Nova Scotia

Rent control could be extending its stay in Nova Scotia

Premier Iain Rankin says some form of rent control could remain in Nova Scotia even after the provincial state of emergency is lifted. He says he's awaiting a report and recommendations from the Nova Scotia affordable housing commission.

Premier Iain Rankin says measures required until supply issues are addressed

Premier Iain Rankin is awaiting a report from the Nova Scotia affordable housing commission. (Communications Nova Scotia)

Premier Iain Rankin says some form of rent control could remain in Nova Scotia even after the provincial state of emergency is lifted.

In the face of a housing crisis most prominent in Halifax, but not restricted to the capital city, the provincial government brought in measures last November, including an annual rent increase cap of two per cent.

The housing minister at the time said the measures would remain in place until Feb. 1, 2022, or until the state of emergency related to COVID-19 was lifted, whichever comes first.

During an appearance at a Halifax Chamber of Commerce event on Wednesday, however, Rankin said measures would likely need to be in place longer than that.

"That rent control will remain until we see a better supply and demand mix in the market," he said in answer to a question about housing challenges.

Supply issue could last for years

Rankin said he sees the housing crisis as one tied to supply and demand as the provincial population continues to set new records. While that's a good thing, it's also created problems with availability, he said.

The premier said he's awaiting a report from the Nova Scotia affordable housing commission, expected next month, and he's prepared to act immediately on recommendations that come from the group.

Speaking to reporters later in the day at Province House, Rankin said he sees rent control as a tool, not a solution, but said it was the right tool at the right time given the amount of rent gouging that was taking place. Prior to November, some tenants were reporting significant increases in their rent that were pricing them out of their homes.

Dealing with the supply issue will depend on a variety of factors, including development projects, student arrivals for universities and immigration numbers. Rankin acknowledged it could take years, as much of the province is experiencing pressure on housing supply.

Ongoing uncertainty for renters

Tory Leader Tim Houston said he doesn't think rent control is the solution.

Like Rankin, Houston said the province has a supply and demand problem. He said he also worries that people are beginning to find it more difficult to purchase a house as the real estate market booms.

"Both of these count to [showing] we need more supply in the market," he told reporters.

But NDP Leader Gary Burrill said some form of permanent rent control is exactly what the province needs.

Burrill said the temporary measures in place have a level of uncertainty for some people and it is important that Rankin and the government make decisions as soon as possible and, when they do, articulate them clearly so there is no confusion.

"People are operating under the understanding that the temporary rent control is tied to the state of emergency, so this moment is coming up and it's a big concern," he said.

Premier open to various approaches

Burrill said his caucus is hearing from people who are already receiving notices from landlords about pending increases larger than two per cent in future months.

"Plainly, their landlords are anticipating that they will be in a new regime within three or four months," he said.

Rankin said he's flexible on the approach to be used after he gets the commission's report.

As a candidate for the Nova Scotia Liberal Party leadership, Rankin pushed his own proposal for rent control that would have seen rent increases capped at four per cent for units less than 15 years old and 10 per cent for those older than 15 years. He also proposed the creation of a housing task force.

Two weeks later, the current measures were announced.