A proposed bylaw that would consolidate and modernize HRM’s three existing mobile home park bylaws and provide more protection for residents is a step closer to becoming reality.
Council voted on Tuesday to give first reading to proposed Bylaw L-500, Respecting the Construction and Operation of Land-Lease Communities.
“It’s not too often that you say something that you bring here to council is going to directly impact residents’ lives for the better,” Coun. Lisa Blackburn said. “But this is one of them. This is going to be huge for residents in land-lease communities.”
A staff report noted there are 3,859 homes among HRM’s 29 land-lease communities (LLCs), with capacity for another 441 homes. The communities range in size from as few as six homes to as many as 626.
Although historically known as “mobile home parks,” the report said modern manufactured housing has advanced since the first mobile home parks were built. It stated the term isn’t representative of the types of dwellings found in LLCs today.
Under both the existing bylaws and the proposed bylaw, only manufactured homes with non-permanent foundations are permitted within land-lease communities. The proposed bylaw would apply to all LLCs in HRM.
‘Where some of our most vulnerable residents live’
In late January and early February, HRM hosted three open houses and conducted a survey as part of its public consultation process. Staff told councillors what they heard centred around several themes.
They ranged from access to clean drinking water, street maintenance, street lighting, and speed of vehicles to drainage/flooding concerns and parks and recreation space.
Operators had concerns about the rising costs of servicing, while residents expressed concerns about items regulated by the Tenancies Act and other regulations like utility costs and tenant/landlord disputes.
“Land-lease communities are our version of affordable housing out in District 14,” Blackburn told staff following a presentation on the proposed bylaw. “This is where some of our most vulnerable residents live. Seniors, low income, disabled residents, and it was time for their voice to be heard.”
Bylaws untouched since amalgamation
The genesis of the bylaw goes back to 2010 when then-councillor Brad Johns and current Preston-Chezzetcook-Eastern Shore Coun. David Hendsbee requested a new HRM mobile home park bylaw.
Blackburn gave a nod to Johns — her council predecessor — on Tuesday night for his role in initiating the bylaw. The issue has been on her radar since August of 2016 when she began campaigning for her council seat.
“I was spending a lot of time in Woodbine (mobile home) park and started hearing rumblings from residents about being charged for water, concerns about water quality, water pressure, and unequal treatment of residents. For me, it culminated when I knocked on the door of this older, visibly ill man who was in tears because he needed to move and sell his property because of his health,” Blackburn said.
“He wasn’t being given permission to do so because his baby barn was four inches too long. That same baby barn had been through three other sales with no issues. So I knew that something needed to be done, that there was definitely something going on in these parks. There were inequities. And I learned that the bylaws hadn’t been touched since amalgamation.”
Licensing and construction requirements
The proposed land-lease communities bylaw covers two components. The first is minimum construction standards for new or expanded LLCs. The second involves requirements LLC operators must adhere to in order to receive an operating license.
“The proposed by-law addresses gaps that existed in the regulation of land-lease communities under the existing by-laws and ordinance, particularly regarding the licensing and servicing requirements, such as drinking water standards and street maintenance requirements,” notes the report. “The construction requirements for new LLCs have been updated to ensure that modern infrastructure standards are met.”
It would also require new LLC construction to include a minimum of 10% of recreation space, street lighting built and maintained to Transportation Association of Canada standards, and updated road construction standards. Sewer and water distribution systems must meet Halifax Water design specifications, and up-to-date approvals from Nova Scotia Environment are necessary for on-site services.
The new bylaw also comes with a host of new licensing requirements. They range from testing of drinking water, street and driveway maintenance and snow clearing standards to street lighting within 12 months of the adoption of the bylaw.
“The licensing requirements will apply to everybody, regardless of when it was built and what standard it was built to at the time,” HRM principal planner and development officer Peter Nightingale told council.
“So if you are running a land-lease community, you must have an operating license under this bylaw and will have to meet all the licensing requirements.”
Blackburn asked staff about the bylaw proposing the exclusion of water that’s under a boil water advisory from the definition of potable water. She said one land-lease community in her district has been under a boil water advisory for two years now.
Despite that, residents are still being charged for that water.
“The purpose of this is to make sure that we’re capturing communities that are under a long standing boil water advisory due to resiliency issues with the system,” Nightingale explained.
“The purpose of this clause in the bylaw is to clarify that even if you passed your water tests, if the province considers that you still must be kept under a boil water advisory, you are still in violation of this bylaw and we could still take action against an operator who’s operating under those conditions.”
Operator has to prove water is safe
Nightingale said the existing bylaw is largely complaint based when it comes to water quality issues. The onus is on residents to test their water, prove it isn’t safe, and then file a complaint with the municipality.
The proposed bylaw would change that.
“What we heard time and time again from residents was even when they feel their water is not safe, they were afraid to make a complaint because they were afraid of retribution from their landlord,” Nightingale said.
“What we’ve done in this new bylaw is we have (gone) away from a model where someone has to prove that it’s not in compliance to a model where the operator has to prove that it is in compliance. So the operator has to prove the water is safe, rather than someone having to prove it isn’t safe. That was a big goal with how this bylaw was written.”
Nightingale said should the bylaw be adopted by council, existing land-lease community operators would have a three month grace period to get a license under the new bylaw.
“If there’s additional inspections that they have to have done or tests that they need to have done, it gives them a bit of leeway to get that work done and make sure they can be in compliance with the new bylaw,” he said. “Upon completion of that three months, they would be required to have a licence under this proposed bylaw.”
The municipality intends to prepare education materials for operators and residents to ensure everyone knows what’s required. Nightingale was asked to clarify what would happen if an operator was unable to comply with the bylaw’s requirements.
There does exist a contract relationship between a tenant and a landlord, and one of the things that’s expected in that contract is that you provide the services that are agreed to. And the Residential Tenancies Act is actually explicit that you must comply with all municipal bylaws.
If we revoke a license from a community, we are not going in and penalizing the residents. We’re going after the operator…The tenants also can go through the Residential Tenancies program to say ‘my landlord’s not providing water, they’re not doing this, or they raised my rent because of this.’ There are dispute resolution mechanisms that are there.
Our goal is really to license the business of running a land-lease community. We’re not really regulating the tenants, we’re regulating the businesses. And we’re having those minimum service standards that have to be followed. And we will take action against the operators. But certainly if the tenants feel that their landlord isn’t honouring their lease or is violating the provincial regulations, they can go to the residential tenancies program and make a claim there.
A public hearing held by regional council is optional before considering approval of the recommendations.