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Drafty plans 

Angela Weal is frustrated with HRM’s lack of enforcement on housing standards.

Angela Weal might want to save some of the red tape she’s been buried under—she could use it to fix up her apartment. With winter looming, Weal has found herself in a battle with her landlord over the state of her Bloomfield Street residence, which she claims does not meet the minimum housing standards outlined by the HRM Residential Occupancies Bylaw. Specifically, she’s referring to a rusted and energy-inefficient front door, broken windows and rotting window frames, and an unchecked mouse problem.

Granted, some of those problems were present when Weal first looked at the apartment last May. However, she signed the lease with an understanding that her two landlords would address her concerns by the time she moved in in early June.

“It looked kind of shaky, but gave me the line that they had a run of bad tenants, they were looking to get a good tenant in here, and they would fix everything I mentioned because they wanted to keep me here for a long time,” says Weal. “I told them point blank, ‘If you do everything you say, I’ll stay here five years.’”

But the improvements never happened. Thus began Weal’s second battle, this one against a lumbering bureaucracy that has left her angry and critical of what she says is an inefficient system.

“The Tenancy Board actually suggested, ‘Why don’t you just move?’ I don’t have the money to move anywhere else. Why do you think I started renting here?” says Weal, who pays $475 a month. “And besides, that’s not going to fix the problem. That’s only going to leave the problem for the next tenant.”

Weal contacted the Residential Tenancies Board, an entity of the provincial government, in June. The Tenancies Board told her to consult the municipal bylaw enforcement office which said they could handle Weal’s concerns about the exterior of the building, but that a fire prevention officer would assess any interior concerns. Both a fire prevention officer and a bylaw enforcement officer issued separate orders to repair, giving the landlords a deadline by which to do the necessary work. Both deadlines passed without any improvements to the apartment.

Weal also has an order to repair from the Residential Tenancies Board, with a deadline set for October 31. However, she isn’t optimistic.

“The tenancy board told me, ‘There’s no sense in coming to us to get an order to repair because there’s nothing we can do to back it up,’” she says. “I’m like this hot potato. It seems like nobody wants to deal with me.”

Now that Weal’s landlords have missed the city-issued deadline, the HRM can contract out the repair work and put a lien on the offending property. However, that route leaves the city in debt until the landlord recoups the cost. Weal has already received an email from the bylaw enforcement office that says it won’t happen before April 30, 2006, “because of inclement weather.” Weal says that timeline is not acceptable.

In response to the problem, Weal has sought help from the Halifax Coalition Against Poverty. The HCAP and Weal are tentatively scheduled to present to city council on November 1, to outline some of the frustrations that Weal has experienced and propose an alternative system for handling the concerns of Halifax renters.

“We’re proposing that in cases where the landlord has orders to repair, the tenant should be paying rent into a trust account ,” says Capp Larsen, advocacy worker for the HCAP. “When the city makes the repairs and are repaid, then the landlord can take the rent money out of the trust account.

“Also, we would like orders to repair from the Residential Tenancies Board to be binding. Right now, there isn’t really a mechanism for enforcement through them.”

District 11 councillor Patrick Murphy has already spoken directly with Weal about her situation, and acknowledges that the current system—involving three distinct organizations and two levels of government—can be frustrating for tenants.

“Bottom line is that as a landlord, if you have a good property and you keep it in good shape, do proper checks—it’s less misery for everyone. I guess this landlord is just looking for misery,” says Murphy. “I’m going to do my best and talk to the bylaw office and make sure that we at least get some work done on the front door—we could look at getting that done before winter. I mean, that’s a security issue for that property, too.”

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