A small claims court in Bridgewater, N.S., has awarded a renter $3,744.02 in damages and compensation after her landlord cut off water and began demolition work while she was still living in a two-bedroom unit in the building.
Some other tenants had already left the four-unit building.
CBC is not naming the tenant to protect the privacy of her 10-year-old daughter. The tenant's lawyer said her client is pleased with the outcome.
"She is good, I think she was relieved," Tammy Wohler, a managing lawyer at the social justice office of Nova Scotia Legal Aid, told CBC after court ended. "She believes the message needs to be out there to landlords."
In his ruling Wednesday night at the Bridgewater Justice Centre, adjudicator Brent Silver told the landlord, Colin Edwards, he broke the rules while the tenant followed them.
"She tried to get you to back off and the power was turned off. I have no option but to create an order saying you failed to give proper notice to evict. You have violated the processes. The tenant is entitled to damages," Silver said.
The tenant had already gone to the residential tenancy board and successfully received an order staying the notice to leave the building on Fox Street. The tenancy officer's decision was released March 31, 2022 — the day before her water was cut off.
Null and void notices
Edwards, the landlord, said he wasn't aware of the order and assumed the tenant had already left for good the day he cut off the water. Months prior, he had written numerous emails to all the tenants in the building telling them to make other living arrangements because demolition work would soon begin.
But the email notices he sent were null and void because they were sent during Nova Scotia's so-called renoviction ban.
A renoviction is when a landlord evicts a tenant to make way for renovations. Nova Scotia banned the practice in November 2020. The measure lasted until March 22, 2022, when the pandemic state of emergency was lifted.
After March 22, the ban was replaced by a new set of renoviction rules. Tenants must be given at least three months notice, and if a tenant doesn't agree to leave, the landlord must apply for an eviction order.
Edwards didn't attend a virtual tenancy board meeting set up to address the tenant's concerns. He said he wrote a letter to the board instead and thought by doing that, the meeting would be cancelled.
Silver told him the argument that his letter cancelled the meeting had "no merit." He told him it was a "reckless way to behave."
During Edwards's testimony, he spoke about how he bought the apartment because it was run down and close to his parent's home. He said he wanted to convert it to three storeys from two storeys and possibly turn it into senior-friendly housing. He said he was trying to be the "anti slumlord."
While explaining his plans, he made a comment about how his family had "endured parties and litter and chaos" while living close to the building.
That comment appeared to hit a nerve with the adjudicator.
"There is an element of high mindedness on your behalf.... I found that a little distasteful," Silver said during his ruling.
Silver told Edwards he should have taken time to review the rules before starting any work on the building.
"If you did that, you may be doing your work now," Silver said.
'I abided by the spirit of the ban,' landlord says
Edwards told CBC News he was disappointed with the ruling.
"My position all along had been that I abided by the spirit of the ban and no tenants were expressly told they had to leave the building during the existence of the Emergency Health Order with rents kept status quo since I purchased the building in August 2020," he wrote in an email.
He said his plan for senior-friendly housing is on hold for now.
"Clearly, some landlords have created this mess by evicting tenants only to add a lick of paint and a few dollars in laminate flooring to an apartment before turning around and doubling the rent, and the court felt it had to send a message to such landlords."
Upcoming tenancy board hearing
The money awarded will cover the tenant's moving expenses, gas and a storage unit.
Wohler said landlords have a responsibility to know their rights and obligations under the law.
"The reality is landlords simply can't force out tenants under any circumstances. They always require an order for eviction and there's a legal process for that," Wohler said.
The tenant is now living in a one-bedroom apartment.
There will be a tenancy board hearing in the future because Edwards is seeking compensation for an unpaid power bill.
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