After living in a Halifax rooming house for close to 14 years, Barry Smith came home from work one evening in June to find a troubling letter taped to his door.
The note from his new landlords said the monthly rent per room in the 29-unit house at 6273 North St. will increase to $700 per month on Aug. 1.
Smith currently pays $540 per month for his room, which includes a bed, table, sink, fridge, air fryer and microwave. His area of the building has no kitchen, and residents share a bathroom.
The new rate is nearly a 30 per cent increase for Smith. Nova Scotia currently has a rent cap in place that bans any rent increase over two per cent until December 2023. It also states rent can only be increased once per year, and four months' notice must be given.
"It's all money. It's greed, that's all it comes down to. They want more money for it," Smith said.
The letter stated that the tenancy of those who do not pay the increased rent "will be terminated."
Smith, who works as a labourer, said he doesn't plan to pay the illegal increase, but also doesn't want to move at a time when there are so few affordable options.
"Where would I go? To live in a tent in a city park? I've been here [almost 14] years, I've never missed a rent payment," Smith said. "I'm fighting this."
Shortly after he received the letter, Smith went to Dalhousie Legal Aid Service for help.
According to public property records, the rooming house has been owned by CB MacDonald Properties Ltd. since 1983. Late last year, three men bought the company and took possession of the North Street property in December 2021.
When CBC News contacted the owners of the building for comment, a representative sent an emailed statement.
"We had been told that we were in a position to adjust the rents according to housing organizations we consulted, however we believe we may not have had all the information," the statement said.
In a later email, the representative said the owners have decided to only increase the rent for the building's tenants who are on income assistance.
Rent increase '100% illegal,' says legal worker
One of the owners said he estimates more than two-thirds of the building's occupants are on income assistance, and their social workers have approved the increase. He said the tenants not on income assistance, including Smith, will receive notice "within 24 to 48 hours" that their rent increase is cancelled.
At the time of publication, Smith had not yet been informed of this.
Mark Culligan, a community legal worker with Dalhousie Legal Aid Service, said the owners' decision is discriminatory.
"If this is the landlord's position, they are openly violating the rent cap and doing so in a way that discriminates against tenants on the basis of their source of income," Culligan said.
"It's 100 per cent illegal," he said. "Landlords cannot increase the rent above two per cent. It's that simple.
"And what we have here is a landlord who's trying to trick vulnerable people into paying more money under threats. He cannot evict people for refusing an illegal rent increase, and they cannot terminate everyone's lease for Aug. 1."
Rent cap applies to any lease, says province
According to the provincial department responsible for the residential tenancies act, what CB MacDonald Properties is attempting violates the act.
"The rules set out in the Residential Tenancies Act and the rent cap apply to rooming houses and week-to-week leases as they involve a tenant and landlord relationship," said Blaise Theriault, a representative for the department of Service Nova Scotia and Internal Services.
The only tenants the rent cap doesn't apply to are those with a commercial lease, those in public housing or those leasing a space in a mobile home park.
Theriault said tenants or landlords can apply for a hearing if they feel the other party is not following the rules set out in the Residential Tenancies Act or the interim rent cap.
Lisa Ryan, a housing support worker and executive director of the South Shore Open Doors Association, said community organizations are seeing a "dramatic increase" in requests from service providers to raise rent.
"I think there's frustration on the side of rental providers with the rising cost of living and of course increased cost to property taxes and so forth. They are looking for ways to be able to compensate for further increases in costs," Ryan said.
"But those increases in cost of living are also impacting tenants at a rapid rate. And a more immediate impact is felt by the people who are on social assistance or on fixed incomes."
Smith said if he doesn't receive notice that his rent increase is cancelled, he will pursue a hearing with residential tenancies.
"Every renter in this province has rights to be treated fairly and every landlord has to follow those rights, whether they like them or not," Smith said.
"There are some things in the tenancy rules that landlords don't like, there's some things in the tenancy rules that tenants don't like. But we both have to abide by it."
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