N.L. planning to hire staffer so landlord and tenant violations can go to court

Sarah Stoodley is the minister of Digital Government and Service N.L. (Patrick Butler/Radio-Canada - image credit)
Sarah Stoodley is the minister of Digital Government and Service N.L. (Patrick Butler/Radio-Canada - image credit)

Sheltered, a CBC Investigates series, examines the housing crisis in Newfoundland and Labrador — telling the stories of the people living it, while scrutinizing the policies and politics behind it.

The Newfoundland and Labrador government plans to hire someone who will be responsible for getting cases to court, so that potential fines can be imposed against rule-breaking landlords or tenants.

That move could help close a loophole that has resulted in zero known penalties being imposed since legislation was changed six years ago, to bolster provisions aimed at deterring bad behaviour.

"We are going to take more of a leadership role in making sure that the act is followed by landlords and tenants," Digital Government and Service N.L. Minister Sarah Stoodley told a legislative committee on Friday.

Stoodley indicated that officials "are going to start seeking legal action against landlords and tenants, potentially, who meet potential criteria."

Under Section 51 of the Residential Tenancies Act, fines can be imposed for contraventions of the law. Those amounts were increased in 2018.

But a CBC Investigates story in November found there is no evidence anyone has been fined, because no one in the department is in charge of pushing cases through the court process.

In January, the department confirmed its intention to address that gap, after years of lobbying by local housing advocates.

At a legislative committee hearing Friday, NDP MHA Lela Evans asked about the status of work being done to address the issue.

"The media has reported on the lack of a body that is dedicated to bringing landlord-tenant cases to court, and you've committed to looking into that," Evans said.

"Could you provide us with some sort of details on where the department is currently?"

Stoodley said officials have reviewed an approach to start on a pilot basis.

"We are planning to recruit an additional full-time staff member to undertake those activities," the minister said.

The department, which has yet to lay out a timeline for that to happen, did not immediately provide further details in response to CBC News inquiries before deadline.

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