protection that we have, every right that we have, was something that was fought for,” she said. “It won’t just be given to us.”

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