The Progressive Conservative government has tabled legislation to extend the cap on rent increases, but there are still loopholes allowing landlords to hike rent for tenants on fixed-term leases.
The continued rent cap was part of Premier Tim Houston’s housing plan announced last week. Service Nova Scotia and Internal Services Minister Colton LeBlanc introduced An Act to Implement an Interim Residential Rental Increase Cap in the House of Assembly on Thursday.
The Act would come into effect when the temporary 2% rent control brought in by the Liberal government last year expires, either when the state of emergency due to COVID-19 ends or Feb. 1, 2022, whichever comes first. The new cap would be in effect until Dec. 31, 2023.
“Nova Scotians are facing affordable housing challenges never seen before in our province and we are here to support them,” LeBlanc told reporters during a briefing on Thursday.
“We know we need to grow the housing supply, and in the short term, we need a rent cap to give tenants certainty and peace of mind.”
The 2% rent cap doesn’t apply to public housing units, where tenants’ rents are based on their income, or land-lease communities, also known as mobile home parks.
It does protect tenants from rent increases between fixed-term leases, with the cap applying “if a landlord enters into a new fixed-term lease with an existing tenant for the same residential premises.” The current cap contains the same clause, but landlords have found a way around it.
Mark Culligan, a legal worker with Dalhousie Legal Aid, said he’s seen one scenario consistently playing out: When a fixed-term lease ends, the landlord is under no legal obligation to sign a new lease with the same tenant, so if a tenant doesn’t want to pay higher rent, the landlord just finds another tenant.
“We’re seeing these fixed-term tenancies as a kind of weapon that landlords are using to exert even more control in the relationship between landlord and tenant because you’re taking away all security of tenure,” Culligan said in an interview Thursday.
“Any time that the tenant tries to enforce any rights to repairs, to proper rent, the landlord can always retaliate by just ending the tenancy at the end of the fixed term.”
Culligan believed the government was going to fix these issues after a meeting earlier this year. He’s been speaking out against the amendments to the Residential Tenancies Act tabled last week that don’t fix those issues.
The NDP’s housing spokesperson, MLA Suzy Hansen, said she’s been seeing the same loophole used in her Halifax Needham riding. Hansen said she’s happy to see the government keep the rent cap, but it should be permanent.
“It would be better if it was our bill because it would actually have permanent rent controls, and it would also put the the onus back on to the unit and not the tenant,” Hansen said.
The NDP introduced a rent control bill earlier this month, the Rental Fairness and Affordability Act, that creates a permanent, floating cap on rent increases, and bars landlords from greater rent increases between tenants — another way to solve the issue of landlords jacking up rent at the end of fixed-term leases.
The bill will go through the law amendments committee for public input before becoming law.