Halifax rooming house tenants told to vacate by Sept 1., landlord says actions ‘not illegal’

After 26 years of living in the same Halifax rooming house, Harris Romkey says the thought of having to move in this current rental market is “terrifying.”

microsoft, halifax rooming house tenants told to vacate by sept 1., landlord says actions ‘not illegal’

“It feels like you’re out in the middle of the ocean on a boat, and the captain says ‘jump overboard.’ And there’s nowhere to go,” the 63-year-old said.

In April, the landlord at 6273 North St. sent a notice to tenants of the 29-unit building saying they would have to vacate by Sept. 1 because they’re emptying the building.

microsoft, halifax rooming house tenants told to vacate by sept 1., landlord says actions ‘not illegal’
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Harris Romkey is one of the tenants of a Halifax rooming house who have been told to vacate their units by Sept. 1. Megan King/Global News

Many of the tenants are low-income.

Ronkey’s rent of $565 was grandfathered in, and he’s currently renting on a month-to-month basis but never signed a formal lease.

Those who did sign a fixed-term lease were told they wouldn’t have their leases renewed beyond Sept. 1.

“Shocking, just absolutely shocking. You could use the word terrifying, to be just cast out,” said Romkey.

Dalhousie Legal Aid is calling this a renoviction — adding in a news release that the situation “highlights a disturbing pattern.”

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Sydnee Blum, a community legal worker, questions the “motives” of the landlord, and alleges there as discrimination when attempts were made to raise rents two years ago above the rent cap

“Then (they) took that back and said that they were only going to raise it for tenants on social assistance, which is discrimination. Now, a couple years later, (they are) trying to get vacancy for the building. It throws in questions about why these renovations are being done now,” said Blum.

“It’s just another example of the way that these lease structures are used to exploit an already dire housing situation.”

microsoft, halifax rooming house tenants told to vacate by sept 1., landlord says actions ‘not illegal’
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Sydnee Blum with Dalhousie Legal Aid says it’ll be difficult for the tenants, many of whom are low-income, to find new places to live. Megan King/Global News

Dalhousie Legal Aid plans to meet with tenants next week to make sure they’re aware of their rights.

“A building full of low-income people in a rental market where you can barely find a one bedroom for less than $1,600 a month? This kind of thing is devastating,” said Blum.

“People in this building have been telling us they just got in off the streets and they’re looking at going right back.”

Landlord says they’ve ‘followed every rule’

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In an emailed statement to Global News, CB MacDonald Properties said the end of term for leases at the building is “not illegal” and they’ve ensured they have “followed every rule.”

“Prior to this situation, we’ve spent the past 18 months reaching out to nearly 20 housing organizations to request staffing help, assistance and guidance to support the wide variety of needs of this population,” the email states.

“We were told that the only way we can get support is to be a charity, and that a charity would only want to support if the building was empty.”

The landlord goes on to say that they’ve reached out to provincial bodies and even offered the space as a shelter opportunity for the municipality.

“While the accusations against a landlord in this challenging time for housing grabs headlines, we’ve offered to act as partners and work towards a constructive solution for the community as we’ve successfully proven in some of our other properties. This accusation is misleading and unfortunate.”

microsoft, halifax rooming house tenants told to vacate by sept 1., landlord says actions ‘not illegal’
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Dalhousie Legal Aid is helping the tenants learn about their rights while facing this situation. Megan King/Global News

Meanwhile, at Province House, Community Services Minister Brendan Maguire told reporters the province plans to assist those affected.

“We’re going to do everything that we can to make sure every one of the individuals have a roof over their head,” he said.

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