‘Demoralizing’: Rent cap rises to 5% in N.S., putting tenants under further strain

Click to play video: 'Residents worry as rent cap in Nova Scotia increases'
Residents worry as rent cap in Nova Scotia increases
The rent cap in Nova Scotia has increased from two to five per cent as of the new year. But with the affordability and housing crisis still rampant, some residents are worried about the impact this could bring. Amber Fryday reports. – Jan 2, 2024

It’s a new year, and there’s a new rent cap in Nova Scotia.

As of Jan. 1, the province raised allowable rent increases to five per cent, up from the two per cent cap that has been in place since 2020.

Jonethan Brigley, who lives in a multi-unit apartment building in Dartmouth, said he and his neighbours woke up to an unwelcome surprise on New Year’s Day: notice of a five-per-cent increase coming in June.

“It kind of soured my mood for the rest of the day,” he said. “It was very demoralizing.”

Brigley is fortunate that his rent is well under market, but the new change will still be a struggle. He has a full-time minimum-wage job and finds it difficult to keep up with the “ever-growing cost of groceries” and other essentials.

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“It is doable, but it’s tightening a belt that is already pretty tight as it is,” he said. “I spoke to other people in my building and they’re already at a wit’s end.”

The biggest issue, he said, is his building has “a severe lack of maintenance,” with the property having changed hands between several landlords over the 13 years he’s lived there.

“If they were showing more effort of what they were doing, I would understand, to an extent,” he said.

Click to play video: 'Nova Scotia residents prepare for rent cap increase in January'
Nova Scotia residents prepare for rent cap increase in January

The average rent for a one-bedroom apartment in Halifax was $1,917 per month as of December, according to a report from With the new change, what would have been an increase to $1,955 has now jumped to $2,012.

“How do you expect people working at the current minimum wage to keep up with that?” Brigley said. “Never mind the ample (amount of) people that are on fixed income, social assistance.”

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The rent cap change puts renters in a tough position, said Sue LaPierre, the director of social impact strategy at United Way Halifax.

“It’s going to make a difference for families that are already struggling. We know that one in three Atlantic Canadian families is struggling to meet basic needs, and the rent cap at two per cent has been an important mechanism to help manage finances,” she said.

“There’s still a cap, so that is helpful, but certainly the increased cap will make a difference for families, there’s no doubt.”

LaPierre said many families are already making tough choices about living costs.

“We certainly see that families are having to do things like compromise on food, make different choices about what their needs are and how they support their families,” she said.

“In a cost of living and housing crisis, this will be an added expense for families, for sure.”

Striking a balance

Colton LeBlanc, the minister of Service Nova Scotia, which oversees the Residential Tenancies Act, said the rent cap rose because they want to “strike a balance between the rights and needs of both tenants and landlords.”

“We know coming into government that this was going to be a temporary solution as we focus on the real solution to the housing crisis in our province – while we focus on building more housing supply,” he said.

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“Tenants are facing increased costs of living, but also, particularly, small landlords are facing increased costs. So part of this balanced approach is to recognize that we have to do something to change the rent cap for this year.”

He said there are targeted supports available for people that need them.

“The residential tenancy program is … a complex one, it’s a difficult one to balance,” he said. “Every action that we take pertaining to this program can potentially have an impact on supply, at a time where we need more supply.”

Click to play video: 'Nova Scotia rent inflation reaches record high while homelessness crisis grows'
Nova Scotia rent inflation reaches record high while homelessness crisis grows

LeBlanc could not say if the rent cap, which is currently set to expire at the end of 2025, will be extended.

“Our position is that the rent cap is not a permanent solution,” he said. “The true solution to the housing crisis in Nova Scotia is more places that Nova Scotians can call home.”

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He also would not comment on if the province will address what’s known as a “loophole” around fixed-term leases, in which landlords can end a tenant’s current lease and hike rent for the next tenant well above the rent controlled rate, since the cap does not apply to new tenants.

“Some of the challenges that we’re seeing within the rental marketplace is made worse by a very low vacancy rate,” LeBlanc said, repeating that more housing supply is needed.

“We will continue to make the right investments in housing and continue to work with all partners that want to be part of the solution.”

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