A Dartmouth woman recently got a rent increase of 45% for what she believes is retaliation for making complaints about safety and maintenance issues in the building where she lives. Kimberly Rankin has lived at 6 Nivens Avenue in north end Dartmouth since January 2019. But this year, she started reporting issues around the building.
“The course of events definitely looks like retaliation,” Rankin says. “I don’t know what else to call it, if it’s not.”
Northview Apartment REIT owned the building until Feb. 26 this year when it was sold. A letter to tenants about the sale of the building didn’t include the name of the new owner. In the letter, tenants were told electronic fund transfers to Northview would be cancelled and it was tenants’ responsibility to pay rent for March to the new owner, although they weren’t told how. It was then that Rankin started having issues with the new owners.
“I figured out the landlord was a mess from the beginning,” Rankin says. “I had one person saying they were the landlord, one person saying they were the owner and there’s no management. Both wanted me to pay them in different ways. Everyone refused to give me anything in writing telling me their responsibility for the building. Both refused to accept a cheque addressed to the company… My payment type on my lease is cheque.”
She called Residential Tenancies to find out about the new landlord and how she could pay her rent, but because of COVID-19 restrictions, the agency is only taking emergency applications now.
She also did a search on Viewpoint.ca and found that the new owner is a numbered company (#3332397). The Registry of Joint Stock Companies lists the president and sole director of the company as Tracey Morrison, who has a Delta, BC address. The company’s registered agent is Elias Metlej, a lawyer at McInnes Cooper.
Rankin sent Metlej a letter explaining her confusion and offered to pay him in trust. Her letter also included details on the maintenance issues in the building and her requests for repairs. She says formal appointment of the landlord took place on May 12. A notice was posted in the hallway of the building and she got a notice weeks before that, but neither provided any more details on the owners.*
Morrison’s company also owns an apartment building at 77 Farrell Street in north end Dartmouth, which is now being renovated.
Rankin says a man named Mario Morrison started sending her partner threatening texts about paying the rent. In an affidavit he filed with the court in 2018, Mario Morrison said that he and a family member own shares “of a number of companies across Canada, which companies own a number of condominium properties (rented to tenants), apartment buildings and commercial buildings.” Mario Morrison shares the same address as Tracey Morrison.
Rankin says she called the city again in May about a problem with bugs and mice in the building. She says an exterminator did spray her apartment for bugs, although she says she’s found live bugs recently.*
On June 12, Rankin sent an email to Ann Organ, the property manager, telling her the back fire door handle wouldn’t turn and couldn’t be opened from the inside. She waited a few days to hear back, but wasn’t given a date for when work would start. The building’s front doors were smashed. She contacted the city again making a complaint under the M200 bylaw, which is the minimum standard by which buildings in the HRM, including apartment buildings, must be maintained.
On June 19, Rankin got a letter saying her rent will be going up by $300, to $995, effective January 1, 2021. She says she asked other tenants, but learned no one else received a rent increase. Rankin says she received the letter about the rent increase just hours after the work started on the repairs.
Rankin emailed Organ again on June 25, saying that while the back door was fixed, it still left the building unsecured. She took a video that shows the door can easily be pushed open. Rankin told Organ that she’d contact the city again. Organ wrote back, “Keep it up. You’re only hurting yourself.”
On Friday July 3, Rankin says she arrived home from her overnight work shift and found herself locked out. The locks on all three outer doors wouldn’t work. She and another tenant had to wake up a third tenant to get into the building. Rankin says she doesn’t know when she’ll get a new key.
Rankin says there are other issues in the building, including a fire alarm that goes off and her oven is broken, which is an issue because of her disability and an injury.
“I was born missing my lower left arm,” Rankin says. “My right arm sustained a torn rotator cuff, ruptured ligament and AC joint sprain. My function is limited to an extent and having my arm out in front of me for stirring/flipping are positions I’m suppose to avoid. Never mind the logistical issues presented by stove top cooking and stirring a pot while not being able to stabilize it. I largely rely on takeout or precooked meals but when everything closed up and our income was affected by COVID-19 this was not possible. The positions I’m suppose to avoid are irritation and muscle tension from overuse. Without access to physiotherapy, this created issues with pain, migraines, and actually impacted the range of motion in my residual limb. I tried explaining this to Residential Tenancies over the phone, to put forth an application, and the lady actually cut me off as soon as I mentioned the word disability and said ‘no,’ cut me off, and was not interested in actually hearing me.”
“I’m not the only one with maintenance issues in the building. [Tenants] are being told [the owners] need to hire somebody, but I’m sorry, it doesn’t take four months.”
According to Maggie-Jane Spray, a spokesperson with the HRM, there have been seven M-200 bylaw complaints against the property at 6 Nivens Ave. so far this year. Rankin says she’s made three of those complaints.
The Examiner reached out to Mario and Tracey Morrison by email and called Mario Morrison for comment. We’ve received no response.
Darcy Gillis is a housing support worker with Dartmouth Housing Help. He says his office was working with tenants at 77 Farrell St., which is owned by the Morrisons. Some of the tenants from the Farrell Street property moved to 6 Nivens Ave. The property at Farrell is now being renovated and Gillis says he’s heard the rents there will go up considerably.
“Our concern at the time is that these individuals would be renovicted again, but we were never able to make contact with the property manager at that time … just because of the pandemic and individuals not having access to phone lines we weren’t able to follow up with them,” Gillis says.
Gillis says renovictions are becoming a huge issue in north end Dartmouth.
“A lot of the buildings in north Dartmouth have been in need of some repairs for some time,” Gillis says. “We find a lot of people are buying the properties, and thankfully they are doing the maintenance that is needed to keep the buildings in good standing, but in doing so, they’re also jacking up the rent considerably higher than what people are normally paying, with a percentage being usually 25% or more on some of these rents. It’s quite concerning.”
“We’ve seen instances where rents have doubled completely. It’s becoming quite hard and quite difficult for individuals who are quite far below the poverty line, especially those on income assistance.”
Gillis says his office has seen similar renovations happen in Fairview within the last two years and they’re expected to happen in other neighbourhoods, too.
“The time has come for Spryfield, as well,” Gillis adds. “The rents are just rising astronomically, and part of that is because the demand is so high for units.”
Gillis says the city needs more affordable housing.
“What we’d like to see is more community co-ops, non-profits take on housing roles and provide housing to different individuals and families in the community. Part of the barriers is that a lot of the co-ops and non-profits in the community find it a little bit difficult to maintain their current housing stock. So, that has always been a barrier for them. We also need developments to happen where more consideration is given to those who are lower income. We have so many individuals who are on income assistance who are staying at hotels all through the HRM. We know these hotels are not a long-term solution. It’s quite expensive to put people up in hotels. There’s just nowhere else for them to go.”
Dartmouth North MLA Susan Leblanc says her office has been receiving calls about increasing rents in the community since about July or August 2019.
“All of a sudden we noticed most of the cases that came to our office were about rent increases or the lack of available or affordable housing,” Leblanc says. “I think people expect small increases, incremental increases a year, but many of the people were coming were saying like $100 or something completely unmanageable.”
She says her office advises clients on the ways they can navigate through the Residential Tenancies system, but because there is no rent control in Nova Scotia, landlords can raise rents as much as they like each year.
“Landlords can raise the rent by a $1,000, if they wanted,” Leblanc says. “There’s nothing to protect the tenants.”
Leblanc introduced rent-control legislation when she was first elected in 2017. She says she heard about the issue when she was campaigning and it has since become a crisis.
“We recognize rent control is one piece of a larger housing policy revamp that needs to happen in Nova Scotia,” Leblanc says. “We’re also talking about the need for real, true investment in affordable housing, in not-for-profit and co-op housing, as well. There’s money available from the federal government. The province has signed a bilateral agreement and when you look at those numbers, when it shakes down there’s not much new housing going to be built. And we have a real problem with vacancy right now. In Dartmouth North, the big issue is availability of affordable housing and we think the best way to do that is through the not-for-profit and rent control.”
Leblanc says there are a number of people being evicted because of rising rents. She says last fall in the legislature, she talked about a constituent who was on income assistance and told Leblanc’s assistant she couldn’t afford her rent anymore.
“The worker gave them money to buy a tent,” Leblanc says. “That’s an actual story. There are people living in tents. There are lots of homeless people. The other issue is people are staying in unsafe environments or they are going without other necessities. We have a number of people now who receive $850 a month, and their monthly rent is $795. With that difference, that’s what they’re using for food, medications, clothing, whatever. Essentially, it’s an impossible situation for many people.”
Rankin says she and her partner had planned on staying at the building on Nivens Avenue until April 2021 when she finishes school, but they may look into buying a place soon. She says she knows she’s not the only tenant experiencing rent increases and issues in the buildings where they live.
“Living in four provinces, I have never dealt with a landlord like this,” Rankin says. “What I think people need to know is what their rights are, what they are entitled to, and what’s happening isn’t just them. I think people need to start working together and pressing government to enforce rights and draft legislation. Landlords get away with this because people are afraid to do anything, but change doesn’t happen if we stay silent.”
The Halifax Examiner wants to hear from renters about large increases in rent and their other problems with landlords. Please email [email protected]
*As originally published, the building wasn’t sprayed for bugs, but Rankin’s apartment was. Also, Rankin didn’t receive a notice under her door. We apologize for the errors.
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