Coun. Shawn Cleary wants to make sure Halifax isn’t giving landlords demolition permits while their tenants are still in the building.

Cleary gave notice at council’s meeting on Tuesday that he intends to bring the following motion forward at a meeting in the New Year:

That Halifax regional council request a staff report on a bylaw for a permit process covering demolitions of buildings that include leased units to ensure demolition permits are not granted until such time as municipal staff are satisfied that a provincial residential tenancies eviction order process has reached its conclusion, including any appeals that are lawfully made by the tenant.

The motion is a response to Andrew Rankin’s reporting in the Chronicle Herald about the 45-unit building at the corner of Oxford and North streets, Ardmore Hall.

The landlord is George Giannoulis’s Mosaik Properties.

The company is planning a seven-storey, 128-unit apartment building on the site under the city’s Centre Plan rules. The municipal design advisory committee recommended in favour of the project at a meeting in September.

A rendering of Mosaik Properties’ proposal for the corner of Oxford and North streets. Photo: Paul Skerry Architects Credit: Paul Skerry Architects

In early November, Rankin reported the landlord told tenants in August that they’d need to be out by the end of November. On Dec. 2, he reported that one tenant remained in the building, challenging the landlord’s method of eviction. That tenant told the Herald he had a hearing with the residential tenancy board for Dec. 16, and was accusing the landlord of trying to flood him out.

The tenant, identified only by his first name, was taking a stand because the landlord didn’t follow the legal eviction process. Rankin wrote:

Andrew told the Chronicle Herald this week that he’s challenging his eviction because he believes no one should lose their home in a pandemic.  But he also has legitimate legal grounds to contest his eviction because he never received a notice to quit, only several letters telling him to move out by the end of November. Landlords must also obtain an order to vacate from the residential tenancies board if a tenant challenges the notice to quit.

A few days later, on Dec. 4, Rankin reported that the tenant left his apartment for a few hours and the landlord started demolishing the building.

The Halifax Examiner has asked the tenant’s lawyer for an update on the case, and we’ll update this story when we get a response.

The landlord denies the tenant was still living in the building.

“Contrary to the report in the Chronicle Herald, I can assure you that no one was living in that building during the demolition,” Giannoulis said in an email Wednesday.

“Taking that into consideration I’m not sure if the councillors motion has anything to do with our project.”

Cleary said the motion is a response to the developer’s project and the complaints he and councillors Lindell Smith and Waye Mason have heard about it.

“We’ve all heard stories before of renovictions, but we’ve never actually seen a case as egregious as this, where literally there is someone living in a building that is being torn down and they’re still in their residential tenancies hearing,” Cleary said in an interview Wednesday.

The municipality issued a stop work order, and last week, CBC reported that the municipality was revoking the developer’s demolition permit. The municipality’s open data site shows the permits were issued Sep. 25 — well before tenants were out of the building.

“If a property owner applies for a demolition permit, unless there’s some overriding reason why they shouldn’t get one, they get one,” Cleary said.

“But my feeling is, given this particular example, any property that has leased premises, if they’re applying for a demolition permit, we should be getting confirmation from the residential tenancies board that any eviction order is lawful and final, including any appeals are finished. Because if you have a situation like this where you have someone that is still going through that process and you’re literally tearing the building down around them, that should never happen. That is just ridiculous in my mind.”

Coun. Shawn Cleary at council’s swearing-in ceremony in October. — Photo: Zane Woodford Credit: Zane Woodford

Although the municipality’s Centre Plan up-zoned the building, making the new development and the demolition viable, Cleary doesn’t think this is a land-use planning issue.

“What it is, in my mind, is an issue of lack of coordination between planning and development when it comes to issuances of demolition permits and residential tenancies at the provincial level to make sure everything is completed and you can demolish a building,” Cleary said.

He’s looking for a process where a developer would attach a letter from residential tenancies to its demolition permit application confirming evictions have been completed legally, the building is empty, and appeals are completed.

“That’s kind of what I’m looking for so that when these buildings are being demolished and new ones are going up that include more units and are better designed and are a better fit for our communities — we want those and we want them to go up — but in that transition, there has to be an appropriate process to make sure everyone has been treated fairly,” Cleary said.

He doesn’t see any legal barriers to the bylaw contemplated in the motion. Assuming council approves Cleary’s request for a staff report, the new policy is still months away — a new bylaw requires first and second reading before becoming law.

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Zane Woodford is the Halifax Examiner’s municipal reporter. He covers Halifax City Hall and contributes to our ongoing PRICED OUT housing series. Twitter @zwoodford

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