Posted February 24, 2021
HALIFAX — “I have this thing about cockroaches,” Marjorie Pemberton says, her shoulders hunching and her lips pulled into a thin frown. “They’re nasty little bugs. They see you and they crouch. Then when they see you see them, they run. And they are so fast.”
Unfortunately for Pemberton, who lives within a string of aging brick buildings along the “500 block” of Herring Cove Road in the Spryfield area, cockroaches are a constant part of her life.
So are mice, rats, and bedbugs.
“You can’t put any food out on the counter. You can’t thaw out meat because they’re on top of the plastic trying to suck through,” she says.
The seemingly permeant infestations are made even worse by the fact that the 500 block buildings are in a constant state of disrepair: residents say rotten floors, holes in ceilings and walls, black mold, and broken doors and windows are common.
But when they ask their landlord for basic repairs and pest control they’re met with delays, excuses, or even outright silence.
That landlord is MetCap Living, a third-party property management company that runs dozens of apartments in the HRM and hundreds across Canada.
Pemberton says she’s “never seen anything like” how poorly the company treats its tenants and the buildings it manages.
“They’re humiliating us. They’re not decent to us… You call to report a repair and you might get an answer within 24 hours, or maybe you won’t. Maybe you’ll never hear from them. They don’t seem to care at all,” she says.
MetCap spokesperson Michael Guyette later told Huddle in an email statement the company is “proud of the buildings we manage.”
Guyette said there are “many ways residents can communicate with us and our team to get things done,” including work orders or a customer service line. She said MetCap is “committed” to completing work orders on a timely basis.
Residents Want MetCap to ‘Take Responsibility
On February 23, Pemberton joined a group of residents and supporters to protest MetCap and serve them with a list of demands.
It was a long list, full of things that would be table stakes for most landlords: treating units for bedbugs; regular pest treatments; completing basic repairs; responding to tenants with outstanding repair requests; regular cleaning of common spaces.
No one from MetCap was in the company’s Herring Cove office to hear the residents out.
Speaking to the crowd shortly before the march, 500 Block resident Patrick Donovan said the goal was to get MetCap to engage with its tenants and address these issues.
“We are not here to put Metcap out of business. We are here to get Metcap to sit down at the table with us and take responsibility,” Donovan said.
Trapped In His Own Apartment By A Broken Door
Later, Donovan walked through his building’s dim hallway to a communal laundry room, showing off the state of disrepair.
Most of the flooring in the room was gone, there were holes in the wall, and what looked like busted molding piled behind washing machines.
He said things were often worse in his own unit.
Once, he said, his front door fell off its hinges, trapping him inside. He was forced to pry it open with a chisel so he could leave. Eventually, he had to get a friend to come by and fix it.
LeighAnne Kenney has similar stories. Right now, she says, a patch of mold is blooming on her bathroom ceiling in a space where the paint has peeled away. She says her property manager came to inspect it weeks ago and she’s heard nothing since.
Kenny, who says she pays about $600 a month in rent, is on a limited income and can’t afford to move—or the rent increases she says seem to happen every year.
Most of the other tenants are in a similar situation.
Tenants At The ‘End Of The Road’ And Can’t Afford To Move
Pemberton says the 500 block is “the end of the road for a lot of people” who are suffering from Halifax’s tightening housing market.
“People don’t want to live here but they can’t afford to move because the city is at zero occupancy. There’s no affordable housing so we’re stuck,” Pemberton says.
Although Halifax’s vacancy rate isn’t quite at zero percent, it is far lower than it should be for a healthy rental market. The Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corporation pegged the city’s vacancy rate at 1.9 percent in 2020. That was a jump from the 1 percent vacancy in 2019.
Ideally, a city’s vacancy rate should be around 3 percent for a healthy market. Halifax’s historical long-term vacancy rate is 3.8 percent.
Thousands of new homes are scheduled to be built in Halifax in the coming years, which should be good news for renters like Kenney and Pemberton squeezed by a tight market. However, the city’s population is still growing faster than housing is being built.
Pemberton says that leaves space for companies like MetCap to take advantage of people at the bottom of the market.
She says problems with credit checks, securing reference letters, and the cost of damage deposits all prevent people from getting out of terrible living conditions.
“People living in poverty, they’ve been hanging on by their teeth and nails for so long, they have no credit,” she says. Many are behind on rent and will never be able to get a reference letter from MetCap “so they have no other place to go.”
“They’re preying upon us. The slumlords are preying upon us,” she says.
Pemberton and Donovan share a three-bedroom apartment in the 500 block, where they pay about $850 dollars a month in rent.
“Where are we going to move to? We can barely afford the rent here,” Donovan says. “If I hadn’t found Marjorie neither one of us would be eating.”
Pemberton, Donovan, and Kenney say those concerns seem to be falling on deaf ears at MetCap. However, they plan to keep pushing the company.
“Remember, there’s no power like the power of the people and the power of the people will never end as long as we stay together,” Donovan says.
Article by Trevor Nichols for Huddle