A fatal fire in December is raising concerns about a growing number of rooming houses in Cape Breton Regional Municipality.
There's no way to know how many rooming houses there are, but the number is growing, said Paul Burt, the municipality's manager of building, planning and licensing laws.
"We are receiving more and more complaints every day," he said.
Some homeowners are taking out permits and meeting building and fire codes, said Burt.
But complaints from tenants, neighbours and the fire department reveal others who are not following the rules and Burt said CBRM is aware of social media reports of landlords taking advantage of the shortage of affordable housing.
"From what we're hearing with just people buying properties and not living in them and then putting an ad on Kijiji and then filling every space they can — attics and basements and living rooms — with people and yeah, we certainly have a real concern with that," he said.
Housing has been at a premium since Cape Breton University recruited thousands of international students to come to Sydney.
A fire killed one of eight CBU students living in half of a duplex on Park Street in Sydney last month.
Two of the students who escaped that fire are choosing to stay in a motel rather than return to overcrowded rentals in Sydney.
The cause of that incident is still under investigation.
Burt said the building on Park Street might have been up to code, but it is symbolic of a growing problem.
CBRM has sent staff to the university to talk to students about their rights and tenancy laws, he said, but there is little the municipality can do to find unscrupulous landlords on its own.
"We do rely on the public and the tenants to be aware and make complaints when they suspect or they think there's a concern that should be looked at," Burt said.
Last year, Fire Chief Michael Seth said he had dealt with more fatal fires in the two years he had been in CBRM than he had in his entire 30-year career.
"I still stand behind that and there's a number of different areas we need to investigate on why that's actually occurring," he said this week.
Seth said there doesn't appear to be a common cause for the number of fires across the municipality and he is worried that overcrowded housing could be one source.
Aging housing stock that was built under old fire codes could also be contributing to the problem, he said.
CBRM eying fire safety software
CBRM has issued a tender for software that would help the department track fire locations and causes, but it hasn't selected a vendor yet.
Once it does, it will take time to get data that will be useful, Seth said.
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