Pushed out

As the housing crunch worsens, some landlords are turfing tenants in pursuit of higher rents 

Fourteen years after professional opera singer and housing advocate Heather Pawsey coined the term “renoviction” in Vancouver, the craze seems all the rage in Halifax. 

A portmanteau of “renovation” and “eviction,” the practice involves ejecting a tenant to do renovations, with the upgrades enabling the landlord to hike the rent. Renovictions are sometimes legit (apartments do need upgrades over time), but the situation often leaves people ripe for exploitation. 

“There are a variety of ways in which landlords pressure tenants to vacate in order to recapitalize or redevelop a property,” says local housing expert Neil Lovitt of Turner & Drake Partners. “It can include filing legitimate applications to the tenancies board, fraudulent applications — such as an eviction due to a ‘family member’ needing to move into the unit, which never comes to pass after the tenant leaves — and a variety of more underhanded pressure tactics.” 

Little data is available to show how extensive the trend is. 

But it was a problem bad enough for then-premier Stephen McNeil to impose a renoviction ban in November 2020 as the COVID-19 pandemic raged, the housing market sizzled, and a shortage of affordable housing became a crisis. New Progressive Conservative Premier Tim Houston lifted the restriction in March, despite a worsening housing crunch that’s creating the perfect conditions to turf tenants and jack up rents, in some cases by double or more. 

Houston added some protections for renters, such as requirements for a three-month notice, mutual agreements in writing, and compensation. But, with few affordable rentals available and an overheated home-buying market, renovictions, both legal and not, remain a problem. 

Some landlords argue a ban on renovictions could lead to subpar and even unsafe housing. The problem now, however, is that rents on many renovated apartments are skyrocketing beyond the reach of many tenants, even those making more than a living wage. 

An increasing number of renovictions are “demovictions,” when tenants are evicted so a landlord can demolish a building. The new apartments going up on the properties take time and charge substantially higher rents. 

Nova Scotia didn’t start tracking renovictions until the ban was lifted. Around 30 applications have been filed by landlords after they failed to reach an agreement with their tenants. Six of them came in anticipation of the ban being lifted and 13 are in Halifax Regional Municipality. In the early weeks, four hearings sided with tenants and one was in favour of a landlord. Provincial officials tell Unravel Halifax they will no longer provide information on hearing outcomes. 

The obvious solution is more housing, but a sufficient supply is years away. 

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