Halifax regional council has passed a bylaw to create a registry for apartments and landlords in the municipality.
The new Bylaw R-400, Respecting Registration of Residential Rental Properties, will require landlords to register their rental properties in HRM by April 2024. They’ll also need to have a maintenance plan. Staff told council the bylaw will help the municipality shift from a complaint-based inspection system to a proactive system. It passed second reading during council’s meeting on Tuesday, along with amendments to beef up Bylaw M-200, Respecting Standards for Residential Occupancies.
“The intent of this is to require that you have to be registered to rent, and then stay on top of making sure that people are getting the minimum standards,” Coun. Waye Mason told reporters on Tuesday.
“This will directly impact the safety of those tenants and the quality of life for the people around them.”
Mason said the changes to M-200, like requiring landlords to provide a kitchen sink “that flows and drains free from obstruction,” are based on real events.
“That was a direct response to Mosaic Properties blocking the drains in the building that they were trying to tear down at Oxford and North,” Mason said.
“They plugged those drains and flooded out the still occupied apartment below.”
Deputy Mayor Sam Austin spoke during council about a building he saw while canvassing in 2012. He described doors off hinges, broken windows, and a leak in the hallway that had soaked the carpet for so long it was sprouting mushrooms.
“I wish all this wasn’t necessary. In an ideal world it wouldn’t be, but we live in a world where a small group of people let mushrooms grow in hallways,” Austin said.
Landlords opposed to registry
The Investment Property Owners Association of Nova Scotia (IPOANS) is opposed to the bylaw. After the bylaw passed first reading in January, IPOANS asked the provincial government to intervene. The Houston government passed Bill 225 in November 2022, giving itself the power to nullify any municipal bylaw related to housing and development.
“To be clear, we support all reasonable regulatory measures to protect the health and safety of tenants, staff and property owners/operators. But they must be enacted in a manner that ensures consultation, procedural fairness and decisions based on evidence, not conjecture and anecdote,” IPOANS executive director Kevin Russell wrote in a February email to Municipal Affairs and Housing Minister John Lohr.
“We continue to maintain the By-Laws passed at first reading by Halifax Regional Council meet the thresholds for nullification as set out under section 204 (1) of the Halifax Regional Municipality Charter Act.”
Mason said there was consultation with the group as part of a 2019 consultant’s report, and he’s unmoved by its opposition.
“I don’t like being bullied,” Mason said.
“I am not interested in that conversation with them, threatening to go to the premier like he’s our dad to use 225 to override our attempts to do our job.”
ACORN wanted more
For the local chapter of the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN), landlords’ opposition is no surprise.
“Every industry fights regulation. I’m sure the people who owned coal mines wanted to keep the kids working in them,” Hannah Wood, Halifax Peninsula ACORN chair, told reporters outside city hall on Tuesday.
ACORN would’ve liked to see the bylaw go further. It wanted HRM to charge landlords a licensing fee.
“We did want this to have a licensing fee for landlords so that it can pay for itself, but the city is confident that they have hired enough additional staff and bylaw to administer this without charging,” Wood said. “But I hope in the future, if it doesn’t, if it ceases to be affordable that way they do add to the fee system.”
ACORN also wanted HRM to publish all violations on its open data site. The municipality plans to publish only more serious violations, where landlords don’t fix them quickly, along with a list of rental properties and landlords.
The motion to approve the new bylaw and the amendments to minimum standards passed 15-1. Coun. Paul Russell voted no, and argued the bylaw didn’t provide enough benefit to justify its cost.
“I think that the intent is good, I think that the hopes are good, I think that the promise is good. I don’t think we’re seeing enough benefit for it. And I don’t think we see the cost of it as accurately as we should,” Russell said.