A Halifax rental registry is one step closer to reality after council on Tuesday.

Council voted to give first reading to the new Bylaw R-400, Respecting Registration of Residential Rental Properties. Once the bylaw passes second reading at a future council meeting, it will require landlords to register all rental properties in HRM.

With the registry in place, the municipality will be able to start proactively inspecting apartments to ensure they meet minimum building standards for safety. The current system relies on complaints from tenants. The standards are being updated too, with included amendments to Bylaw M-200, Respecting Standards for Residential Occupancies.

The municipality says it will work with landlords to bring their properties into compliance, and publish violations in an online database.

“Hallelujah, hallelujah, hallelujah,” Coun. Waye Mason said on Tuesday.

Mason has been working toward the bylaw since he was first elected in 2012.

‘Real and present danger’

“Our job is to make sure that buildings are safe,” Mason said.

There were apartments being built that didn’t meet minimum standards, the Peninsula South councillor said, and that’s why he pursued the registry.

“We’ve had people jacking up buildings without a permit, putting in an illegal basement suite, not putting fire-rated drywall, and not being worried about having a secondary egress so that if the place is on fire, people can get out,” Mason said.

“This is a real and present danger. These things actually are happening in our community. And it’s not just on the peninsula.”

Coun. Pam Lovelace said she doesn’t think there are many rentals in her Hammonds Plains-St. Margaret’s district, but she supports the bylaw.

“The system that we currently have relies on people to stand up and be brave and speak out against the landlord,” Lovelace said.

“This is about a power imbalance, where we have very vulnerable people, young people who are moving here for the first time to attend university, seniors who have just sold their home looking for a safe place to live, folks who generally would be afraid to speak out and complain and put forward an M-200 complaint to the municipality. I think really what this is, is what it looks like for HRM to be growing up.”

Centrist Savage praises middle ground

In a news release, tenant advocacy group ACORN praised the new bylaw.

“By passing this bylaw city council will be able to show HRM tenants that the city takes the issue of healthy, decent, and maintained housing seriously,” Halifax Peninsula ACORN chair Hannah Wood said in the release.

Municipal planner Jill MacLellan told council ACORN wanted to see the bylaw go further, and require landlords to pay a registration fee. Peter Duncan, infrastructure planning manager at HRM, said staff worried that fee may be passed on to tenants and could act as a barrier to compliance.

On the other hand, the Investment Property Owners Association told HRM it didn’t think minor violations of the bylaw should be posted online, and it doesn’t think the registry is necessary. Staff said they would work with landlords, first handing out notices before violations.

A man in a suit speaks at a podium outside an apartment building on a sunny day.
Mayor Mike Savage speaks at a housing announcement in Halifax on Wednesday, July 13, 2022. — Photo: Zane Woodford Credit: Zane Woodford

Mayor Mike Savage said the fact neither advocacy group got everything they wanted shows HRM has found a “reasonable place in the middle.”

“Like most people I’m nervous about adding any kind of burden to to business and to landlords who by and large in the city I think are pretty good, but we have some who aren’t,” Savage said.

“I don’t think this is a threat to most of the landlords in HRM … I don’t think this is going to be onerous. It’s not licensing, it’s not charging a fee.”

Russell says no

Coun. Paul Russell was the only vote against the registry.

“Reading through this, I haven’t seen enough benefit to justify a long-term rental registry,” Russell said.

Coun. David Hendsbee argued there should be a public hearing on the second reading. His amendment to schedule one was defeated with only he and Russell voting yes. Second reading is necessary for planning bylaws and amendments, but not other bylaws.

Staff couldn’t say when second hearing would happen. Once the bylaw is passed and approved by the province, landlords will have until April 1, 2024 to comply.

To enforce the bylaw, staff recommend hiring four new assistant building officials (inspectors). They need two this year, and two more next year. Council will be asked to add the $170,000 for the first two to the 2023-2024 budget.

Short-term rental bylaw moves ahead

After previously voting to defer the vote pending more information, council reversed course and gave first reading to short-term rental regulations on Tuesday.

The regulations limit short-term rentals to the property owner’s primary residence, unless they’re in a commercial zone.

The airbnb logo with a little red house and lowercase letters, is seen on a sign posted on a brick building.
AirBnB is the most popular short-term rental platform in HRM. Credit: flickr/opengridscheduler

In December, as the Halifax Examiner reported, those regulations first came to council for first reading. Coun. Shawn Cleary moved to defer the motion pending a staff report on data that may or may not be attainable.

In a rare move, Coun. Patty Cuttell brought a motion of rescission on Tuesday. She sought to overturn Cleary’s deferral motion, which passed 8-6, on the basis that she and other councillors were absent. Cuttell said she missed the meeting because she had COVID-19.

The motion of rescission passed with only Cleary voting no. After more debate on the short-term rental regulations, Cleary made a minor amendment to an already-requested staff report, and then the first reading vote passed unanimously.

Council will hold a public hearing at a future meeting for second reading of the bylaw.

Millions more coming for affordable housing

Halifax is getting another $11 million in federal funding from the Rapid Housing Initiative.

This is the third round of that funding, after HRM used more than $20 million to fund six projects totalling 142 units of deeply affordable housing. Those include Adsum for Women and Children’s Sunflower project and the Mi’kmaw Native Friendship Centre’s Diamond Bailey House.

A street of homes under construction
Construction of The Sunflower. Photo: Adsum for Women and Children

Council voted Tuesday to direct staff to sign an agreement with the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation for more money. It must be used to create at least 36 units. The previous two rounds of funding went further than the minimum unit count.

This time, the federal government has loosened requirements, giving builders 18 months to complete their projects instead of 12. The one-year timeline proved unrealistic, with some of the first round projects still incomplete.

Staff will return to council with recommended projects before submitting a plan to the federal government in March.

$1 property for new friendship centre

Council will hold a public hearing to consider selling the Gottingen Street property home to the former Red Cross building to the Mi’kmaw Native Friendship Centre for $1.

HRM will demolish the building on the property this year at a cost of $2.5 million. The property, once vacant, is appraised at $11.7 million. HRM views its all-in opportunity cost and expenditures on the site, with a sale of $1, to be $12.2 million.

The Mi’kmaw Native Friendship Centre, having outgrown its aging home on Gottingen Street, will build a new headquarters on the site. It secured $28.8 million in federal funding for the project in October 2022.

As Corporate Real Estate project manager Rudy Vodicka wrote in the staff report to council, the friendship centre’s “vision is to create an iconic, culturally relevant building that will provide visibility and instill pride for Indigenous persons while also educating the non-Indigenous community and visitors on the important history and contribution of Indigenous peoples to the region, Nova Scotia, and Canada.”

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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