N.S. to maintain rent control until December 2023 under new legislation

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Nova Scotia to maintain rent control until December 2023
WATCH: After opposing a rental cap policy, the PC government pulled a reversal on Wednesday. Premier Tim Houston announced that rent control will continue until Dec. 31, 2023 under new legislation. Jesse Thomas reports. – Oct 20, 2021

Premier Tim Houston and his Progressive Conservative government has announced that rent control will continue until Dec. 31, 2023 under new legislation being brought forward on Wednesday.

Houston told reporters about the interim residential rent-cap legislation, which will limit residential rent increases to two per cent per year to protect tenants once the state of emergency ends.

It’s a change in direction for the premier who said in August that he doesn’t believe extending rent control past the state of emergency brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic is a solution to the housing crisis.

Houston still believes however that “the long-term solution for the housing crisis does not rest on rent control.”

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“It has been tried and it doesn’t work long term. The only answer is more supply to meet market demands, but for affordability to improve, availability needs to improve. But we know that more supply, more availability cannot happen overnight, and the government can’t do it alone,” he said.

NDP Leader Gary Burrill said in a press release that thousands of people advocated for an expansion of the rent cap, which makes today’s announcement a “major victory.”

“While this change will mean the immediate relief of some of the anxiety people are facing with the rapid increases in rental costs, permanent rent control, beyond the two-year rent cap, is still needed to protect tenants,” said Burrill.

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Houston also announced other plans to deal with the housing crisis in N.S., including investment in affordable housing units and creating a planning task force to focus on faster planning and development approvals for large residential projects in HRM.

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The government says it will spend nearly $35 million to support over 1,100 new affordable housing units across the province.

The following is a list of solutions the province announced on Wednesday.

  • The province will work to recruit and retain more apprentices in trade to create more opportunities for them and ease the skilled labour shortage.
  • The government will eliminate the provincial portion of personal income tax on the first $50,000 of annual income for construction trades workers under the age of 30.
  • The province will build new residences at three NSCC campuses and create a province-wide student housing strategy.
  • The province is identifying a list of provincially-owned properties that can be used for housing as quickly as possible.
  • The government will create a regional transportation group, including engineers and planners from the municipality and the province, to create a master transportation plan for HRM. This group will review roads, ferries and public transit to ensure the transportation system is set up for rapid residential growth in the coming years.

Inclusionary zoning, a planning tool that requires or encourages affordable housing in a new development, will also be added to the Halifax Regional Municipality Charter and the Municipal Government Act.

The province said it will meet with municipalities across the province to discuss other possible measures that will support affordable housing, such as better regulation for short-term rental units and flexibility in taxation to encourage development.

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Click to play video: 'Nova Scotia residents continue to call on province to extend rent cap'
Nova Scotia residents continue to call on province to extend rent cap

Halifax Mayor Mike Savage said at a municipal update that he was pleased with the measures announced Wednesday, but the municipality does have concerns.

Savage said HRM already has plans in place to prepare for the city’s growth, so it does want to be part of the discussions involving the task force and the master transportation plan that focuses on rapid residential growth.

He also said that HRM has 19,000 approved housing units to be built, and 4,000 units under construction as of today.

“When the province approves HRM centre plan after next week, it will enable 37,000 more units all of which could proceed with no development agreement,” Savage said.

In the meantime, he said that there are areas in the PC’s new housing plans that need “conversation and consultation to achieve common ground.”

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Strengthening tenant protections

New rules to protect tenants against renovation evictions were introduced Wednesday.

The measures are included in amendments to the Residential Tenancies Act and are as follows:

  • Tenants will be given a minimum of three months notice before they can be evicted due to renovations.
  • Mutual agreements to terminate a lease between tenants and landlords must be in writing.
  • If a tenant does not agree to terminate the tenancy, landlords must make an application under the province’s residential tenancies program for an eviction order.
  • Landlords must give the tenant between one and three months rent as compensation for the eviction.
  • Landlord violations of the new protections can lead to additional compensation for tenants such as covering moving expenses or paying the difference between the tenant’s new unit and the rent paid for their former unit, for up to one year.

Other tenant protections in the bill include:

  • Rental increase notices can only contain one amount, regardless of whether the tenant decides to renew their tenancy as a month-to-month or yearly lease.
  • Landlords cannot charge different rental rates for different lease terms.
  • A streamlined security deposit claim process so it is easier for tenants to get back their security deposits.
  • Landlords must provide a 24-hour written notice to enter tenants’ units unless the tenant gives permission or there is an emergency.

The province said changes that will increase efficiency and provide clarity around processes for landlords include:

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  • Flexible effective dates for rental increase notices that are no longer tied to an anniversary date; such notices are still limited to once a year.
  • When a tenant’s dispute of a rental eviction notice is dismissed, an eviction order can be issued.

Amendments to strengthen tenant protections against renovation evictions, will come into effect upon Royal Assent. Other amendments will take effect at a later date.

The current ban on evictions due to renovations will end on February 1, 2022.

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