The provincial ban on residential evictions officially came to an end on Tuesday, spelling uncertainty for thousands of Nova Scotian tenants.
According to a release by Nova Scotia’s NDP caucus, 2,000 households will face eviction proceedings in the coming weeks. This comes as many Nova Scotians are struggling to secure employment and the federal CERB (Canada Emergency Response Benefit) program is set to expire in a matter of months.
The IPOANS (Investment Property Owners Association of Nova Scotia), whose mandate is to “be a positive voice for residential landlords” provided the eviction figure referenced above. The organization has voiced its support for an end to the moratorium, citing “$12.5 million in losses for landlords” (from halifaxtoday.ca). When asked to describe the impact of the ban on Nova Scotia’s landlords in more detail, IPOANS Executive Director, Kevin Russell stressed the financial burden it’s inflicted on smaller operations:
“It’s been a big impact on our members, particularly the small family-managed operations across the province. The large-scale apartment-rental companies can weather this storm. It’s the small operations that are family-managed – they have 5, 10, 15, 20, 40 units – who cannot weather an extended period of tenants not paying rent. They just don’t have the financial capacity to do that. And we’re talking about hard-working Nova Scotians who decided to invest in rental properties as an investment vehicle and this group covers everybody from tradespeople to medical people to teaching professionals. So these people have been impacted tremendously.”
However, the Nova Scotia NDP assert that allowing the Eviction Ban to expire is unfair to the families who have relied on it during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Before COVID-19 we were already in a housing crisis with people facing massive rent increases and a major shortage of affordable housing,” said Lisa Roberts, NDP Housing Spokesperson. “As people get evicted, it’s not clear where they will go.”
While sympathetic to those families impacted, Russell argued, on the Sheldon MacLeod Show (www.news957.com), that the term of the eviction process (typically two-to-eight months according to Russell) could be used to negotiate with landlords for new payment arrangements.
Is this timeframe sufficient for households facing eviction to reach an agreement to repay of backlogged rent payments? Besides time, what is needed by landlords and tenants to facilitate realistic rent repayment agreements? Haligonia.ca posed these questions to Mr. Russell and Darryl King, a member of ACORN Nova Scotia, an organization that champions the rights of low- and moderate-income families.
Here’s what they had to say:
Q: Is two-to-eight months sufficient for households facing eviction to reach an agreement to repay of backlogged rent payments?
A: Yes, landlords are open to rental-payment plans but they have to be realistic and they have to be meaningful. From our experience, people who fall behind one month have trouble making up the rent even with a rental payment program. Tenants who fall behind two months very rarely are able to get back on track and they require outside assistance. A donor or somebody else has to step in to pay the outstanding amount. That’s it in a nutshell. At some point, if this goes beyond people not paying rent for two months, it becomes very difficult for them.
A: It depends on the situation. A lot of low income tenants and those who are on income assistance (often) have a lot of other issues (like) health issues and paying for medications. So 2 to 8 months for a lot of folks may not be enough. That’s why we’re demanding two things: the rent payment program and possibly looking at a rent grant program to provide tools for the tenants to make it easier for them to pay back rent.
Q: Besides time, what is needed by landlords and tenants to facilitate realistic rent repayment agreements?
A: Two things here. First, there’s been a large number of deferral agreements across the province. Halifax led the country in rent deferral agreements. If those agreements are being adhered to, and there are regular payments on those agreements, then I would suspect, and I can’t speak on behalf of individual landlords, that these tenants would be okay; they’re making progress and getting ahead.
For those who decided to take a rental deferment program on their own without communicating to the landlords, it’s going to be difficult for these tenants to make it up. How are they going to remain tenants? It’s as simple as: the rent needs to be paid. But who’s going to pay it? That’s the question that the government is going to have to deal with.
A: We’re all being affected by COVID-19, especially those of us who are on low- to moderate-incomes. We need support from the provincial government to address these issues and not face the horrors of being evicted from their homes and being put on the streets.
Hopefully if we keep pushing the Liberal government to continue to listen and be able to take these concerns to heart (they will) implement some sort of policy that everybody can be happy with and get these issues addressed.
In keeping with the NS NDP’s message, it seems that both landlords and tenants agree that the onus is on McNeil’s Liberals to deal with the fallout of the expired moratorium. Some, including Russell, point to miscommunication at the onset of the ban as the main cause of the high number of projected eviction applications.
“In hindsight it appears that the implementation of the plan wasn’t well explained in the beginning.” said Russell, “It seemed that from the tenant perspective, the eviction moratorium equated to not paying rent. There was a lot of mixed messaging out there and a lot of confusion and so I think a better implementation by the government would have helped.”
If one thing is certain, it’s that this moratorium has strained tenant-landlord relationships that, in many cases, were in rough shape to begin with, causing thousands of Haligonians to wonder whether they will be allowed to stay in their homes in the coming months. On this uncertainty, King offered a message of hope to tenants on behalf of ACORN:
“We all deserve a safe and healthy home to live in and that’s what we’re still pushing for every day.”
This is certainly a complicated issue with many stakeholders and all eyes will be focused on the Liberal administration’s response in the coming days, weeks, and months.