A cap on rent increases in Nova Scotia will last as long as the public health state of emergency exists, but Premier Tim Houston does not know how long that will be.
The cap that limits rent increases to two per cent was brought in last November, along with a ban on so-called renovictions, by the former Liberal government in the face of a housing crisis. At the time, its existence was tied to the expiry of the public health state of emergency or Feb. 1, 2022, whichever comes first.
Houston told reporters Thursday the cap will be there as long as the state of emergency is in place.
"I have not made any decision to separate those two things," he said.
Opposition calls for clarity
What's more difficult to predict is how long the state of emergency will remain in place, something Houston said will be dictated by the province's COVID-19 vaccination rate and epidemiology.
"The pandemic has proven very unpredictable," said Houston.
That unpredictability means Houston could not say if the state of emergency, which has been renewed every two weeks since being introduced at the start of the pandemic, will extend beyond February.
"We're all optimistic that this ends sooner rather than later — it's exhausting — but I don't know when that might be," he said.
NDP Leader Gary Burrill said the premier needs to be clearer so people know whether major rent increases are looming.
"The present order is very clear that the rent cap, rent control, will end on Feb. 1 next year — state of emergency or no state of emergency," he told reporters.
"This is a serious matter. What [the premier] in fact is saying is, 'From our point of view, we are prepared to countenance a situation where the astronomical rent increases, which are being held in abeyance by the present rent cap, will be able to be implemented in the dead-centre heart of next winter.'"
In a statement, Liberal Leader Iain Rankin called on the Tories to pass legislation during the fall sitting of the legislature, which begins Tuesday, to provide protection for renters heading into the winter months.
"Until the government addresses the lack of housing and apartments in Nova Scotia, tenants need the security that rent control provides," he said.
Although the Tories have said they do not believe rent control is the solution to the housing crisis, Houston and Housing Minister John Lohr have appeared to soften on the idea of keeping it around longer to act as a bridge until housing stock can be increased to necessary levels.
Looking for solutions
Lohr is scheduled to meet Friday with members from the Nova Scotia Affordable Housing Commission, which delivered a report last May with 17 recommendations. At the time of that report, the group did not support extending rent control beyond February.
"I'm interested in their comments on ... how they see the landscape changing since May," Lohr told reporters following a cabinet meeting.
Lohr said he hopes to have details of the government's plans for housing soon.
While he can't assure people the state of emergency will go beyond February, Houston said his government feels the urgency to find solutions to the housing crisis.
"Those solutions will be multi-faceted and we're very focused on making sure that they're solutions that work," he said.
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