Nova Scotia

As neighbours move out, this Halifax renter is refusing to be 'renovicted'

Stacey Gomez has been living in her Church Street apartment in Halifax for close to five years. Now the building's new owner is trying to get her to move out.

A tenancy board hearing in August will determine if Stacey Gomez can stay in the apartment

Stacey Gomez has lived in her apartment since 2017 and is concerned she won't be able to find another place to live if she has to move. (Robert Short/CBC)

Inside a bright green building on Church Street in Halifax, Stacey Gomez sits at her desk, working on her computer. Her home is peaceful, filled with art and plants. Outside, workers saw and hammer. 

Gomez is one of the last people left in the seven-unit building. In March, all the tenants were given forms known as a DR5, asking them to leave for renovations, and many complied. 

Gomez didn't sign the form. She said she believes her landlord, Marcus Ranjbar, is trying to "renovict" her for minor repairs and renovations, and she's standing her ground. 

"I really love my place and I don't want to leave," said Gomez, who's lived in the building since 2017. "I think it would be hard for me to find a comparable place in this area … or even on the peninsula.

"I'm concerned that it's going to significantly impact my life if I have to move."

Gomez says it appears most of the work is being done to the exterior of the building and doesn't warrant a renoviction. (Robert Short/CBC)

A renoviction occurs when a landlord forces residents to leave a building so it can be renovated, then rented to new tenants for substantially higher prices. 

Nova Scotia's renoviction ban ended on March 21 of this year when the provincial state of emergency was lifted. The building permit for Gomez's address was issued on Jan. 13. 

On the permit, the repairs are listed as "flooring, trim, baseboard, paint, fixtures, siding." It notes there will be no structural changes or demolition, and the new siding will be installed over the old siding. 

Gomez said the floors, trim and paint in her apartment are not damaged and don't require repairs. 

This building permit has been posted on the front door of the home, and shows a description of the work being done to the building. (Robert Short/CBC)

"I think that it is wrong for landlords to be displacing people for increased profits, especially when we're in a housing crisis right now," said Gomez.

When CBC News contacted Ranjbar over the phone for an interview, he said he was advised by legal counsel not to comment.

Vacant possession

Tammy Wohler, the managing lawyer of Nova Scotia Legal Aid's social justice office, said attempted renovictions have become increasingly common since the ban was lifted.

Wohler said besides having building permits, a landlord wishing to renovict someone must prove to the Residential Tenancies Board that it's necessary for the tenant to move out.

Wohler said renovictions are becoming more common in the province since the ban was lifted. (Paul Poirier/CBC)

"The renovations need to be so extensive that vacant possession is required," Wohler said. "So, for example, cosmetic renovations … would typically not require a renoviction. You know, we renovate our homes all the time."

Forced out

The owners of the Church Street property are listed in public records as a numbered company, and a man named Mohammad Ranjbar is listed as president.

Marcus Ranjbar's name does not appear on property records or the registry of joint stock companies, but he presents himself as the landlord and his name is listed as landlord on Gomez's DR5 form.

When the building was bought in December 2021, Gomez said actions were taken to force tenants out, including pressuring them to sign shorter, fixed-term leases.

On March 24, days after the province's renoviction ban was lifted, the building's property manager requested that tenants sign a DR5 form, stating that high radon levels had been detected in the building and repairs were required. 

Gomez consulted legal aid groups in the city to confirm her rights, and stayed put. 

The renovations began on May 31. Then Gomez was served with what is known as a form J, for termination of tenancy and vacant possession for renovations. 

A hearing is scheduled for early August to determine if Gomez will be allowed to stay. 

The building permit lists floors, baseboards, trim and paint as interior work, but Gomez says her apartment doesn't need these repairs. (Robert Short/CBC)

Wohler said until the hearing, Gomez is still a tenant and has the same rights as before. 

"The landlord and tenant relationship still exists," she said. "So the tenant must continue to pay the rent, as is their obligation under the lease, and the landlord must maintain and keep up the building as well."

'Pressure tactics'

Gomez said her landlord is failing to do this, and is withholding repairs to "send a message." When her toilet broke in June, she called to ask for a repair. She said Ranjbar hung up on her and refused to fix the toilet. 

Gomez hired a plumber out of pocket to repair the toilet. Then she noticed a hole in her deck and a similar situation ensued. 

"The landlord sent me an irate message saying I am staying for my own selfish reasons, that I am putting my own safety and the safety of his workers at risk by staying," Gomez said.

Gomez says her landlord is withholding maintenance in her unit while conducting the renovations. (Robert Short/CBC)

She said it has reached the point that she doesn't feel comfortable in her home. 

"It's definitely been quite stressful and I am concerned about what's going to happen next if the pressure tactics continue to escalate," she said.

Gomez said she feels that knowing her rights is her greatest protection, and hopes her story will help others become more aware of their own rights. 

"I definitely think that information is power," she said. 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Nicola Seguin is a TV, radio, and online journalist with CBC Nova Scotia, based in Kjipuktuk (Halifax). If you have a story idea, email her at nicola.seguin@cbc.ca or find her on twitter @nicseg95.

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