Nova Scotia Advocate: Loophole: Housing advocate calls for elimination of fixed-term leases in Nova Scotia

Posted June 8, 2021

KJIPUKTUK (Halifax) – David Comeau had the ideal home, across the street from his children’s school, and in his affordability range. The only problem: he was living on a fixed-term lease. Rather than opting to renew, like a year-to-year or month-to-month lease, the landlord is the sole decision maker for lease extensions.

For Comeau, that meant waiting each year in hopes that his landlord would renew his lease. With absolutely no rights to stay after the end date of the fixed-term lease, Comeau’s landlord was under no legal obligation to renew his lease.

The first lease extension was no problem, but after some maintenance requests issued to the landlord resulted in animosity, Comeau said, his request for another lease extension was rejected.

Comeau says he was given a series of excuses including the landlord wanting the unit to be vacant or having a family member needing a place to stay. Ultimately, the unit was rented to someone else entirely.

“The way I look at it, they’re very much predatory in nature, because the landlord can mess with you anytime they want, and say, Get out. And there’s really nothing you can do about it,” Comeau said. “And at the same time, because of the way the housing market is with such a low vacancy rate, it’s basically forcing a lot of people to accept those terms because they have no other choice.”

His eviction meant his daughter, who went to the same school from grades 3 to 7, would be forced to move away from her friends. Additionally, his younger son would not have the chance to go to the same school he watched his sister cross the street to each day. 

“It’s detrimental to a sense of community for people because if you’re having to move every year you can’t ever really truly settle down,” Comeau said.

No mention of fixed-term leases in Affordable Housing report

Fixed-term leases are becoming the new norm in Nova Scotia, offering fewer protections for tenants and a potential loophole for landlords to bypass the province’s rent control cap. 

With current rent control legislation capping increases at two per cent, renters and housing advocates alike are concerned about the vulnerabilities that come with fixed-term leases.

Last week, a 61-page report from the province’s Affordable Housing Commission recommended immediate action, urging the government to spend a “quick-start investment” of $25 million to help 600 to 900 Nova Scotians find adequate and affordable housing. 

The report has no mention of fixed-term leases or recommendations to address vulnerabilities around them.

More than one in ten Canadians lived below the poverty line in 2019, the second highest rate in Canada, with more than 45,000 Nova Scotian households in core housing need. 

Among the 17 recommendations the report calls for alternatives to rent control legislation, signalling an end to cap when the state of emergency associated with the pandemic is lifted. 

“While some see rent control as an anti-poverty safeguard against displacement, gentrification, and economic evictions, we need to carefully consider all its potential effects,” the report said. 

Nova Scotia ACORN’s response says it all: “While we never had faith in the findings of a commission made up mostly of developers, landlords, and those who have created the housing crisis in the first place … this report shows a complete disconnect from the reality that tenants in this province are facing.”

Between May 20 and 26, the organization received 37 eviction reports. Nearly 25 per cent were “fixed-term lease[s] not being renewed.”

Because fixed-term leases end on a specific date, technically, they cannot be extended. Rather than a lease extension, the landlord must draw up a brand new lease, giving them an opportunity to bypass the current rent control legislation. 

Government sidesteps questions on fixed-term lease vulnerabilities

An interview request issued to Nova Scotia Housing Minister Geoff MacLellan was forwarded to Service Nova Scotia and Internal Services, the department responsible for the province’s Residential Tenancies Program. 

Three days later, The Nova Scotia Advocate was told by a department communications person that they “don’t have anyone to speak to it,” referring to vulnerabilities of fixed-term leases and issued a statement instead.

In their response, the department recognized housing as a social determinant of health and “a critical sector of our economy.” The statement added that Service Nova Scotia would look at recommendations from the latest provincial Affordable Housing Commission report, the same report urging government to sever rent control legislation. 

“The purpose is for tenancies where the tenant is not staying long term and hence they are a “fixed term” with a defined negotiated start and end date,” the statement read. 

“Fixed term leases are intended to benefit both tenants and landlords – tenants because if they need short-term accommodations, they don’t need to sign a long-term lease, and for landlords because they know up front the tenant is leaving on a defined date.”

In a follow-up, The Nova Scotia Advocate asked the department to respond to “concerns about landlords refusing to offer lease extensions on fixed term leases, as an incentive to bypass the 2% rent cap currently in place,” as well as “more information about what the government is doing to prevent landlords from exploiting this loophole.” The response reads below:

“As mentioned in our response. The department is currently reviewing the recommendations made in the Affordable Housing Commission’s report. We have no further comment.”

While Comeau has found a new home for his family, he remains under a fixed-term lease. He’s calling on the provincial government to eliminate fixed-term leases for residential rentals. 

“They make more sense in a corporate or commercial world where you have a company, leasing out in a specific area for three, five, ten years, that sort of thing,” he said. 

“I don’t think it’s appropriate that there should be like a blank slate of landlords and property managers being able to arbitrarily pick a number and say ‘Here’s how much your rent is going up,’” Comeau said. There needs to be some guideline in there to mitigate that sort of a problem.”

“We need to be treated a bit more fairly because putting this kind of pressure on people is not acceptable,” he said about Nova Scotia renters.

 

***

Article by Stephen Wentzell for the Nova Scotia Advocate

 

Sign up for ACORN's newsletter