Would landlord licences improve housing standards in Halifax?

P.E.I. landlords allowed 1.5% rent increase for 2018

An anti-poverty group says Halifax should consider a landlord licensing regime, but an association that represents income property owners maintains other measures would better address problems with housing standards.

Nova Scotia's Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN), which represents low and moderate income families in the province, is calling for a system that would require bylaw officers to inspect units before landlords are approved to rent them out.

In March, city councillors in Toronto voted 41-1 in favour of a similar system that requires landlords to register each year and pay an annual fee. They are also required to develop plans for tracking tenant requests, as well as handling waste and pests.

"If Toronto can do it, why can't Halifax?" Sarah Parker, a Halifax organizer for Nova Scotia ACORN, told CBC Nova Scotia's Information Morning.

The problem

But Kevin Russell, chair of The Investment Property Owners Association of Nova Scotia, which speaks for apartment owners, said licensing won't solve existing problems. Only "good" landlords will bother registering, he said, and irresponsible ones will continue breaking the rules.

Parker said Halifax's Bylaw M-200 outlines the minimum standards that landlords are supposed to uphold, but "what we're finding is the enforcement of that bylaw is not there."

Under the current system, tenants are invited to call the city at 311 to report any problems. Many don't, Parker said, for fear of retaliation from their landlords.

Those who do make the call might reach a sympathetic bylaw officer who completes an inspection and orders the landlord to make changes.

However, the financial burden for those changes often falls to the tenant in the form of a rent increase, Parker said, "when this is really the landlord's responsibility to meet a minimum standard."

An expensive solution

Russell agrees that "the current bylaws aren't working," but he doesn't think "adding another layer of enforcement structure is going to be the answer."

Landlord licensing is expensive, he said, and the costs of a new system would likely be passed on to tenants and taxpayers.

Instead, he suggested that building owners submit an annual report declaring they meet the standards set out in the existing bylaw. Those who do not submit a report would automatically be flagged for a property inspection. 

Russell also proposed a mandatory certification model for balconies, decks and building envelopes to ensure they're regularly inspected.

He added that an educational campaign for both tenants and landlords would also be useful.

Timeline

Halifax municipal spokesman Brendan Elliott confirmed in an email that staff are currently looking into the broader issue of licensing, "which may include landlords."

He said the original goal was to bring recommendations to regional councillors by the fall, however recent staff changes may delay the process.