'$150 can go a long way': Mother of 5 says her rent is being unfairly raised
Melissa Douthwright says 2 of her neighbours didn't receive the same increase
A mother in Lower Sackville, N.S., is feeling squeezed out of her rental home because she says her landlord plans to raise her rent in part because she and her husband have five children.
Melissa Douthwright said she and her family, who have been living in the home on Romaz Court since July 2018, learned recently their monthly rent would rise by $150 to $1,450 on July 1.
"I was sick to my stomach, thinking, 'Why such an increase?' ... $150 can go a long way when it comes to food or clothing. We have one income," she said.
Douthwright shares the home with her husband, Mike, and five children: Alivia, 10, Kyliee, 8, Kaden, 5, Brooklyn, 3, and Liam, 7 months. The three-bedroom home is part of a cul-de-sac development of 12 identical homes owned by Klavdia Gonopolskiy of Halifax.
Douthwright said she moved into the home because the street offered a safe place for her children to play with neighbours. The current $1,300 monthly rent, which includes cold water but no other utilities, fits her family's budget, she said.
Then on Feb. 29, Douthwright said she received a notice from her landlord about the rental increase, which she said she can't afford.
Doughwright said two neighbours she's friends with received rental increases of $25 a month, and another received no increase at all. After the increases, those neighbours will be paying between $1,325 and $1,375.
Douthwright sent an email to her landlord asking why her increase was so much more than her neighbours.
In an email reply, Gonopolskiy said Douthwright was not honest about how many of her children would be living in the home when she signed her lease. Gongolposkiy said she'd charge $1,450 per month to a large family who wants to move in.
"If I will need to rent a unit to a family of 6: 2 adults and 4 kids with a big dog, I will ask for the same price," Gonopolskiy wrote.
She wrote that she would not discuss how much she charges her other tenants as the amounts are "confidential."
Douthwright said she doesn't understand why she and her family are being treated differently and doesn't believe it's fair.
Megan Deveaux, a community legal worker with Dalhousie Legal Aid in Halifax who specializes in residential tenancy disputes, said landlords in Nova Scotia can increase rents by any amount once per year, as long as they give tenants adequate notice.
But there are several grounds for a tenant to appeal, including that they are being singled out in some way and receiving a rent increase much larger than others who live in similar-sized units in the same building.
Deveaux, who wouldn't comment on Douthwright's situation, said tenants can appeal a rent increase that's too high compared to market rates for a similar unit. But she said leeway is given to landlords who have made improvements to their properties or who are incurring extra costs.
"The landlord's burden at that point is to demonstrate that this is a reasonable increase, even though it's different than everybody else's," Deveaux said.
She said landlords have no legal authority to bar family members living together in a home, unless there's a safety issue such as a restraining order against another tenant in the building.
Landlords can charge more rent for more residents in a unit, but only if they can demonstrate an increased cost burden as a result.
Gonopolskiy denied in an interview that she is discriminating against the Douthwrights and said she too has children. She said she purchased the buildings on Romaz Court in 2016, about a year after she immigrated to Canada from Israel.
Her experience as a landlord has been good, she said, but dealing with Douthwright has been hard work.
She said Douthwright's rental cheques are routinely returned with insufficient funds, and that she pays her rent late nearly every month. Gonopolskiy said it often takes dozens of messages to collect a month's rent.
In May 2019, the residential tenancies board issued an eviction notice to the Douthwright family for chronic late payment of rent. Gonopolskiy said she allowed the family to stay in an attempt to be compassionate.
"Because they have kids, I said, 'OK, now you know you can stay. If you will pay your rent, I will still give you time,' because they were already overdue," she said.
Gonopolskiy said the new rental amount is fair market value for the unit, and the discrepancy in rents between units has to do with when her various tenants moved into Romaz Court.
"If I rent her unit to another family, I would ask for this amount. It's a price on the market. They are almost there two years, and it's the first time I give them an increase," Gonopolskiy said.
Appeals to residential tenancies
Both Douthwright and Gonopolskiy have appealed to Nova Scotia's residential tenancies board for relief. That hearing will take place on April 6.
Meanwhile, Douthwright said she's filed a complaint with the Nova Scotia Human Rights Commission.
"My family is just as good as everybody else's, no matter how many kids are in it. It should not have anything to do with an increase of rent," she said.
"We take care of this place. My kids don't bother anybody. My kids are great people, they're respectful. I just feel like it's very unfair."