Municipal Affairs and Housing Minister Chuck Porter during Wednesday’s teleconference. — Photo: Communications Nova Scotia

After resisting requests for rent control for months, the provincial government is implementing a cap on rent increases and banning evictions for renovations — but the measures are temporary and it’s unclear how they’ll be enforced.

Municipal Affairs and Housing Minister Chuck Porter made the announcement in a teleconference with reporters on Wednesday: rent increases are capped at 2% annually, retroactive to Sep. 1, and renovictions won’t be permitted.

“Now is not the time for people to be worrying about keeping a roof over their heads or being forced to find a new home for their family, but unfortunately that is exactly the situation many people are in,” Porter said.

The two measures will remain in place until February 2022 or until the state of emergency, which has been in place since March, ends. The rent increase cap is retroactive to Sep. 1.

“That means if a tenant had their rent increase by more than 2% since September 1, 2020, their landlord will have to give them a credit on their next rental payment,” Porter said.

Though temporary, it’s the first time Nova Scotia has had rent control of any kind since 1993, when the Liberal government of the day gutted the Rent Review Act with an order in council. Premier Stephen McNeil has repeatedly resisted calls for rent control, even as homelessness has doubled in Halifax. Just last month, he told reporters his government wasn’t considering rent control measures: “We just don’t believe they work,” he said.

Porter dodged questions about the about-face on Wednesday.

While McNeil did implement a three-month moratorium on evictions in March, that ban only covered pandemic-related evictions. The new ban on evictions doesn’t cover pandemic-related financial loss, only renovations.

Asked Wednesday why he’s not banning all evictions during the pandemic, Porter said he doesn’t think that’s possible.

“I don’t think it’s reasonable to say, ‘We’re going to ban all evictions,’” Porter said.

“There are numerous reasons, I think, why evictions may happen, and I think it’s reasonable for landlords and tenants to be able to carry on discussions and try to resolve their issues, and when they can’t, I think it’s important we have a dispute mechanism in place that does allow that to happen.”

Asked what the government is doing to penalize landlords who don’t adhere to the renoviction ban — given many renovictions happen illegally, never reaching the tenancy board — Porter didn’t answer.

“One of the things that we’ve implemented today is that that can’t happen. Renovictions are not able to happen,” Porter said.

Asked whether tenants who have already been renovicted will still have to leave their homes, Porter said they’ll only have to vacate if the tenancy board has already made an order.

Despite the temporary nature of the measures, the provincial NDP — which first introduced a bill to control rents in 2017 — applauded the move, with leader Gary Burrill calling it a “big victory” in a news release.

“It is a huge accomplishment, particularly, for all those tenants, tenants’ organizations and housing advocates who have spoken up out of their experience of sudden, astronomical rent increases,” Burrill said.

The government also announced a new “Nova Scotia Affordable Housing Commission,” which will make recommendations on solutions to the province’s affordable housing crisis.

The commission, which currently has 13 members, includes co-chairs Catherine Berliner of the Department of Municipal Affairs and Housing and Ren Thomas, a Dalhousie University planning professor, along with Jim Graham, executive director of the Affordable Housing Association of Nova Scotia, Jeremy Jackson of the Investment Property Owners Association of Nova Scotia, and Kelly Denty, Halifax’s director of planning and development.

The commission’s first recommendations are due within six months.

Porter also announced the government will spend $1.7 million to replace 30 shelter beds removed from that system due to social distancing requirements. It’s unclear how that money will be spent, with more details expected in the coming days.

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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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  1. I understand the need to do something, but I don’t understand the retroactive application of rules (except to solve a specific problem related to a few buildings in Fairview).

    I recently gutted several bathrooms and kitchens for existing tenants. we asked them about the renovations ahead of time, and they were happy to pay a modest increase for the new amenities. As there new lease started Sept 1st, we now have to refund money and can only get an extra $20 a month in return for renovations that cost ($6,000 to $18,000 per unit). Needless to say, this approach will bring to a screeching halt any unit upgrades to older buildings. Paint and caulking will be the order of the day. Of course, anything related to health and safety will be addressed, but this will set back the industry for some time.

    There are also other interesting impacts from this new policy. Most of our buildings have a few tenants that pay dramatically below market rents as a way to allow them to stay in their long term community. Think 93 year old woman who have lived in the same building for 30+ years, or someone who is legally blind). In these cases, these tenants pay $300 to $500 less than the person next door, but as owners we have been happy to help them out. However, under these new rules if that 93 year is taken to a nursing home, the rent can only go up $15. This creates a perverse incentive for good landlords (many of whom havent raised rents for years) to immediately start marching forward with 2.0% every year like clockwork.

    This reminds me of the CMHC tightening their home mortgage qualification rules (percent of income to mortgage payment, percent of debt to gross income, stress test on interest rates, etc) to cool off the housing problems in Vancouver and Toronto. while these rules did that, they also make it harder and harder for young people in Moncton and Halifax to qualify for their first home (thereby keeping them as renters putting more pressure on the apartment market).

    Consultation with industry would have found a better set of rules to deal with Renovictions.

  2. And a happy day for this low income renter who is expecting her rent increase letter late in December. As I commented earlier on the CBC’s article – thank you Housing Minister Porter for this early Christmas present.