Protesters descended on Grand Parade in Halifax on Wednesday, demanding tighter controls on landlords in the city.

The protest was led by members of an anti-poverty and tenants' rights group called Acorn, or the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now. About 40 people marched on city hall, chanting slogans and giving speeches.

The protest was fuelled in part by a story from CBC News last week, documenting problems with a rental property in central Halifax.

Devon Berquist, a former tenant at 6204 Duncan St., complained about conditions at a house she shared with five other tenants. Berquist complained about mould, faulty wiring, burst pipes and rats.

Protesters had rubber rats and rat-themed signs at the protest.

"It is very disturbing," said Coun. Jennifer Watts, who attended the protest.

"To see where people are living and under what conditions they are living in, it's hard to imagine that with the building code in place, with everything else — that this still exists. Unfortunately it does."

Watts accepted a letter from the protesters on behalf of Halifax regional council. The council is awaiting a report from staff at the Halifax Regional Municipality, who have been asked to look at tightening restrictions on landlords.

"I think a licensing program would just make a difference, hopefully, in actually being more of a preventative action to really keep on top of what the quality and safety issues are within the existing housing stock," Watts said, as protesters marched in the background.

"We have to make sure that the conditions that people are living in are adequate, are sufficient and are certainly complying with the building codes that we have."

Mayor meets with protesters

Mike Savage, the mayor of the Halifax Regional Municipality, also met briefly with protesters.

"I think we all have a responsibility to make sure we do a better job," Savage said.

"I think as a society, a province and as a city to make sure that people live in conditions that are acceptable."

Savage isn't convinced tighter restrictions on landlords is the answer.

"We've got to look at the whole situation and make sure that we have, I think, a system that's balanced between landlords and tenants and provides opportunity for people to live within their means," he said.

Savage said housing is a high priority and it tops the agenda for a meeting later this week of Canadian big-city mayors. He said he's disappointed housing wasn't mentioned in this week's federal budget.

"There's over a billion and a half dollars of housing programs nationally that are going to expire over the next number of years," he said.

"I think housing is a very important issue for us and for the entire country."