Nova Scotia

Fairview tenants stay put despite 'illegal' eviction effort

Some tenants of a Halifax apartment building are standing their ground even as their landlord tries to evict them to renovate the 30-unit building, including work he says cannot be done while units are occupied.

Nova Scotia government says it has not received an application for eviction from the landlord

Cathie Hunt is a tenant at 25 Vimy Ave. in Halifax. She says residents are 'on pins and needles' waiting to see if they get evicted. (Dave Laughlin/CBC)

Some tenants of an apartment building in the Halifax neighbourhood of Fairview are standing their ground even as their landlord threatens them with what they call an "illegal" eviction.

The landlord of 25 Vimy Ave. issued eviction notices to the tenants this spring. Adam Barrett of BlackBay Real Estate Group wants to renovate the 30-unit building, including work he says cannot be done while units are occupied.

Since tenants received the notice, the building has slowly been emptying.

However, about 11 units are still occupied, even days after the final eviction date of Aug. 3, when the landlord had told tenants that water and power would be shut off and doors to individual units would be removed.

"Everybody is on pins and needles," said Cathie Hunt, who has lived in the building for three years. "Maybe the eviction is illegal now, but are they going to make it legal or, you know, what's going to happen? No one really knows."

The new owner of 25 Vimy Ave. issued eviction letters to tenants this spring, but the province says he has not filed the appropriate paperwork to proceed with the evictions. (Robert Short/CBC)

A spokesperson for Service Nova Scotia, the provincial department responsible for the Residential Tenancies Act, told CBC News the landlord has not filed the appropriate paperwork to conduct the evictions.

Landlords who want to do renovations that would require tenants to leave must file an application with the residential tenancies program.

Program staff would then schedule a hearing with each tenant to determine whether the unit needs to be vacant to conduct the work. If that's the case, the program issues orders to both the landlord and the tenant with the date of the eviction.

In an email, Service Nova Scotia spokesperson Susan McKeage said if this process is not followed, any notice requiring tenants to vacate their unit would not be proper, and tenants would not have to comply.

Building owner Barrett did not respond to multiple requests for an interview since Saturday.

Hunt plans to wait and see what happens.

"Until they get the proper forms — if they can get the proper forms after everything they've done — stay here until something hopefully comes up within my means," she said.

Hunt said the hot water was turned off on Wednesday evening, but was back on again Thursday morning.

Leigh MacLean is a housing support worker with Halifax Housing Help. (Dave Laughlin/CBC)

The landlord had warned tenants in letters that Halifax police, the "fire inspection department" and a private bailiff service would be on site on Aug. 3 to remove any occupants and board up the windows.

But all was quiet at the building on Saturday.

According to Leigh MacLean, a housing support worker at Halifax Housing Help, Barrett showed up at the building with a contractor on Tuesday, and when someone called the police, he left.

Halifax Regional Police confirmed an officer did go to the building on Tuesday after a resident reported that someone was there trying to get tenants out. But the officer didn't find anyone trying to remove tenants, so police left.

MacLean said tenants are "in a constant state of panic thinking they're going to lose their housing, lose their belongings."

Eric Jonsson is a program co-ordinator with Navigator Street Outreach. (Dave Laughlin/CBC)

Eric Jonsson works with two tenants in the building as part of his job as co-ordinator of the Navigator Street Outreach program, which helps people who are homeless. He said one of his clients used to live on the street before moving into 25 Vimy Ave., and he's worried he'll end up there again.

"I've been telling him until they show up with the sheriffs, you can stay there because there's nowhere else to go," Jonsson said. "Affordable housing is so hard to come by in the city right now that … there's really nowhere for most people to go, unfortunately."

Political reaction

On Thursday, Patricia Arab, the minister responsible for the Residential Tenancies Act, told reporters safe, affordable housing is "the No. 1 issue that comes across my desk as an MLA."

The apartment building on Vimy Avenue is in Arab's riding, and she encouraged any affected tenants to contact her constituency office for help.

Arab said the province is looking at all options — including rent control — to balance the best interests of landlords and tenants.

NDP MLA Claudia Chender said rent control is a needed solution to the "astronomical rising of rents."

The NDP introduced the Rental Affordability Act, which would implement limits on rent increases, in September 2018, but the bill has not been passed.

Chender said vulnerable populations such as newcomers and people on income assistance are largely affected by rising rents, but she said she's also heard from seniors on fixed incomes who live in "nicely appointed apartments" who can't handle the $100 increase in rent every year.

PC MLA Tim Halman told reporters there should be a "concerted effort" to explore the lack of economic opportunities that limit people's ability to access affordable housing.

About the Author

Frances Willick is a journalist with CBC Nova Scotia. Please contact her with feedback, story ideas or tips at frances.willick@cbc.ca

With files from Jean Laroche