CBC News : Landlords sign on to Halifax’s new rental registry, tens of thousands of units listed

Posted May 13, 2024

HRM says no fines issued so far for failing to comply with the registry.

The deadline for landlords in the Halifax Regional Municipality to register their rental properties has come and gone, with tens of thousands of units now catalogued under a long-awaited new bylaw.

The municipality said 10,360 registrations have been received so far, representing 66,590 rental units. Since the April 1 deadline, no landlords have been fined for failing to comply with the mandatory registry.

Brynn Budden, a spokesperson for HRM, said staff are using an education-based approach when landlords fail to register.

“When staff learn of a property that is not registered, they open a line of communication with the property owner,” Budden said in an emailed statement.

“To date, staff have not experienced a property owner simply refusing to register.”

The rental property registry comes more than four years after Halifax regional council greenlit the idea, with the bylaw to create the framework  passed last April.

The registry is free for property owners, but fines for violations under the bylaw range from $150 to $10,000 depending on the type and frequency of the offence.

Budden said bylaw officers make “every reasonable effort” to gain compliance before issuing a fine.

Keeping track of repeat offenders

The bylaw will give the municipality the ability to keep track of rental units, identify repeat offenders of standards violations, and perform proactive safety and fire inspections to prevent properties from becoming derelict.

Up until this point, smaller rentals with three or fewer units didn’t have mandatory annual inspections. Instead, enforcement was complaint-based.

The new bylaw also requires landlords to keep a regularly updated maintenance plan, which includes dates for repairs.

The registry has divided groups representing tenants and landlords.

Tenant advocacy group ACORN, which has been pushing for the registry for years, said the new system will help keep track of bylaw violations and enforce safe standards for living conditions.

Heather Clark, chair of the Halifax mainland chapter of ACORN, said the group has fielded many complaints from tenants who “were having a lot of issues within their units, such as mould and bugs and just regular maintenance.”

“They weren’t getting any satisfaction from their landlords,” Clark said in an interview Friday. “And then a lot of the tenants that did complain, they were actually being renovicted.”

But Kevin Russell, the executive director of the Investment Property Owners Association of Nova Scotia, questioned the usefulness of the registry.

“The Investment Property Owners Association of Nova Scotia maintains that the municipality should focus on better enforcement of its existing housing bylaws before creating new ones,” Russell wrote in an email.

Russell said landlords in the municipality are under financial strain due to rising property taxes. He also said the registry does nothing to help a significant problem facing HRM: affordable and accessible housing.

Data must be made public, says tenant advocate

When the bylaw passed its first reading last year, city staff told council that the full rental registry won’t be publicly accessible, though they are open to considering that in the future.

Residential standards violations will continue to be published in the municipality’s open data catalogue, which is available to the public online.

Clark said a publicly available virtual map showing rental properties across the city and their violations would help tenants make more informed decisions.

“So they can go into the website and they can research the property and find out if there’s been any infractions against the landlord and make a better decision, feeling more comfortable where they’re going to be putting their family,” she said.

Clark said ACORN has been meeting with HRM staff to discuss this option.

Article by Nicola Seguin for CBC NEWS