Chronicle Herald: Dartmouth tenants’ ire grows over health, safety issues in MetCap building
Posted December 2, 2014
Nova Scotia ACORN is pushing the city to implement a landlord licensing system where rental units will be registered and inspected on a regular basis to ensure they comply with Halifax’s housing standards bylaw.
The first time Kathleen Latter’s toilet clogged, she called her husband over with a plunger.
Minutes later, raw sewage spewed up through the toilet and bathtub drain, spilling onto the bathroom floor and into the hallway.
“The pee and poop and all the toilet paper backed up in my tub,” said Latter, a tenant at a MetCap Living apartment building in Dartmouth. “It flooded all over the bathroom floor and onto the carpet outside the bathroom.”
She called the superintendent of 11 Joseph Young St. — one of five who has assumed the role over the last year or so — but it took days before a plumber came to fix the problem.
But the fix didn’t last long. Within weeks, Latter’s bathroom was deluged with sewage again.
“They came twice, but they didn’t fix it properly,” she said. “The third time it happened, it took them four days to get back to me.”
With a five-year-old son at home in need of a bath, Latter decided to temporarily move to her father’s place. Her husband stayed to clean up the apartment while a plumber fixed the problem for good.
“Now I think it’s finally fixed. Thank God it hasn’t happened again.”
Though the plumbing was fixed, Latter said the carpet was never changed or professionally cleaned.
She’s worried there is mould growing underneath the carpet and in the walls. Her husband’s asthma has been acting up since the flooding occurred and her son has been getting sick more often than usual.
Meanwhile, there is water damage in her bedroom closet, broken fixtures in her living room and a faulty smoke alarm.
“We have one but it’s not hooked up,” she said. “The wires are hanging down.”
Although tenants of the apartment building have complained to MetCap Living about health and safety concerns, they say their complaints are mostly ignored.
Shay Enxuga, a community organizer with Acorn Nova Scotia, said people feel unsafe in the building.
“We’ve had people come to us with health and safety issues,” he said, noting that for months the mailroom door was left unlocked.
“People had mail and cheques stolen and MetCap didn’t do anything about it,” Enxuga said. “It’s advertised as a secure building but they don’t provide any kind of security.”
In October, Acorn presented MetCap with a letter outlining the concerns of tenants, but the Toronto-based company has refused to meet with the organization.
MetCap, which owns more than 100 apartment buildings in Nova Scotia, most of them in Halifax and Dartmouth, did not respond to requests for comment.
Acorn is pushing the city to implement a landlord licensing system where rental units will be registered and inspected on a regular basis to ensure they comply with Halifax’s housing standards bylaw.
Matt Covey, Halifax’s manager of building standards, said the bylaw is under review.
“The bylaw is 10 years old so there are a lot of housekeeping changes,” he said. “We’re also looking at the request to examine some form of landlord licensing.”
Under current rules, once a building receives an occupancy permit, it can continue to rent out apartments indefinitely.
However, Covey said all tenants are covered by the bylaw, which sets minimum standards for everything from smoke alarms and ventilation to rodents and plumbing.
He said a tenant who thinks an apartment is not up to par should call the city’s 311 call centre to report a complaint. Covey said a building inspector will come to the apartment and if it fails inspection, the landlord will be issued an order to comply that spells out the work that must be done and when it must be completed.
Since January, the municipality has issued 159 orders to comply.
Covey said bringing in landlord licensing requirements would add a significant amount of red tape without necessarily addressing the most pressing issue, which is getting inside apartments and making sure they meet minimum standards.
He said the biggest issue is encouraging tenants to report problems to the city.
Carol Charlebois, executive director of the Metro Non-Profit Housing Association, said that landlord licensing or rent control could negatively impact tenants.
“Research has shown that rent controls make it less likely there is going to be good housing built or come on stream because it makes it difficult for landlords,” she said.
Charlebois noted that a decrease in supply could lead to a lower vacancy rate and possibly put pressure on rent.
Instead, she said, one of the most significant issues contributing to substandard housing is social assistance rates.
“One of the biggest problems is the shelter rate for people on income assistance hasn’t changed since 1996,” Charlebois said. “Single people have $535 a month for housing, everything included.”
Because the amount is insufficient, she said people often dip into their food and transportation budget to pay for rent and utilities.
She said the low social assistance rates make it difficult for a landlord to do extensive repairs or upgrades because tenants often can’t afford rent increases.
Metro Non-Profit Housing manages six buildings and about 83 tenants. Charlebois said increases in utilities could mean the organization has to raise rent just to cover costs.
“We’re finding it increasingly difficult to keep rents at $535 with recent increases in utility prices. We hate to do it but we’ll have to start to budge ours up a bit over that.”
Lisa Fairn has lived in a MetCap apartment in Dartmouth for two years.
She pays $595 a month for a one-bedroom apartment with a den. The rent doesn’t include utilities.
“It’s difficult,” she said. “Almost all my money goes to rent and heat and hot water. There’s not a lot left over.”
Meanwhile, Fairn said there is water damage in her apartment, with signs of mould in the bathroom.
When she complained about cracks on her bedroom wall, her superintendent sent in someone to paint over it but using a different colour of paint.
“It would be appreciated if they would fix these problems,” she said, pointing to a litany of issues around her small apartment. “But it’s not getting done. I just want them to finish the job and paint it the right colour, for Pete’s sake.”