New law strikes balance between landlords and tenants, Service NL Minister says

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New law strikes balance between landlords and tenants, Service NL Minister says

Six years after sweeping public consultations, and amid numerous stories of landlords and tenants abusing the system, there is finally a plan to repeal and replace Newfoundland and Labrador's current Residential Tenancies Act.

Sherry Gambin-Walsh, minister of Service NL, will introduce a new bill in the House of Assembly on Thursday that improves protections for both landlords and tenants.

"The stories we've heard in the media are landlords out there with apartments that have been beat up, trashed, and they have costs associated with that," she said.

"Then we heard from tenants who felt they had been discriminated by the landlord and so there's a cost associated with that also."

Striking the balance was difficult, she said, but the department feels this bill is miles ahead of the current Residential Tenancies Act — which Gambin-Walsh said was confusing and ambiguous.

What are the big changes?

Among the more important changes is a provision that allows landlords to get immediate approval to evict a tenant in extreme circumstances where a tenant is trashing their property.

Service NL said these situations will be rare and must be well-documented and held to a "very high" standard of proof.

If an order is granted, the landlord will not have to give notice to the tenant, and the tenant will be unable to appeal the order and remain in the house.

Landlords and tenants will also be able to serve notices electronically, as opposed to the current method of doing everything in person with paper — which can get tricky when one side is intentionally dodging the other.

The maximum fine for contravening the act currently sits at $400, an amount many people do not take seriously, Gambin-Walsh said. Under the new legislation, the maximum fine would jump to $3,000 for individuals and $10,000 for companies.

There is also a provision allowing victims of domestic violence escaping an unsafe situation to terminate a lease with only 30 days notice without financial penalty.

The new act will also include boarding houses, which are not currently covered by any legislation.

Another section in the new bill says a landlord must give tenants six months notice before raising their rent, instead of the current three-month period.

This could be especially important for people who rent with utilities included, with power rates set to increase drastically over the next two years.

Consultations new and old

A review of the Residential Tenancies Act began in 2012 by the PC government. The report's recommendations were never tabled, however, and no changes were debated in the House of Assembly.

Gambin-Walsh said her department picked up where they left off and saved money by using the results of the 2012 public consultations.

More recently, the government consulted with the City of St. John's, the St. John's Board of Trade, the Newfoundland and Labrador Federation of Labour and looked at a 2012 report on boarding houses.

There was also consultation with Sherwin Flight, the administrator of a Facebook group called the Newfoundland Tenant and Landlord Support Group — which has 8,500 members across the province.