Advocates say new rules around virtual showings for rental properties are a good step to keep people safe during Nova Scotia's current lockdown, but they fail to address larger issues.
As of Friday, a directive under the Emergency Management Act requires landlords to gain the consent of tenants for in-person showings for the purpose of renting, or when a property is being sold.
If a tenant decides against an in-person viewing, they must allow the landlord, and up to one other person, to come in and film or photograph the property for virtual viewing.
The landlord has to give each tenant notice 24 hours before entry.
Vincent McMackin of ACORN Nova Scotia, an organization that advocates for low-income tenants and workers, said the move is a good one.
He said tenants have been raising privacy and health concerns around potential renters or buyers coming and going for such viewings.
"It sort of feels like a pat on the head," McMakin said Sunday. "It's an important safety measure, yes. But the larger issue is, how safe is it for people to be getting evicted? To be put out on the street or to be having to go look for a new home?
"It's just not enough."
The new directive is in place until at least June 30 and could be extended.
Anyone who doesn't follow the new rules could be handed a fine between $500 to $10,000 for individuals, or up to $100,000 for a corporation.
McMackin said ACORN would like to see the province bring back a full ban on evictions, like what was in place between March and July last year, as a response to the economic fallout during the first wave of COVID-19 in Nova Scotia.
Short-term relief grants for tenants behind on their rent would have more impact, McMackin said.
A two per cent rent cap was brought in last November as a temporary measure to combat what advocates call a housing crisis in the province, and a ban on so-called renovictions — evictions in order to renovate or repair rental unit — is still in place.
But many renters across Nova Scotia are still being evicted because their landlords are selling their homes or small rental units, or for other reasons, and with few affordable options many have no place to go.
The vacancy rate in the Halifax Regional Municipality grew to 1.9 per cent in 2020, but remains one of the lowest in the country. ACORN said last month that there are 4,000 people on the waiting list for public housing, and the construction of new housing can't keep up with the number of people who are being displaced.
William Blake, a member of the Nova Scotia Landlords Association, which represents smaller landlords, said a full eviction ban is not the way to go since it may "tempt" some to stop paying rent altogether.
But Blake said many members of the association are working on payment plans and temporary rental discounts for renters who are struggling because they want to keep reliable long-term tenants.
Landlord says more provincial help needed
Blake also pointed to British Columbia's Recovery Benefit as something Nova Scotia, could follow for the entire pandemic, where single people earning less than $62,500 qualify for a $500 payment.
He said that way landlords would have a dedicated income stream and not worry about getting new renters or selling properties until the economy picks up again.
"The tenants need help, but a lot of landlords are struggling, too. So instead of having a conflict between small working-class landlords and … working-class tenants, instead, the government could really help out," Blake said.
"Five-hundred [dollars] is … not a lot of money for the government, but a lot of money for low-income tenants."
For the virtual showings, Blake said most association members understand why the rules are needed. Given high case numbers, he said having multiple people coming though a home "simply isn't safe."
Patricia Arab, the minister of Service Nova Scotia and Internal Services, said last July the eviction ban was only meant to be temporary.
CBC has asked the province about the call for an eviction ban and will update this story with any response.
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