A Halifax-area landlord is taking a former tenant to small claims court after he was ordered to pay more than $13,000 for an illegal renoviction.
Residential tenancies officer Jason Warham ordered John Ghosn, owner of Bluenose Inn and Suites on the Bedford Highway, to pay Brandy McGuire after she was evicted from the building last spring.
McGuire was given notice just after the provincial government enacted new rules under the Residential Tenancies Act around renoviction.
Under section 10AB-AD, tenants have to agree in writing to a renoviction, they must be given three months notice, and they must be compensated between one and three months rent, depending on the size of the building. If they can’t reach an agreement with tenants, landlords are required to apply to evict tenants. There’s extra compensation owed to tenants if landlords don’t follow these rules.
The Halifax Examiner told McGuire’s story in April, after the landlord told tenants it was “time to retire this Property,” giving them 60 days to get out:
Brandy McGuire is one of about 40 tenants at the Bluenose Inn and Suites. She’s paying $1,400 for a room with a kitchenette for herself and four children, ages five to 10.
“We moved here about two years ago due to the housing crisis. We had nowhere else to go, and we’ve been here ever since. The market’s hard right now. We can’t afford anything,” McGuire said in an interview.
The room she rents has a kitchenette and a pullout couch in the front room, and another area in the back, separated by a curtain, with two more beds. The shower hasn’t worked properly in more than a year, and there are mice, McGuire said.
McGuire is studying at NSCC, where she’s taking classes online, but she said the internet stopped working at the building around the same time she got the notice to leave.
McGuire has found a new place, but it’s going to cost much more.
“I did manage to find something because I felt forced into it. I’m going to struggle to afford it, but I have no choice,” McGuire said.
“I need to do school or I’m going to be stuck in the same rut that I’m in. Without the education, I can’t afford to live in the city.”
McGuire said she thinks landlords evict people because “tenants don’t feel comfortable going up against the big guys.”
Ghosn told the Examiner that despite an approved development agreement and a rendering posted online, there’s no planned start date for construction on the site. He claimed the tenants weren’t being evicted.
“It’s not our policy to illegally evict anyone from any property ever, certainly not in these times or circumstances,” Ghosn said.
“The motel is no longer appropriately habitable, and it’s past its economic life or lifespan, it’s about 70 years old … We’ve got no plans to renovate or building anything new there. The place is not habitable any longer, and there’s not much I can do while there’s people living there.”
With the help of Dalhousie Legal Aid, McGuire took her case to residential tenancies, seeking: three months rent ($4,200); “rent differential” for one year ($16,387.42); “rent abatement” for her disconnected internet ($731); the return of her security deposit ($300); and general damages for the landlord’s failure to return the security deposit ($250).
Warham held a hearing in July. On August 22, he ruled in McGuire’s favour:
After reviewing the evidence of the tenant, I do not accept the landlord’s position that the true intent is simply to “retire” the building. Evidence was presented from the landlords website of its intentions for the construction of a new building. Permits were provided. I do not accept this characterization. It is clear that what is actually happening and/or intended is a demolition/renovation as contemplated under these new provisions. Further to this, Mr. Ghosn testified that the remaining tenants in the unit would be subject to an application by the landlord giving them 3 months notice. When it was suggested that 3 months notice corresponds to the minimum requirements under Section 10AB, Mr. Ghosn did not reveal what provision he would be relying on to terminate the tenancy.
The residential tenancies officer found the landlord had failed to comply with the province’s new renoviction rules, and awarded McGuire: three months rent ($4,200) and one month’s rent for additional expenses ($1,400). “As the provision is penal in nature I am awarding it,” Warham wrote.
As for the rent differential, Warham awarded less than McGuire requested.
“The new rental is $2100.00 and includes none of the services/utilities included previously. This provisions [sic] is new. There is no policy guidance as to how to decide rent differential apportionment. I know of only one matter on appeal at Small Claims where the tenant received a full apportionment for the 12 months. No reasons were given,” Warham wrote.
“The tenant requested $16387.42. I will allow $7000.00 in apportioning the rent differential for the 12 month period. This is less than requested but I have taken into consideration the provision being new.”
Warham also awarded the $731 for internet, noting he was provided receipts showing McGuire had paid that for internet service and it “was a service that the tenant had use of since residing in the unit.”
As for the security deposit of $300, the landlord agreed to return it and McGuire withdrew the request for $250 in general damages, Warham wrote.
In total, also including the application fee of $31.15, Warham ordered Bluenose Inn and Suites to pay McGuire $13,662.15.
As is common in these cases, Ghosn appealed the award to small claims court.
“The adjudicator did not take into account all of the evidence and relied on evidence not submitted and which when brought up was stated inaccurately,” Ghosn or his representative wrote.
The telephone hearing is scheduled for Thursday evening, with a likely written decision to follow.