As Nova Scotia’s rental crisis continues, those on all sides can’t agree on solutions

Nova scotia's rental crisis is keeping community legal worker Mark Culligan and his colleagues at Dalhousie Legal Aid busy, fielding calls and inquiries from tenants in crisis.

“We're still seeing many, many callers who come to us because they're seeing an illegal rental increase,” says Culligan. “All sorts of triple digit rent increases, lots in the $100 to $200 range, and we've also seen a handful of rent increases that are higher, $500 to a $1,000.”

Those rent increases are well above the two per cent cap on rental hikes allowed under the province's state of emergency.

Culligan says it’s further proof that the province needs permanent rent control.

But while there’s agreement the problem exists, not everyone agrees that rent control is the solution.

On Thursday, the group representing landlords – the Investment Property Owners Association of Nova Scotia (IPOANS) – along with some of the province's biggest investment property owners, made the unorthodox move of calling those landlords who are responsible. The organization took out a full-page newspaper ad denouncing examples reported in the media of “unfair future rent increases once State of Emergency rent control measures are lifted.”

“The unfair rental increases that are being reported are not reflective of the wider industry,” says Kevin Russell, IPOANS executive director.

The association points the finger at new, inexperienced landlords who have entered the market unaware of the law.

“They're suddenly finding themselves in a regulatory environment that they weren't prepared for or understand,” adds Russell.

Russell believes what's needed are incentives, such as tax breaks on land purchases to help developers build more units, more quickly.

Russell also says the non-profit and social housing sector needs more resources to provide the affordable housing needed in the province.

The newly appointed Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing Minister, John Lohr, says he’s watching the rental situation “very, very closely.”

A landlord himself, he says the stories he’s hearing of rental increases “does bother me personally.”

A few days into his new job, Lohr says it’s too early to talk about specific solutions, but told reporters he’s open to “things that can be done.”

When asked if that includes rent control, Lohr was adamant.

“The premier has said that we are not going to extend rent control,” he said.

But after Lohr's question and answer session with reporters, and after airtime, Premier Tim Houston's press secretary reached out to tell CTV News that Lohr's position had been "unclear," because he had also said he would explore all options.

Catherine Klimek writes, "This position better reflects our government: 'As the state of emergency continues so will rent control. At the same time, we are being briefed on the housing situation and we are exploring all our options.'"

Culligan is worried about what that’s going to mean once the rent cap is lifted after the state of emergency expires.

“I’m worried that we’re going to see a feeding frenzy,” he says. “That bad landlords are going to try to take advantage of the situation to try to jack up rents as high as they can.”

While he would like rent control implemented permanently, Culligan says the least the province could do is fine any landlord increasing rent illegally under the Emergency Management Act.

He says the maximum penalty allowed is up to $10,000 but he doesn’t know of any cases where that fine has been issued.