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‘You cannot do this to people’: Dartmouth tenants win renoviction hearing

Just three days ago, Ken Sutton didn’t know if he would be able to stay in his home on Primrose St. in Dartmouth, N.S., or if he would have to pack up his life and try to find a new place to live.

But a residential tenancies decision he received on Tuesday means his future is no longer up in the air.

Sutton’s landlord had applied to terminate his tenancy for renovations, but the application was dismissed over concerns that the landlord was acting in bad faith. 

Sutton said he’s overjoyed he can stay in his home, and he hopes the decision sends a message.

“You cannot do this to people,” he said. “You can’t just say, ‘Oh we’ll buy this building…. Here’s the plan. We’ll give them notice and send them all out’.”

Sutton is one of many tenants at 71 Primrose St. who got good news this week. In January, the tenants in the building’s 23 units were told they had to leave. They were offered compensation, and six agreed to move out.

The rest stayed and fought their eviction through Nova Scotia’s Residential Tenancies Program. 

Decision sets a precedent 

Joanne Hussey, a community legal worker with Dalhousie Legal Aid Service, said this type of situation is a common symptom of Nova Scotia’s housing crisis.

“I think this is a pattern we’ve seen over and over again,” Hussey said. “If you search the names of particular companies, this is their business model. They buy smaller buildings like this that need some cosmetic renovations. They use that as a way to evict tenants and increase the prices.”

A woman stands in front of an apartment building.
Joanne Hussey of Dalhousie Legal Aid represented almost all the tenants who decided to stay in the building and fight their evictions. (Robert Guertin/CBC)

In March 2021, the ban on renovictions — the act of evicting tenants to renovate a building and then increase the rent charged to new tenants — was lifted when the province’s state of emergency ended. However, new protections for tenants were added to the Residential Tenancies Act. 

The protections include that the tenant must be given at least three months notice and the landlord must give the tenant between one and three months rent as compensation, depending on the size of the building. Additional compensation may be awarded to the tenant if the landlord does not follow the new rules or is found to have acted in bad faith.

If the tenants do not agree to leave, the landlord must prove to the Residential Tenancies Program why the tenants cannot be present during the repairs.

Hussey said there haven’t been many decisions to test the new legislation, and this is one of the first times a mass renoviction has been set aside. 

“I hope that what it says is that landlords are expected to follow the rules,” Hussey said. “They are not entitled to rent that’s three times higher even if their rent is low, that they still have to abide by the Residential Tenancies Act and if they don’t, they will be prevented from doing those things.”

Rent would have almost tripled

The landlord, AMK Barrett Investments, owned by Adam Barrett, bought the Primrose St. building in mid-2022 and argued it must be vacated in order to make repairs that include kitchen cabinets, floors and bathrooms. 

According to the residential tenancies decision, AMK Barrett Investments provided a residential building permit for the repairs, but also claimed the building has mould and plumbing and heating issues that would make it “not possible for someone to live in the unit while this extensive work is being completed.”

Sutton said his apartment had been freshly renovated when he moved in just three years ago, and has no mould or leaks.

“New bathroom, new shower, all new taps, new toilet, everything,” he said. “There’s no reason why we should have to vacate the apartment because repairs need to be made, there’s no repairs to be done in here.”

A hallway is shown with construction underway.
The repairs in the building have been ongoing as the tenants and landlord awaited the residential tenancies decision. (Robert Guertin/CBC)

Residential tenancies officer Gerard Neal wrote in his decision that there is no proof of water or mould issues, and many of the issues the landlord mentioned had been repaired in the last 10 years. 

“Further investigation … indicates there is no requirement or necessity that the landlord have termination of tenancy,” Neal wrote in his decision. “I do not believe the landlord is acting in good faith.” 

Neal also noted that the landlord’s testimony revealed the plan for after the renovations was to increase the base rents in the building from approximately $600 to more than $1,500 monthly. 

“That’s so crazy,” Sutton said. “This apartment is like a brand new apartment and we’re paying $690 … And I walk out the door and you walk in and they charge you $1,500.”

Landlord response

BlackBay Real Estate Group, owned by AMK Barrett Investments Inc., sent CBC an emailed statement saying their plan is to upgrade “one of Halifax’s most dilapidated buildings.” 

BlackBay’s chief operations officer, Greg Smith, said the repairs focus on energy efficiency and accessibility, and the company is committed to keeping 60 per cent of the building designated as affordable housing. 

“It is crucial to ensure that our properties are not only safe and habitable but also modern, energy-efficient, and environmentally friendly,” Smith wrote. 

“Taking ownership of a property that is over 50 years old and has had no significant renovations or upgrades completed during the span of its life, forces us to make required and substantial renovations to achieve these standards.”

Hussey said the landlord has a right to appeal the residential tenancies decision, but Sutton and the other tenants plan to keep fighting to stay. 

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