A couple in Truro are fighting to stay in the apartment where they’ve lived for seven years after being served papers to move out.
Nancy and Scott Halkyard live in a three-bedroom apartment in the top level of a home on Lyman Street. They moved in to the apartment in 2015 and now live there with their adult son, Nick, and Nancy’s brother, Keith. They pay $725 a month in rent, plus heat, hot water, and other utilities.
On Jan. 4, the Halkyards said they got a visit from Dan Pritchard, who owns a property management company hired by their landlords, Michelle Joseph and Donte Fiedtkou, who live in Ontario.
The Halkyards had been waiting to renew their annual lease, which expired on Jan. 1. So, this eviction notice came as a shock.
“Never seen it coming,” Nancy said. “I knew the 2% was coming, but nothing like this. We’re paid up and perfect tenants. They have nothing else on us.”
They said Pritchard said major renovations needed to be done on the apartment and they had three months to leave, although they said he didn’t detail what work needed to be done. The Halkyards said Pritchold told them the landlords’ son would eventually be moving in with two of his friends.
The Halkyards decided to learn more about their rights as tenants. They called residential tenancies and learned more about their options in this case.
They couple also put in phone calls to Truro-Bible Hill-Millbrook-Salmon River MLA David Ritcey. They even reached out to Premier Tim Houston’s office, and a staff person replied with a list of phone numbers to call, including Nova Scotia Legal Aid.
Nancy, who works as a continuing care assistant at a nursing home in Shubenacadie, has been taking copious notes; she has two notebooks and a couple of file folders filled with information she’s been collecting the past several days.
“This has been our life the past week,” Nancy said. “It’s been an education.”
The Halkyards have since filled out and sent a form J to the landlords. That’s the form that initates a hearing at residential tenancies. They now have a hearing scheduled for Feb. 8.
Scott said they just want to be treated fairly.
“And not to be walked over, like a lot of people are who don’t know their rights,” he said. “I think these people thought we were going to roll over and play dead.”
“What they’re doing to us has put a sour taste in our mouths. We had no intention of leaving here before.”
‘These are the people I represent. I feel for them’
One of the calls they made was to Truro Mayor Bill Mills, who offered to check to see if a work permit had been filed for renovations to the property.
The Examiner interviewed Mills on Thursday and confirmed he did search for a work permit for 70 Lyman St., but didn’t find one as of this week.
This isn’t the first eviction case that has come across Mills’ desk. He said he helped another Truro resident, a single mother with three kids, who was almost renovicted from her house, also on Lyman Street, about a year ago. Like with the Halkyards, Mills said he checked to see if a building permit was issued for renovations on the house, and no permit was issued. That tenant challenged the landlord and was able to stay.
“She was very happy, and I was too,” Mills said.
Mills said he and the town are seeing more issues around housing, tenant-landlords, and homelessness than ever before.
“I’ve been doing the mayor job for 26 years now and I’ve never been in an environment like it is now. Never,” Mills said. “The issue in the past were more tenant-landlord relationships rather than what it is now.”
“It’s not in my jurisdiction as a municipal politician, but these are the people I represent. I feel for them.”
Truro has a vacany rate of about 1%. And like in other communities across Nova Scotia, new housing in Truro can’t be built fast enough to accommodate everyone who needs it. Mills said the town has approved about 14 development agreements for new housing, but only about two or three of those are currently under construction. Still others have pulled the plug on projects; Mills said he suspects high interest rates and the costs of construction are behind the postponments.
Mills said the town has talked with about 20 people in various departments within the provincial government about the housing crisis. He talks regularly with staff at the homeless shelter that moved into a larger space last year. He said they’ve spoken with Housing Nova Scotia about affordable housing, although he said they need to talk about subsidized housing, too, since some affordable housing isn’t affordable for everyone.
Mills said the Nova Scotia Co-operative Council have been working with a local hotel to turn that into affordable housing, much like they did in New Glasgow in 2022. But Mills said so far that project “is not working out well.”
He said one of the town’s councillors, Cathy Hinton, previously worked with residential tenancies, and “goes non stop” on the housing issue in Truro.
While the housing isn’t going up fast, rents certainly are. Mills said he’s heard that rents in the town range anywhere from $1,200 to $1,600. He said an apartment he lived in on Park Street in 1980 where the rent was $240 a month is now going for $1,200. (According to the Bank of Canada’s inflation calculator, a typical good or service that cost $240 in 1980 would cost $803.48 in 2022.)
‘I never anticipated this would be an issue’
Mills is waiting to learn the outcome of the hearing on Feb. 8 and he’ll decide what the next steps might be to help the Halkyards. One option may be connecting them with Doug MacDonald, the part-time senior safety coordinator who works as a civilian staff member with the Truro Police Service.
A former social worker who used to work with the province, MacDonald started the senior safety program in Truro just over four years ago. He calls himself an advocate for seniors, especially vulnerable seniors, and raises awareness around scams and fraud and elder abuse.
But he’s also been helping seniors who have issues with housing. That can include helping them with paperwork, finding them a new place to live if they’ve been evicted, or sitting in on residential tenancy hearings with them.
“I’ve been getting a lot of calls about people being evicted for what I believe, in my opinion, these evictions are not due to statutory violations of the Tenancy Act,” MacDonald said. “I can’t say they are renovictions, but I believe some of them are.”
MacDonald is currently helping a tenant who received an eviction notice in the building where she lived who wasn’t given a reason for the eviction. MacDonald said he gave her advice, including going to Access Nova Scotia to get an application to file a formal complaint.
MacDonald said he spends “more time than he anticipated” on housing issues.
“When I started the program over four years ago, I never anticipated this would be an issue. I thought I would help people navigate the health care system, point them in the right direction as to what services they need to go to. Maybe help them with some applications,” he said.
“Don’t get me wrong, we have some good landlords in this community and landlords that would not evict somebody just for a rental increase. I get more involved in ones where I feel people’s rights are being violated. The housing issue, I’ve never seen it like this before. Our vacancy rate is at an all-time low. People are finding it extremely hard to afford, if there is a vacancy, typically they can’t afford the rent that’s being charged. An apartment that may have (been) $550 with all utilities is now up to $1,200. I’ve seen that happen.”
Response from the landlord
The Examiner reached out to the landlords, Michelle Joseph and Donte Fiedtkou, by phone and text. We then got a call from Dan Pritchard, who is the owner of Torchwood Property Management, and takes care of the house on Lyman Street and a number of other properties in Truro.
Pritchard confirmed that he did provide the Halkyards with a DR5 form (agreement to end tenancy (lease) for demolition, repairs or renovations) on Jan. 4. He also said he’ll be representing Joseph and Fiedtkou at the hearing on Feb. 8.
Pritchard said he called Access Nova Scotia for advice before he sent the DR5 to the Halkyards, saying he wanted to offer the couple a flexible timeline to move out. Pritchard said the unit does need some work, including new flooring.
Pritchard said he thought there were “some barriers to understanding,” so he had the Halkyards call their daughter and he included her in the conversations about the eviction.
“I was hoping to find the Halkyards a place to live,” Pritchard said. “They are very upset that the property is needed, but it’s [the landlords’] property.”
“[The landlords] have a tenant in the lower unit, and [the Halkyards] were upset that that tenant wasn’t being forced to move out first and asked if I would be able to do that. I said I can’t because they’re paying more rent. It doesn’t make sense. It’s financial. I get they’ve been there a long time and that’s why I was happy to help them with their relocation and being very flexible with the timeline and just to be helpful. But the whole situation has gotten weird now.”
Pritchard said he has a property in mind in Bible Hill, one that he manages, that he said would be suitable for the Halkyards.
“They’ve been excellent tenants, so I have no trouble moving them into a unit I manage,” he said. “That one is just in town as well. It would suit them better because it’s a single-floor plan.”
Pritchard said he sent a form J to the Halkyards on Friday and dropped it into their mailbox.
Pritchard said it’s Michelle Joseph and her son who want to move into the apartment, although he’s not sure of their expected move-in date.
“They live in Hamilton right now. I was under the impression he was coming here for school, but it’s actually her coming here for school,” Pritchard said.
“I don’t think it’s a quick move-in. I imagine it would be September, maybe. Maybe it’s a summer thing she starts. I can only guess; I don’t know for sure. I had an extended period of time to be flexible with the move-out. It’s actually in the form J that I served them saying there’s flexibility in the move-out, whatever the hearing finds fair, so they could find a place.”
Pritchard said Fiedtkou and Joseph did see the property when they first purchased it last year. Pritchard said “everything will be decided what’s fair for who,” adding he’s new to this eviction process.
“Everything’s been done above board,” Pritchard said. “I tried to do everything right by these folks. They’re very nice people and I had hoped they’d continue to be tenants of mine. It’s one of those things.”
“As a person who’s trying to help people manage these rentals, everybody that I represent is just a family that had one property. These are not like conglomerates of people. I have maybe a dozen properties I represent. They’re owned by single moms, nurses just trying to save for their future, or older couples saving for their retirement. These aren’t big nefarious companies that are faceless. I’m just trying to help everybody. I’m trying to be fair to everybody. And at the end of the day, they pay the bills, but I have to see everybody. I have to make sure everybody is content. I’m just trying to make my way through it. I don’t want to see anyone upset. I certainly don’t want anybody to be homeless.”
He gave the Halkyards the address to the Bible Hill property he manages so they can view that apartment.
“I think basically what it boils down to is that it’s tough out there for everyone. Everybody has to be mindful of everybody else. As much as it’s hard to tell somebody that they can’t stay in their home, it’s also hard to tell somebody that’s purchased a home they can’t use it for themselves. It’s a two-sided thing.”
‘They are fighting to stay where they are’
The Examiner spoke with Joanne Hussey, a community legal worker with Dalhousie Legal Aid, and asked for numbers on the renoviction cases the organization has seen. Hussey told the Examiner she searched Dal Legal Aid’s file system for cases that were flagged as evictions, renovictions, and both. Here’s what she found:
From January 1, 2021 to Dec 31, 2021 we represented 21 clients facing eviction (no renovictions were tagged in that time frame as it may even pre-date the tag). In that same time period we had intake appointments with 113 people who were facing possible eviction (1 intake was tagged as a renoviction).
From January 1, 2022 to today (Jan 12, 2023) we have represented 23 clients facing eviction (5 of these tagged as renoviction but confident this is undercounting). During that same time we have had intake appointments with 90 people facing possible eviction (16 tagged as renoviction).
Hussey also provided us with numbers of applications filed with Residential Tenancies.
|Application Received Date|
|Name (Participant Types)||2018||2019||2020||2021||2022|
As Hussey pointed out, while the total number of applications has increased by several hundred from 2018 to 2022, the number of applications being filed by tenants has increased considerably from 795 in 2018 to 1,222 in 2022.
“I think it makes sense that when issues arose previously, tenants likely just moved on to a new apartment but with the current situation they are fighting to stay where they are,” Hussey wrote in an email.
‘Still a long way to go’ for tenant rights
Mitch Broughton is a lawyer with CIR Law Inc. Halifax who knows that tenants are fighting back against renovictions. He represents Stacey Gomez, the Halifax woman who’s been fighting her renoviction from her apartment in the south end of the city.
“I think now that there’s an actual process to be dealt with and there are these statutory minimums in place, there are real incentives for tenants to stand up for themselves whereas in the past there wasn’t much incentive at all,” Broughton said. “You could go into this big fight and maybe you’re allowed to stay or you had to leave and that’s it. But the compensation element has been really helpful for tenants.”
The compensation tenants receive if they have to evict depends on the housing itself. If the building has fewer than four units, a landlord must pay the tenant one month’s rent. If the building has more than four units, the landlord must pay three months’ rent.
If the case goes to a hearing, residential tenancies can also give the tenants more time to leave.
“Finally, there’s also the possibility it goes to residential tenancies and they say, yes, [the landlord] can have vacant possession, that’s fine, but there’s a housing crisis in Nova Scotia right now, so I’m not kicking these people out in three months. That’s not happening. They can give them up to 12 months before they’re actually required to leave,” Broughton said.
Broughton said he’s hearing about more renovictions cropping up and often does free consultations over the phone. He said in many cases, these situations get resolved between the tenant and landlord without going to a hearing.
“If the paperwork is in order on the landlord’s side, then the tenants do have the possibility of trading money for time,” Broughton said. “They’ll be like, ‘Hey, I won’t make a fuss. Just give me four or five months’ rent instead of the three and then I will be out of here by this date.’ That’s easier for the landlord and it gives the tenant a bit of cushion to move with the increased rental costs they’re going to have to deal with. And everyone calls it a day.”
If a landlord wants to use the housing for themselves or family, that’s another issue. And proving that can be tough for tenants.
“The landlord does have the ability to move a family member into their units and that will lead to an eviction,” Broughton said. “Often it comes down to the landlord’s word versus the tenant’s. Those are very difficult cases when the landlords are saying they are moving a family member in. Generally, they are taken on their word.”
“You can try to get at the landlord’s credibility. If you don’t believe they’re being honest, then if you know the children are living elsewhere and they have no interest in moving. If you can prove that, then great. But that’s generally not the case. Usually you don’t know who those family members are, you have no contact with them, they’re probably not going to talk with you. It creates a very difficult situation.”
Broughton said while the compensation for tenants being renovicted is a help, he said “there’s still a long way to go” when it comes to tenant rights in the province.
“There’s still a housing crisis going on. It’s a really, really tough time for folks out there. While these compensation elements are helpful, they’re not eliminating the crisis. They’re not eliminating the encampments that are popping up for people who frankly just have nowhere to go. I think there needs to be more work done by the government to make sure these vulnerable folks are protected.”
‘Change without a choice’
Nancy and Scott Halkyard said the stress of the last week has taken its toll. There have been sleepless nights and they worry about the next steps. Nancy called it an “emotional rollercoaster.” Still, Nancy said she’s feeling more confident after doing research on tenant rights.
“We’ll keep going on with it,” she said. “We’ve come this far and we’re not going to back down now.”
They have looked at some other places, including outside of town. The Halkyards have a dog and two cats and worry that will also make finding a new place tough. Nancy said the rents at the places they’ve viewed is about double what they’re paying now.
“You know what that means, too. Your quality of life goes down,” Nancy said. “Everything else is so highly priced these days. It’s hard.”
The couple said they hope other tenants in Nova Scotia who have been served an eviction notice “get educated” about their rights. In her notebooks, Nancy wrote down a slogan she and her daughter came up with that represents this issue for tenants: Change without a choice. Nancy said she’d like to see a bigger movement around tenant rights.
“We’re trying to for ourselves and others who maybe don’t have a voice,” Nancy said. “We want to make sure other people who are facing the same thing we are get educated. You have to these days because otherwise you’ll be taken advantage of.”
“We wish everyone who is going through this all the best,” Scott added. “And hope they have a really good outcome.”