(Tori Weldon/CBC - image credit)
A Sackville landlord was ordered to pay $10,000 to the town for ignoring multiple requests to comply to local zoning bylaws.
Gordon and Barbara Beal have to pay this fine on top of covering moving expenses and any increase in rent for the 15 tenants who had to find new accommodations after the building was found to be unsafe back in January.
The Town of Sackville brought the matter to civil court because the owners of the historic mansion committed a zoning infraction and were doing work on the building without the proper permits.
Each of the tenants were Mount Allison University students. Justice Darrell Stephenson said their safety was top of mind.
Last month, he ordered the Beals and the town to help find alternate housing options for the 15 students who were ordered to leave just as their second semester was beginning.
Problems around zoning were at the heart of the court proceedings, but the town's lawyer said there were safety issues in each of the apartments.
In court Wednesday, the Beals' lawyer Ted Ehrhardt said, "the good news is everyone is out of the building and relocated."
There was no discussion in court around how much the Beals had already paid out in moving costs and higher rents, but Justice Stevenson asked Christopher Stewart, the lawyer representing the town, if he "had a number" the town would be seeking in costs.
Stewart began his response by reminding the court the Beals were first notified in August of 2020, that they were doing construction without a building permit, and the property was not zoned to allow apartments.
He said failure to comply with the planning commission was a "deliberate act', and issues could have been addressed "way back in August before the school year began."
Stewart noted, that as of Wednesday morning, his bill to the town would be about $12,200.
"That's certainly a sizeable number for people who have already had to bear a lot of costs," said Justice Stephenson.
He said to Ehrhardt that although the Beals, "completely disregarded," orders from the planning commission, "from day one, under your guidance, your clients have conducted themselves well."
He ordered the Beals to pay $10,000, less than the estimated cost of the lawyer fee.
The building can no longer be used for multiple residential units, but the details of what it will take to satisfy those requirements will be in the final written order that hasn't yet been filed with the court.
The house is a late Georgian mansion, located at 131 Main St. It sits across from the Mount Allison University swan pond and is listed on the Canadian Register of Historic Places as the Joseph F. Allison House, built in 1841.
It was most recently called the Fawcett Professional Centre and was home to a number of small businesses and offices.
The property manager, and daughter of the owners, Kathy Beal, said the top floors of the mansion had been student housing for years. She said her father's decision to change former office space into additional student housing led to a complaint being filed. That's when the zoning issues were brought to the family's attention.
The Mount Allison Student Union said because of situations like this, and a general concern around renters rights in the province, policies are being put in place to help students navigate the world of renting.
Sydney Thorburn, vice president of external affairs, said more often than not students are signing their first lease while at university.
"We're hoping to put together a super comprehensive document for students of everything they need to know when moving on their own," she said.
The package will include a list of rights and responsibilities for tenants and landlords, how to read a lease, checklists for moving in and moving out, a guide to getting a damage deposit back and steps on how to file a complaint, if necessary.
"I think the goal of this is to empower students to be able to, not confront their landlords, I don't think that's what the goal is, but for students to be able to approach their landlords confidently," said Thorburn.
"Knowing that when they ask for their stove to be fixed or… minor things, that they know that their landlord has ...a legal responsibility to do that."
She said policies are also being written to help moderate the student union housing directory, to allow the removal of properties from the directory if students run into problems with their landlords.