The Signal: ‘A safety valve’: Halifax councillors exploring improvements to demolition permits

Posted January 15, 2021

Halifax’s permit process for demolitions of buildings may soon be getting a renovation of its own.
 
After a Halifax man found himself homeless following his North Street apartment’s demolition in December, Halifax regional council is considering adding extra protection for tenants. Council approved a request on Tuesday from area Coun. Shawn Cleary, for a staff report focused on creating a bylaw for the permit process.
 
The bylaw would require permits for demolition be withheld until completion of the provincial Residential Tenancies eviction order process, in hopes of preventing further evictions by demolitions in HRM.
 
Cleary’s motion comes less than one week after the municipality revoked a permit belonging to George and Stavros Giannoulus’ Mosaik Properties. The developers green-lit demolition work on the North Street building, despite a tenant still living on the premises before his eviction process with the Residential Tenancies Board was completed.
 
“There was still, literally, a tenant in the building,” Cleary said during council Tuesday, “when they were crushing pipes and flooding his apartment and taking out windows and demolishing the building.”
 
Cleary noted council has the ability to regulate and put in place a bylaw for demolition permits. The bylaw would allow the withholding of permits until the municipality is satisfied the legal eviction process has been fulfilled in its completion.
 
“What I’m seeking is simply a safety valve for residents,” Cleary said, warning, “we’re going to see more and more of this.
 
“I know we removed the permit … but that’s after the horse has left the barn,” Cleary said. “We need to never let this happen again.”
 
Mosaik Properties did not respond to a request for comment from The Signal.
 
‘Disturbing and deeply dehumanizing’
 
Jeff Karabanow, a professor of social work at Dalhousie University and founding member of Halifax emergency shelter Out of the Cold, calls the eviction of tenants during a pandemic, “senseless and thoughtless.”
 
“I’ve never heard about somebody who was going through an appeal, leaves for a few hours and returns to see half the building demolished,” he said.
 
Karabanow, who has also worked with homeless youth in Guatemala, is pleased to see council taking swift measures to better protect tenants.
 
“At a time where we know how difficult it is to find affordable housing and the context of a massive global disaster emerging,” Karabanow said, “it is disturbing and deeply dehumanizing as well.”
 
Housing advocate fears municipality will see more demolition evictions
 
Mila McKay, an organizer with advocacy organization N.S. ACORN, noted the moratorium on “renovictions,” passed by the province in November, should have prevented the demolition from taking place.
 
“Legally, or technically, landlords are not allowed to evict people through the use of renovations,” McKay said. “Once these stipulations for the two per cent increase and the renoviction bans are lifted, I would absolutely expect them to come back in full force.”
 
McKay believes the response from the municipality was stronger than in the past, but worries there could still be more demolition evictions to come. While a bylaw for demolition permits is a solid start, McKay said, the implementation of landlord licensing would also prevent future incidents like the one on North Street.
 
“The crisis around housing that we’ve seen over the pandemic, this isn’t new,” McKay said. “This is an old crisis that needs to be solved, even after the pandemic.
 
“We need to actually see serious consequences for slumlords and bad developers.”

 

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Article by Stephen Wentzell for The Signal

 

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