Posted July 14, 2020
KJIPUKTUK (Halifax) – This afternoon some 30 tenants of 6 Nivens Avenue and their sympathizers rallied in front of the North Dartmouth building to bring attention to its state of disrepair. They also have safety concerns and are upset about a substantial rent increase that they believe a tenant received in retaliation for lodging complaints with the city.
“Tenants are living with mold, pests, broken glass in their apartments, locked fire escapes, massive repairs, leaking roofs, and more – when they request repairs, their landlords Mario and Tracey Morrison raise the rent and threaten to evict them,” states a press release issued by Acorn Nova Scotia, an organization that fights for low income families.
“Families with young children are living in dangerous conditions because of the Morrisons’ – and their property management company, Harbour Mews’ – neglect,” states the press release”
Harbour Mews, in a response to questions by the Nova Scotia Advocate, blame the arrival of COVID-19 shortly after the building was acquired for many of the problems tenants are experiencing. “Check back in a few months, by then we expect to have most issues addressed,” the email concludes.
The building is not safe, just within the public spaces a fire inspector noted 18 infractions the other day, tenant and long time Acorn activist Jonethan Brigley told the crowd.
Rent increases seem vindictive, tenants say. Tenant Kim Rankin tells how she received a 45% rent increase after lodging a complaint about the state of disrepair in her apartment with the city. Journalist Susan Rent documented her story for the Halifax Examiner.
A lack of security is another issue, an older tenant told the crowd.
“I am a senior citizen, I live by myself, and it’s not safe. There’s people kicking in doors and everything. I am scared to go down to the laundry room because you don’t know what you are going to see,” she said.
“Always hold on to every piece of evidence”
And then there is also the sloppy payment tracking.
“I always pay my rent well ahead of the due date, but here they slipped a notice under the door, without even a tenant name on it, no self-respecting company acts like that,” said Brigley. “They’re just trying to intimidate you.”
“They slipped these notices under the door, I think it was about seven o’clock at night. And when we tried to see who it was, they were already gone. They did it so fast they must have had a team of people just quickly slip it under the door and run. The moment I walked into the hallway, there’s at least half a dozen tenants standing around, worried about being kicked out. That included people on income assistance whose rents are paid by Community Services,” Brigley says.
The lesson here is when dealing with a landlord to always hold on to every piece of evidence, Brigley says. That means even putting bedbugs in baggies, keeping a copy of every letter, making sure to ask for your rent ledger, which they have to give you.
“They will try to use your lack of knowledge against you. They know the game, and they’re hoping that you don’t know the rules,” Brigley said.
Rent control and landlord licensing
“When I was running for office, at every apartment door I knocked on I was told that skyrocketing rents are a real issue,” NDP MLA for the area Susan Leblanc told the tenants. “And almost every issue that has been brought to our constituency office has to do with housing in some way, whether it’s about renovictions, I can’t afford my rent anymore, my place isn’t fit to live in, or I can’t find a place to rent.”
“So the first piece of legislation that I introduced after I was elected was about rent control. It’s shameful that the current government has no intention to even debate it. Even though rent control will not solve every problem for affordable housing in Nova Scotia, it is definitely an important piece of the puzzle,” Leblanc said. “Landlord licensing is another piece, we must be able to hold regular landlords and rental corporations accountable.”
One issue that must be dealt with is how landlords will sell an apartment building and just walk away scot free, Brigley told me after the rally.
“I see landlords make promises left and right to do repairs, but when they sell and leave, that just wipes the slate clean. The city should be keeping track of what needs to be done in terms of maintenance, and hold those landlords accountable, even if they go bankrupt,” Brigley says.
Harbour Mews responds
The Nova Scotia Advocate asked Harbour Mews, the Morrisons’ property management company, about the allegations. We received the following response.
“As you may know, we purchased the building just prior to Covid shut down and the building came with many challenges. The timing was incredibly difficult both in terms of hiring staff and communicating with tenants. The speed of the shut down was so swift, we were not able to get our management systems in place. And we certainly didn’t expect the shut down to last as long as it did. Like many others, we were operating in uncertain and stressful circumstances, and things were not always handled the best way. We appreciate the patience of our tenants.
“From a security perspective, we have had two security guards on site at the property from 11PM – 5AM. A security camera system was installed this week – to provide additional security and address ongoing vandalism, including the entrance glass doors. They have been replaced/repaired several times. We also recently hired two new maintenance staff.
“Check back in a few months, by then we expect to have most issues addressed.”
Article by Robert Devet for the Nova Scotia Advocate