Tenants of two Dartmouth apartment buildings will have until Dec. 30 to appeal their "renoviction" orders, which were issued just before the province banned the practice.
Small claims court adjudicator Augustus Richardson granted the extension following a Monday hearing, sparked by individual applications from 17 tenants of 252 and 254 Victoria Rd.
Among the tenants is Darren Donovan, who says he doesn't want to stay in the building long term, but he wants more time to find an alternative.
"I just want some time to find a place, that's all I want," he said.
Donovan, who is paying $600 a month for a one-bedroom apartment shared with his fiancée, said he can't find anything comparable.
'I wish somebody out there would give us a break'
"I wish somebody out there would give us a break to get into a different place."
On Oct. 1, the buildings' landlord issued notices to quit to every tenant — at that time about 30 people — citing major renovations in the works.
The buildings are in disrepair, but as CBC reported earlier this fall, they make up part of a dwindling supply of affordable housing.
Some tenants have already left, but others, many of them living on income assistance or pensions, have been struggling to find anywhere else to go. Their deadline to vacate is Dec. 31.
Orders issued before renoviction ban
On Nov. 25, the provincial government announced a temporary ban on ordering evictions tied to renovations — known as renovictions — but it didn't cover the Victoria Road buildings. The landlord had already filed for and received eviction orders through the Residential Tenancy Board before the ban came into effect.
Still, two lawyers — one with Dalhousie Legal Aid and one with Nova Scotia Legal Aid — applied to the court on behalf of the tenants. According to Richardson's decision, the application makes the following argument:
"The evidence did not show that vacant possession of the unit is required for renovation. The date set by the Order of the Director for vacant possession is unconscionable given the scarcity of affordable housing, the time of year and the COVID-19 pandemic. The November 25 order of council would have been applicable."
Richardson said in his decision that there did seem to be "valid questions" about the potential impact of the new renoviction moratorium — questions that could be answered through the appeal process.
He noted that Central East Developments, the company that owns the two buildings, didn't own them when the initial eviction orders were issued, and called the transfer of the orders from the previous owner into question.
Further, Richardson said the timeframe for the evictions may be unreasonable.
"In the files before me the Tenants were given roughly give to six weeks to find a new apartment over the Christmas holidays in the midst of a pandemic," Richardson wrote. "There was no evidence before me as to why such a short period of time was requested or ordered."
Landlord says decision is 'unfair'
According to Richardson, Central East Developments argued the eviction orders were obtained in good faith and the rules were followed.
The company also pointed out that none of the tenants appealed during the original 10-day windows that were granted. For most tenants, those periods started between Nov. 16 and Nov. 23.
Central East president Adam Barrett reiterated those points in an email to CBC on Tuesday, and added that he considered the decision to be "unfair."
"Relying on the Ministers' arbitrarily applied policy will have detrimental [effects] on our ability to renovate and provide safe affordable homes in North-End Dartmouth.
"We are working with the court and Dalhousie Legal Aid to come to a new arrangement that will be acceptable to all parties involved."
In the meantime, Richardson ordered that Barrett's company "shall not interfere with or obstruct the use and enjoyment of the Tenants of their respective units in 252 and 254 Victoria Road, Dartmouth."
That order comes too late for Donovan, who said he developed a cough when demolition work began in his building earlier this month.
The Department of Community Services has helped to put him and his fiancée into a hotel room because of the potential health risk of staying, but most of their belongings remain in their apartment and they are still paying rent.
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