The downside to the real estate boom in Nova Scotia

·6 min read
A sign outside a home indicating that it has been sold in early March 2021. (Justin Tang/Canadian Press - image credit)
A sign outside a home indicating that it has been sold in early March 2021. (Justin Tang/Canadian Press - image credit)

Christina Provost moved into her rental home in Prospect, N.S., a year ago. She decorated the house, she enrolled her kids in school nearby, and she expected to stay for years.

About a month ago, Provost's landlord told her she was selling the house. Provost and her three kids had to find a new place to live by July 1.

"I am devastated," Provost told CBC News. "I made this my home. Even though she owns it, it's still my home and I'm being displaced with absolutely no options whatsoever."

Provost is part of a growing number of renters across Nova Scotia who are being evicted because their landlords are selling their homes or small rental units. Due to the current housing crisis in the province, many have no place to go.

Provost said her post about the issue in a public Facebook group garnered over 100 messages from people in the same boat.

"There's this middle class where we don't need to be in [subsidized] housing, but we also can't qualify for a mortgage right now due to divorce, being a single mother, accidents, work layoffs," she said.

"There's so many reasons why people can't qualify for a mortgage that doesn't make them a bad person, but that genre of people, the in-betweens, are being completely left in the wind right now."

ACORN's Halifax peninsula chapter advocates for low-income tenants and workers.
ACORN's Halifax peninsula chapter advocates for low-income tenants and workers.(Francis Ferland/CBC)

Hannah Wood, the chair of the Halifax peninsula chapter of ACORN Nova Scotia, an organization that advocates for low-income tenants and workers, said her group has been seeing a massive increase in tenants whose landlords are selling their units.

Wood noted that "because landlords are selling homes and not rental buildings, most of the tenants living there are families and people who are going to have a very difficult time finding affordable rentals."

The vacancy rate in the Halifax Regional Municipality grew to 1.9 per cent in 2020, but remains one of the lowest in the country. ACORN said there are 4,000 people on the wait list for public housing and the construction of new housing can't keep up with the number of people who are being displaced.

Breaking sales records

The growing demand for housing, meanwhile, is taking place against the backdrop of a real estate boom in the province.

The Nova Scotia Association of Realtors compiled data that shows 1,577 units were sold across the province last month, a new sales record for the month of March and an increase of more than 65 per cent from March 2020.

The average selling price of a home was also up by more than 26 per cent from the previous year.

For many landlords, it's more profitable to sell their homes than to rent them out. Some are getting out of the business and moving into more profitable ventures like AirBnB or house flipping. Others are offloading their income properties now as a way to recoup costs from damages and regular maintenance.

CBC spoke to multiple landlords from across the province who all had similar reasons for selling.

John Bartlett, who owns rental properties in Dartmouth and Middleton, said he's selling most of his units because they've been damaged by tenants and trying to remedy the situation by going through the residential tenancy board simply takes too long.

"Quite frankly, the way the housing market is now, it is the only time that I've looked at my property and said, 'Now I may be able to recoup some of my money that I've lost over the years.' And it has been a lot," he said.

2% rent cap a challenge for landlord

A two per cent rent cap was instated in the province last November as a way to combat what advocates call a housing crisis in the province.

Paul Finnemore stands in front of one of his rental properties in Kentville.
Paul Finnemore stands in front of one of his rental properties in Kentville.(Submitted by Paul Finnemore)

Some small landlords say the legislation makes it difficult to turn a profit because the cost of building supplies has risen since the COVID-19 pandemic.

Paul Finnemore owns 17 rental units in Kentville and Middleton. He said his business plan revolves around buying old, run-down rentals, fixing them up and making them more livable.

"And then we were planning to increase those rents. A little more than two per cent," Finnemore said. "Two per cent doesn't even cover ... the rate of inflation.

"There's a mortgage payment. There's property taxes. There's insurance. Sometimes there's often utilities, water, heat lights — the whole bit — and then regular maintenance and stuff like that. So to make that formula work can be very challenging when we're not able to raise the rent even to a reasonable level."

Finnemore cleaned up and renovated this property in hopes of renting it out.
Finnemore cleaned up and renovated this property in hopes of renting it out.(Submitted by Paul Finnemore)

This week, Provost found a new rental home to move to with her children. Not everyone is so lucky.

Chris Ramsay had lived in his three-bedroom duplex in Colchester County for a year when he received a two-month eviction notice because his landlord was selling the property.

He said having kids makes it much harder for someone to find a rental, though discriminating against families with children is illegal.

Chris Ramsay and his two year old daughter, who are racing to find a new place to live before the two month eviction notice is up.
Chris Ramsay and his two year old daughter, who are racing to find a new place to live before the two month eviction notice is up. (Submitted by Chris Ramsay)

He said there are hundreds of people applying for each rental as soon as it goes on the market, and many landlords don't even respond to his inquiries.

Ramsay said he had to apply for a rental in Cape Breton because he is so desperate to find a place to live. He is worried this will impact his ability to see his eldest daughter, who lives in the Annapolis Valley.

Ramsay said he might have to resort to some unconventional living situations for himself and his two-year-old daughter if he doesn't find a place soon.

"If I don't get approved [for the place in Cape Breton], in all honesty, me and my friend have shopped the idea around that if I could go on Marketplace or Kijiji and find an old camper or pop-up trailer to camp in his backyard and figure out what to do from there," he said.

"Or try to find a motel, or anything, because right now those are getting pretty booked up as well. It's desperate times."

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