Tenants in a building in North End Dartmouth will get to stay in their apartments after the building’s owner withdrew appeals of a Residential Tenancies decision made in favour of the tenants back in April.

The 17 tenants who live at 71 Primrose St. — which Adam Barrett of AMK Barrett Investments Inc. (BlackBay Real Estate Group) purchased in 2022 — fought a renoviction from the building after they were told in December and January they had to leave.

AMK Barrett told the residents extensive renovations were required on the building, including replacing kitchens cabinets, windows, doors, and bathtubs.

AMK Barrett also said there was mold in some of the units, and the building would need to be vacant for a new heating system to be installed.

Six of the building’s 23 tenants did leave, but the rest decided to fight the eviction. The tenants were all offered compensation.

In a decision from April 13 that you can read here, Residential Tenancies officer Gerard Neal found AMK Barrett wasn’t acting in good faith in its application to evict tenants for renovations. Neal wrote that the apartments didn’t need to be vacated for much of the renovation work, including the installation of a new heating system.

Superintendents testified at the hearing that the building’s windows were replaced in 2012, patio doors were replaced in 2012 or 2013, and patio decking was replaced three or four years ago.

Neal also wrote there was no evidence of water or mold issues found in the building.

AMK Barrett appealed that decision, but last week withdrew its appeal. The appeal hearing was scheduled to take place today. The news was shared in a press release from Dalhousie Legal Aid, which represented many of the tenants.

“It is so important that the tenants are able to remain in their homes and are not being evicted into a housing market with a less than one percent vacancy rate, with average rents of more than $1800 a month for a one-bedroom apartment,” Joanne Hussey, community legal worker, wrote in the release. “I hope that this win shows other tenants it is possible to stand up and protect their right to housing.”

‘This should send a message to all landlords’

Ken Sutton was one of 17 tenants who fought the renoviction and has lived in his apartment for the last three years. He was pleased to hear Monday’s news about the appeal.

“It is a sense of relief to know you can stay in your apartment for the same rent,” Sutton said. “You can settle in and you can more or less enjoy the ride…This should send a message to these landlords all over that you can’t do this kind of thing to people.”

In documents obtained by the Examiner, there were complaints filed with HRM about some of the work being done at 71 Primrose St. after the April 13 decision. Those complaints included concerns about fire alarms being shut off, egress pathways being obstructed, and new bedrooms being built with no egress windows.

In a response to Michael Morgan, a building official with HRM, Adam Barrett wrote about the tenants, “they don’t want to leave yet they want to complain about every aspect of the construction.” Barrett continued:

The building was very unsafe when I purchased it with no fire rated doors, no closures, major window leaks, etc. As per the permit, we have carried out all these necessary upgrades and as you stated, they are within our permit scope.

The creation of a separate room won’t be rented as a bedroom but could be a Den or Office. Is there anything preventing us from doing thing?

In his response to Barrett, Morgan clarified that a window is not required for a den or office. Morgan continued: “I’m very aware of the frustrations from all sides and I agree that the work being undertaken has been complimentary to this building and in compliance with the Code.”

Understanding tenant rights

In an interview on Monday, Joanne Hussey with Dalhousie Legal Aid said while the tenants were prepared for Monday’s appeal hearing, she said the latest news was “significant” for them all.

“Understanding that that was going to be the decision that held was really important for all of them,” Hussey said. “Everyone was pretty excited.”

Hussey said over the past several months, she’s met with tenants from 71 Primrose St. one on one and then in groups. She said the tenants believed they were not only fighting to stay in their homes, but also for the principle of the issue.

“It was about making sure that they can stay in their homes and they weren’t just going to be pushed around. If there was no need for them to leave, that they weren’t going to leave. It would have been significantly challenging for most of these folks to find housing that they can afford, if they had had to leave,” Hussey said. “They recognized that and also recognized that they had questions about the validity of what they were being told and that was validated in the Residential Tenancy decision.”

Hussey said this decision brings a message for landlords like AMK Barrett, which she said have used a business model of evicting tenants to make cosmetic changes to apartments and then increasing the rent. The province lifted the ban on renovictions in March 2021, when the provincial state of emergency was lifted. But in 2022, new legislative changes were put into place to protect tenants.

“In the past, before we had these provisions around renovictions, that was legal. I think what is important here is that we’re testing out for the first time what these protections really mean,” Hussey said.

“There’s only been six cases in Nova Scotia so far on these provisions since they’ve only been in place since 2022,” she continued. “I think we are seeing that those rights for tenants are being enforced. You have to be able to demonstrate the extent of the renovations requires people to move. Replacing a countertop, replacing bathroom fixtures doesn’t require someone to move… I am hopeful that it will make landlords rethink that business model they’ve been using and we won’t see as many buildings being emptied out on the premise of a renoviction.”

Hussey said she recently met with tenants in another building who are facing renoviction who told her they were inspired by the stories of the tenants at 71 Primrose.

“I think it’s really important for tenants to see they can enforce their rights and they have this power. I think tenants often feel very powerless in the situations they’re in, and I think it does show they can fight and they can win,” Hussey said. “That’s really important for people to see they have an option that’s not just finding somewhere to move or moving in with a friend or going to a shelter.”

After Residential Tenancies ruled in favour of the tenants at 71 Primrose in April, AMK Barrett posted a media statement from Greg Smith, the company’s chief operating officer. The Examiner contacted Smith for comment on its decision to withdraw the appeal. We will update this story when we hear back.

Advice for other tenants facing renoviction

Hussey suggested any tenants facing a renoviction should document repairs and other work that’s been done to their apartment and building, keep correspondence with thier landlord, talk with their neighbours, and contact Dalhousie Legal Aid or Nova Scotia Legal Aid for help.

“I think that tenants often think that what’s being presented to them is a choice they have to make, whether they take this offer of compensation for renoviction or whether they try to stay. And it’s intimidating,” Hussey said. “I think having some advice and support can make a big difference.”

Sutton said he and other tenants will be celebrating the news Monday. As for advice for other tenants, he said tenants should contact Residential Tenancies, as well as Dalhousie Legal Aid or Nova Scotia Legal Aid if they are dealing with a possible renoviction.

“I would tell these tenants, number one, to stand up and find out exactly what [the landlord] is trying to do,” Sutton said. “They might write down a list of stuff that needs to be done in the apartments that really don’t need to be done at all.”

Suzanne Rent is a writer, editor, and researcher. You can follow her on Twitter @Suzanne_Rent and on Mastodon

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  1. Thank you for telling this story. I lived in this building for approximately 10 years (late 70s to late 80s) on the third floor. I live in a similar building now and have lived through window and door replacements. No one wants to be put through the inconvenience of unit upgrades but there is no need to be renovicted either.