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Landlords from hell and rodents for roommates

by Robert Devet

A scavenger hunt at City Hall found no accountability, just creepy crawlies.  Photo Robert Devet
ACORN member Jonethan Brigley, or is it Sherlock Holmes?  Photo Robert Devet
Bedbugs!  Photo Robert Devet
Rats!  Photo Robert Devet
The idea behind ACORN.  Photo Robert Devet
Accountability - not to be found.  Photo Robert Devet

K'JIPUKTUK (HALIFAX) – About twenty low income tenants came to City Hall to find some accountability, but all they found were rodents, insects and bedbugs.

The scavenger hunt on the Grand Parade was organized by the newly created Halifax chapter of ACORN, a national anti-poverty organization.

“We are here to empower our communities so we can have rights, speak our minds and be heard,” said Bonnie Barrett, Chair of the Halifax chapter. “And we deserve to be heard. We're part of Halifax just as much as anyone else.”

So what is a landlord license?

“Landlord licensing will check apartment buildings for issues like non-working security doors, absent security for mail boxes, things like bed bugs, rats, mould. All this will fall under landlord licensing,” said Jonethan Brigley, acting chair for the soon to be formed ACORN Dartmouth chapter.

“You need a license for anything these days,” said Brigley. ”Road safety, becoming a doctor, so why not something that supports our well-being and living conditions?”

“I have lived in apartments most of my life. And I know what it feels like to not have your voice heard. We're here today to take the first step for better living conditions, be it apartments, public housing, room and board, any kind of condition where a landlord is present,” Brigley told the enthusiastic crowd.

Landlord licensing is an uphill battle, but it is not a matter of starting from scratch.

A bylaw that defines standards for residential properties is actually in place in HRM. But who enforces it is not clear. Councillors Waye Mason and Jennifer Watts have both come out in support of a bylaw with teeth and some kind of landlord licensing. HRM staff has been asked to look into the matter and report back to Council.

A couple of participants in the rally addressed the crowd about the urgent need to remedy the atrocious living conditions many tenants in HRM have to endure.

One member of ACORN Halifax, a tenant in a building owned by Killam Properties, spoke of her landlord's inability to fix an old and inadequate heating system.

The tenant's apartment building dates back to 1949, and she believes that it still mostly has the original pipes and windows.

“It is just not adequate. No insulation, when it is windy a cold draft travels right through the building,” she said.

And then the heat stopped working.

“For three days during a storm in January I had to find alternate accommodation,” she said. “For two days in December I had to leave my unit again because of heat problems. And despite my calls nothing was done, and the more I called the more I was intimidated.”

“For five days in February the boilers went down again. When I called the city bylaw people, they were so overwhelmed ...”

The tenant considers herself lucky that she is able to move out. “But when you are really poor, you spend all your money moving into a unit, and then you are trapped,” she told the crowd.

“And that's why I am supporting landlord licensing,” concluded the Killam Properties tenant.

See also: Lively community meeting tackles landlord licensing and rent control

Follow Robert Devet on Twitter @DevetRobert



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