Nova Scotia landlord who struggled to evict tenants seeks reform of system

·4 min read

HALIFAX — The financial and emotional stress of evicting tenants who are months behind on rent has made Patricia Celan into an advocate for reforming Nova Scotia's tenancy system to include an enforcement division.

The 29-year-old physician says her story of attempting to remove non-paying tenants began on June 15, five days after Angela Sutts and Wayne Provo's damage deposit and rent cheques bounced.

Celan, who is studying to become a psychiatrist, said Friday she found herself falling further into debt as mortgage payments on her property mounted, adding that she delayed her school schedule to focus on remedying the situation.

"I'm on a leave of absence and I'm hoping to go back to school once I've learned for sure they (the tenants) have moved out," she said. "It's hard to think about anything else."

She says too much onus falls on landlords and renters in Nova Scotia when one of the parties is allegedly not complying with the Residential Tenancies Act. "I shouldn't be here three months later looking at having a sheriff remove them," she said in an interview last week.

Last Wednesday, Provo and Sutts failed to appear before a small claims court for an appeal of their eviction — an appeal they had initiated. Adjudicator Darrel Pink confirmed their eviction and gave Celan the option of having a sheriff or police officer enforce it. It was the end of a lengthy process.

After the rent cheques didn't go through, Celan launched eviction proceedings, which gave the tenants 15 days to pay rent, to move out or to request a hearing. When the tenants refused to pay, Celan had to seek a residential tenancies order requiring them to leave, which required a three-week wait. When the order to vacate came on July 26, it allowed for an appeal to the small claims court, which Provo and Sutts launched on Aug. 5.

Neither Sutts nor Provo called in to the small claims court appeal on Aug. 31, despite receiving notice of the date.

Reached the night of the small claims court decision, Sutts said she had been aware of the evening hearing but was working and couldn't make it. "It's not worth my headache to argue with this woman (Celan). I am leaving," she said Thursday.

Asked her views on whether fines should be imposed for deliberate non-compliance with tenancies law, Sutts said it depends on the circumstances. "Everybody has a situation and everybody has a story and there's two sides to a story," she said, adding that her cheques didn't go through because she had other bills to pay at the time.

Celan now faces another hearing later this month to attempt to recover $5,100 in rent, and she said she realizes if successful, it will be difficult to receive the money.

"If these tenants don't pay me anything for the rental arrears and don't pay anything for the damages, they don't face any consequences," she said, adding that using a bailiff would cost money and that attempting to garnish wages can be difficult.

Carrie Low, a former tenant who last year won her appeal against a rental increase, said many renters also see the need for an enforcement unit.

Low said in an interview last week that during her hearing, the residential tenancies officer was presented with written evidence that both she and a prior tenant were threatened with large rent increases if they insisted on moving to a month-to-month lease, rather than a yearly lease. The landlord involved didn't respond to a request for comment.

Fines are needed as a deterrence to violations of the Residential Tenancies Act, Low said. "If there's no recourse on something done unlawfully, then the behaviour continues," she said.

Mark Culligan, a community legal worker with Dalhousie Legal Aid who represented Low in the hearing, said his group favours the creation of an enforcement regime, but he cautioned against penalizing tenants who are struggling to pay rent.

"It's important not to equate the deliberate nonpayment of rent with poverty and the cost-of-living crisis," he said.

Colton LeBlanc, minister of Service Nova Scotia and internal services, said in an interview last week his department is doing an analysis of the enforcement mechanisms in other jurisdictions. He said there's a "small minority" of landlords and tenants who aren't complying with the law and his department is "looking closely at what a compliance and enforcement division would look like in Nova Scotia."

However, when asked if law reform will occur within the Progressive Conservative government's mandate, the minister replied that a firm timeline has not been established.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 3, 2022.

Michael Tutton, The Canadian Press