Advocates for renters and landlords may have different views on some aspects of Nova Scotia's housing crisis, but during a meeting Monday of the legislature's law amendments committee, they agreed on one thing: the need for compliance and enforcement options.
Kevin Russell, executive director of the Investment Property Owners Association of Nova Scotia, told committee members that the government lacks sufficient resources to enforce the Residential Tenancies Act when landlords or tenants are found to be in violation.
He called for an enforcement and compliance unit to be created, similar to what's used in British Columbia.
"This legislature can make all the changes it wants to the Residential Tenancies Act and politicians can make all the statements they want about cracking down on bad landlords, but none of it will matter or make a difference without enforcement," he said.
More disagreement than agreement
Mark Culligan, a community legal worker with Dalhousie Legal Aid Services, agreed with Russell on the need for such a unit.
"We do need a compliance and enforcement division so that if there is a repeated pattern of allegations against particular landlords, that those can be investigated," he said.
"And if there's compelling evidence against a landlord, if they're conducting the same errors over and over again, there should be a significant penalty to follow for that."
The agreement between the two presenters pretty well ended after that point.
The problem with fixed-term leases
The proposed changes to the bill, introduced last week as part of the government's housing strategy, provide added protections for tenants against so-called renovictions. That's the process where a landlord evicts a tenant or does not renew their lease so repairs can be made to a unit, which is then put back on the market at a much higher rate.
Culligan welcomed the new protections, which include higher rates of compensation for a displaced tenant, but he said if the government doesn't do something to address the growing use of fixed-term leases, it will undercut the plan to extend the cap on rent increases for the next two years.
"If you are a landlord, why on earth would you enter into a year-to-year or month-to-month lease with new tenants?" he said.
"You should sign them all up on fixed-term tenancies because then you can do whatever you want. That is a glaring gap in the current legislation and I thought ... that the director of residential tenancies understood that and would have communicated that to the government."
'Political punching bags'
Russell, meanwhile, lamented the lack of protections in the amendments for landlords when it comes to problem tenants who don't pay rent, damage property or create disturbances in their buildings.
He said landlords are feeling like "political punching bags" and recently wrote to MLAs asking them to "cool down the rhetoric before someone gets hurt, or worse."
"Good, responsible property owners are sick and tired about being targeted by politicians to get votes," he told the committee.
Debate on the amendments will continue this week at Province House.
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