A Halifax man who was given a notice to vacate his South End apartment and still hasn’t found a new place to live said he has concerns about how the renovation work was handled and wants compensation for having to leave.
Phil Langille has lived at Tower Arms Apartment at 1104 Tower Rd. for the last three years. The bachelor apartment where he currently lives is the second one’s he’s rented in the same building, which is owned by Phil Arab.
Langille said signed a yearly lease the November when he rented the first unit in the building, and doesn’t recall signing a new lease when he moved to his current apartment.
Langille said he was given a notice to vacate on April 1 this year. That notice was a letter from Arab saying Langille had until noon Friday, June 30 to leave the apartment. The letter also said the unit’s appliances must be cleaned, no garbage must left behind, and all keys must be returned. The letter continues:
As the building has reached its life expectancy, we will be completing a major renovation and upgrades to all exterior and interior parts of the building. Such as roof, siding, plumbing, electrical, flooring, painting, appliances, etc….
Attached to the letter was a copy of the Mixed Use and Commercial Building Permit from HRM that includes details of the property and the contractor doing the renovation work. The permit lists work to be done: “Renovations to update the materials on the facade and interior of the building. No changes to units or facade openings.”
“I asked them if this was an April Fool’s joke,” Langille said in an interview with the Examiner. “And they said no.”
Under new rules around renovictions, landlords must give tenants a DR5 form: Agreement to Terminate for Demolition, Repairs or Renovations, at least three months’ notice, and one to three months rent as compensation, depending on the size of the building.
Langille said he never received a DR5 or compensation to leave the building. He said he pays $795 for the bachelor apartment. That includes heat and hot water. He said there are only a handful of tenants left in the 53-unit building.
“I understand they want to up the value of the building, but it’s been done haphazardly. It’s been done without any offers of compensation,” Langille said.
Concerns about interruptions from renovations
Langille said contractors started work on the building in April, and it was still quiet at that point. He said the work ramped up in May.
One day, he said he woke up early and saw a worker at about 6:50am working.
“I complained to the landlord, like, ‘hey, this started way too early. You told me the legal time was 7:30. Your worker started at 6:50. He was like, ‘yeah, I know. I will talk to him.’”
The HRM noise bylaw is that work can take place between 7am and 9:30pm.
On Friday, June 23, Langille said workers took out the large picture window in his apartment. He said the only notice he had they were removing the window was a knock from the worker outside just as the window was about to be removed.
Then on Monday, Langille said workers removed a second smaller window in the apartment, this time without notice, and replaced it with a window that doesn’t open.
“I had so much adrenaline I was shaking pretty much until 9pm,” Langille said, who works shift work at the hospital nearby.
The Examiner has seen screenshots of a message Arab sent to Langille saying “he was having a difficult time with these guys. He was specifically told not to touch occupied units.”
“That to me just blows my mind. I get there are some upgrades they can do without making a lot of noise, but this is a full-on construction site and there’s a lot of people who work till midnight. Not everyone works 7:30 to 3:30, the average hours,” Langille said. “So, I would like to see maybe some laws change where, you know, they start at 8 or 9 until 5.”
Rules around repairs, renovations
Joanne Hussey, a community legal worker with Dalhousie Legal Aid, said in this case, if the landlord didn’t follow the rules around renovictions, then Langille can stay in his apartment.
“Without the appropriate forms and the appropriate process, the landlord can’t ask that person to leave. It would be valid for that person to file the Form J and say they want the process followed,” Hussey said in an interview.
“There wouldn’t be any reason why he would [have to leave] without the landlord following the process.”
As for the renovations, Hussey said the Residential Tenancy Act says the repairs or renovations must be so substantial or so extensive that vacant possession of a unit is required.
“That’s all it says. So, there isn’t any guidance yet about what does that mean. What is considered so extensive?” Hussey said. “And the second part of that is the issue of vacancy. If vacancy can be achieved in a way that doesn’t involve breaking the lease, is it appropriate for somebody to say, ‘well, I am going to stay with my parents for two weeks and then I will come back if that’s the period you need actual vacancy.’”
Hussey said British Columbia has had similar rules for much longer, but in that province the details on what renovations and repairs that require vacancy are much clearer. (You can read the B.C. policies here, which includes a list of renovations that might require vacancy).
“It’s not about whether it would be more efficient, more convenient, or easier for the landlord if the person wasn’t there. That’s not the standard,” Hussey said. “The standard is it not possible to have someone living in the space safely because even during renovations, landlords have the statutory responsibility to maintain the condition of the property that is safe and habitable. There is an understanding, obviously, if you’re taking out someone’s kitchen cupboards, that will create a certain mess and a certain difficulty for a period of time. But that those [cupboards] will be replaced.”
Hussey said it’s usually major repair work such as asbestos remediation and tearing down of load-bearing walls that would require a tenant to leave their apartment. She added in many cases, the work that’s being done to local buildings isn’t that extensive, yet tenants are still being told to leave.
“Often, what we’re seeing if that the repairs are more replacement of windows, replacement of doors, replacement of flooring, all things that people who own their homes would certainly live through, and certainly wouldn’t abandon their house or find another place to live,” Hussey said.
As for warnings about when work would start, Hussey said the general rule is that a permit needs to be posted in the building for all tenants to see.
“I would suggest that constitutes entrance to the unit, so you would need to have at least 24 hours’ notice that your unit would be affected by someone effectively entering your unit,” Hussey said.
‘There’s very slim pickings’
The Examiner contacted Arab by phone and spoke with the superintendent of the building. We were told Arab doesn’t take personal calls, but we were given his email address. We sent questions to that email and will update this story when and if we hear back.
Langille said he’s been looking for a place, but said many apartments get snapped up before he even gets a chance to view them. He said his mother offered him a spot at a summer cottage outside Digby, but taking that would mean he’d have to leave his current job.
And he said he’d prefer to live on the peninsula to be closer to work. Still other places he said he’s looked at are just rooms in a house or apartment that are going for hundreds of dollars more than what he pays now. And he said most of those ads are looking for a female-only tenant.
“There’s very slim pickings,” he said.
He does have a truck booked to move today. He also contacted the Residential Tenancies and was told to fill out a form J. Langille said he’s also going to contact ACORN and Dalhousie Legal Aid.
“I never missed a [rent] payment. I never even thought of calling him and saying, ‘hey, can I get an extension,” Langille said. “I feel like he’s treating me and other people here like we’re past the eviction notice and haven’t paid the rent.”
“I am trying to follow the rules and the dates they provided, trying to follow everything by the book… but they are the ones not following the rules on their end.”
Meanwhile, Hussey suggests tenants who are told they must vacate their apartments because of renovation work should always get a second opinion from Dalhousie Legal Aid or Nova Scotia Legal Aid, and fill out a Form J from Residential Tenancies.
The advice we give most people is that when you’re given something by your landlord that says you have to do something, it’s always helpful to get a second opinion on whether or not that is something you have to do. It sounds like, in this case, the landlord is not following the rules and that the [tenant] doesn’t have to do this. I think a lot of folks are understandably upset and stressed out about it and respond in that way by either moving or assuming they have to move.