Province takes next step in creating enforcement unit for rental disputes

Colton LeBlanc is the minister of Service Nova Scotia and Internal Services, responsible for Residential Tenancies.  (Pat Callaghan/CBC - image credit)
Colton LeBlanc is the minister of Service Nova Scotia and Internal Services, responsible for Residential Tenancies. (Pat Callaghan/CBC - image credit)

The provincial department in charge of Nova Scotia's Residential Tenancies Program is looking for a way to more effectively enforce its rules.

On Wednesday, Colton LeBlanc, the minister responsible, told CBC News his department put out a tender looking for a consultant to plan a compliance and enforcement division within the Residential Tenancies Program.

LeBlanc said department staff have looked at other regions, including British Columbia and Ontario, which have standalone residential tenancies enforcement units.

"I have a strong desire of certainly improving the enforcement mechanism under the [Residential Tenancies] Act," Leblanc said in an interview Monday. "We've heard from opposition, heard from stakeholders from both the tenant and landlord communities of the need and the desire to have an enforcement branch within the Residential Tenancies Program."

He said this is now being "actively pursued," and within a few months he expects an analysis to be complete. Then decisions can be made within the department.

Tender not public

The tender LeBlanc referred to is not publicly available on the Nova Scotia Tender Notices website.

When CBC News asked the Department of Service Nova Scotia for a copy of the document used to solicit bids, a spokesperson would not provide it.

"The competition doesn't close until Nov. 1," said spokesperson Susan McKeage. "Once the competition closes and the work is awarded, we would then be able to share the details if you're still interested."

Criticisms of lack of enforcement

There has been wide criticism about the lack of enforcement within the province's Residential Tenancies Program, both from landlords and tenants.

Currently, if a landlord and tenant can't resolve a dispute on their own, they can make an application to the director. This then leads to mediation, and if that doesn't work, a residential tenancies hearing.

Evidence is submitted to the residential tenancies officer assigned to the case, who then makes a decision, called an order of the director, within two weeks of the hearing.

The parties then have 10 days to appeal the decision, which would move the dispute to Nova Scotia Small Claims Court. If the appeal window passes, the order can be enforced through the Small Claims Court.

But some say this process takes months, can cost hundreds of dollars and still be ineffective.

Others have tried to call the police over tenant and landlord disputes, but the police have refused to get involved.

There is also a fine built into the Residential Tenancies Act, meant to punish a party for disobeying an order of the director, but it has never been used.

"With what we've heard and seen, there needs to be some more rigour," LeBlanc said. "And ... we're engaging with ... a consultant to make sure that we're understanding the landscape, understanding the complexity, because it's critical to get it right."

Education also important, says minister

LeBlanc said an enforcement division will not solve every problem; education about rental law is also needed.

He said in the other provinces his department studied,  up to 90 per cent of cases didn't need to be escalated to the enforcement level.

"Whether we're talking about any law in this province, people have to be informed of the law and understand their rights and responsibilities and that's the continuum of education and awareness and compliance and enforcement," he said.

"So I just don't want to dive off the deep end here and insinuate that we're going to be going enforcement head on here in every instance."