Nearly four years after Halifax regional council greenlit the idea of a rental property registry, a bylaw to create the framework passed first reading on Tuesday.
A staff report on the registry says property owners would be required to provide their contact information, a description of their rental, proof of insurance, and a maintenance plan to ensure they are meeting standards.
"We kept fighting to see it, so we're overjoyed," said Hannah Wood, chair of ACORN's peninsular Halifax chapter, which advocates for people with low and moderate incomes.
Wood and other ACORN members and supporters rallied in front of city hall Tuesday morning in support of the registry.
"Hallelujah, hallelujah, hallelujah," Coun. Waye Mason said during council, adding that a registry was one of the first things he asked the city to look at when he was elected back in 2012.
The registry would not only bring in data to get a sense of how many rentals are in Halifax, the report said, but allow for proactive safety and fire inspections of smaller buildings.
Currently, rentals with three units or fewer don't have mandatory annual inspections. Instead, enforcement is complaint-based.
"We can't stand up here and state that we're a world-class city and yet not have any understanding of how many unstable or unsafe rentals units are in this city," said Coun. Pamela Lovelace.
Mason said more inspections would hopefully means units without proper safety exits could be identified before a crisis happens. He said he knows of a couple who barely escaped their basement apartment in a fire.
"This is a real and present danger. These things actually are happening in our community," Mason said.
Although city staff told council that the full rental registry won't be publicly accessible, they are open to considering that in the future.
Wood said she hoped the full registry would be made public so anyone could easily look up their landlord and know who to take their issues to, since it's sometimes unclear with large property companies.
Major violations will continue to be made available via Halifax's open data platform, so renters can see which landlords have failed to comply. There has been a recent interruption due to tech upgrades, but the city said that should be resolved in the coming weeks.
A second bylaw to amend rental standards also passed first reading Tuesday.
It would add new wording including that landlords should provide working locks for doors, bathroom plumbing that "drains free from obstruction," keeping common spaces free of garbage, and kitchens should be free of "defective and missing components."
'These things are overdue,' says advocate
Wood said although one would think these things are common sense and not needed in a bylaw, renters continuing to experience these issues has "proved that you do."
"It's obviously crucial that homes be healthy for people to live in, and we as a society pay for it when they aren't," Wood said. "These things are overdue, but I'm happy to see them happening."
Halifax would be the first municipality in Nova Scotia to have such a registry, and Wood urged others across the province to follow suit.
The registry would apply to both large and small apartment buildings, income properties, single-room occupancies, secondary and backyard suites and short-term rentals like Airbnbs.
The report notes that since the registry would lead to more building inspections, more staff would be needed to carry those out. It's suggested that council approve $170,000 for this fiscal year to hire two staff, and $340,000 annually in the following years to pay for four full-time positions.
Staff also said they will work with property owners to help them access grants to upgrade their buildings if they need to comply with the rules.
But Kevin Russell of the Investment Property Owners Association of Nova Scotia (IPOANS) said the expense is unnecessary.
"We're a bit disappointed in the sense that we still mainly believe that existing bylaws that are in place aren't properly being enforced. And if they were, there'd be no reason to bring this bylaw in," Russell said Monday.
Russell said that since there's just a small percentage of landlords causing issues and not maintaining proper standards, it would be more efficient to deal with them individually.
Mayor Mike Savage applauded the proposed registry.
"It's not a new concept, it's being used in lots of other cities and they survive," Savage said.
Property owners not signed up by April 2024 could see fines ranging from $150 to $10,000 depending on the type and recurrence of the offence.
Both bylaws will come back to council for second reading at a later date.
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