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Tenants Don’t Have Rights

Community meeting encourages tenants to organise

by Samantha Chown

Tenants Don’t Have Rights

On August 5, nearly 30 people attended a community meeting, hosted by the Tenants’ Alliance of Nova Scotia (TALONS) and the Dalhousie Legal Aid Service (DLAS), to hear speeches on the problems with the Residential Tenancies Act (RTA), recommendations for change, and to participate in an open discussion.

Organizers of the meeting hoped it would encourage tenants to form unions within their buildings, neighbourhoods and community groups to push for more rights.

Kelsey MacLaren, a senior law student at Dalhousie, discussed the problems with the RTA that produce the highest number of complaints. These include the failure of a landlord to return a security deposit, the length of time before a tenant is granted security of tenure and the enforcement of necessary repairs, says MacLaren.

Under the current system, if a rental unit is in need of repairs, it is the responsibility of the tenant to ask their landlord for repairs, but the landlord can follow through on those repairs at their own convenience. This system leads to nervous tenants who want to keep good relationships with their landlords and not pester or upset them with requests, says MacLaren. After the landlord has been notified of needed repairs, it could take days or months before the problems are fixed - if they are fixed at all. 

Cole Webber, a Community Legal Worker with DLAS and facilitator for the meeting, elaborated on McLaren’s points. He said that the process for getting repairs done should change from a complaint process, which puts the onus on the tenant, to an inspection process, which would ensure that housing is up to good standards.

Webber also suggested a model used in the U.S. called “repair and deduct.” Under this system, minor repairs can be made out of the tenant’s own pocket and the cost is subtracted from the month’s rent. If repairs require more than a month’s rent then tenants have the ability to withhold rent.

Many of those attending the meeting voiced concerns regarding the length of time one has to wait before being granted tenure.  Security of tenure affords tenants additional safeguards from eviction. As it stands now, tenants must live in the same building for a minimum of 5 years before they are granted tenure. Amendments to the act this fall could see that number drop to 2 or 3 years. McLaren says many tenants want tenure to be instantaneous.  At a minimum, she noted that notifying tenants when they reach the 5 year mark would be an improvement. 

McLaren says that the DLAS, which operates a tenant's rights hotline and does workshops for tenants on their rights, hears many complaints on the subject of tenure when tenants have been evicted without reason.

The speeches prompted many attendees to air their grievances with the current act and the impossibility of getting landlords to fulfill contractual requirements such as repairs. Webber urged tenants to get together and fight for their rights, hinting that amendments to the act this fall will not be tenant friendly.

For more information on the Dalhousie Legal Aid Services Tenant's Rights Guide visit http://tenantrights.legalaid.dal.ca/.

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Topics: Housing
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