Time in Halifax Nova Scotia right now

Rent Control+Alt+Delete | City | Halifax, Nova Scotia

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Kirk McKenna swings open the door to his Fairview apartment. Water trickles in the background. The sound is coming from a windowsill where several electric fountains with spinning, flashing lights circulate. In his 15 years of living here, McKenna has accumulated quite a few possessions—paintings, stacks of paper, boxes and bins, a six-foot-long fish tank that sits empty in the living room. He plans to fill it with African cichlids, popular aquarium fish that come in all sorts of colours.

McKenna, a baby boomer with dark bushy eyebrows under the brim of his black Philly Eagles cap (he's not a fan, he just likes the hat), gives me the grand tour of his one-bedroom apartment.

"Everything is just frustrating here, " he says. Kato, a curious kitty with a soft black coat, follows us into the galley kitchen and mews for supper.

Kato's owner points to the kitchen counter, which is missing large chunks. The fume hood over the stove is broken, too. He hears birds chirping in there. The bathroom is clean, but he says it has issues with water leakage and mold. He pulls the door of the bathroom cabinet and it comes off in his hand. In the bedroom, there are unpatched cracks in the ceiling where he says leaks drove him to sleep on the couch. The sliding doors on both closets have fallen off their tracks. McKenna shows me photos of deep cuts in his scalp—marks left by chunks of brick he says plummeted from the side of the building and hit him, knocking him down and spraining his neck.

McKenna says it's "like pulling teeth" to get repairs done. His apartment continues to deteriorate, with the odd fix-up here and there, and yet the rent keeps rising.

When he moved in back in 1999, he was paying $495 a month. In October, the landlord gave him notice his rent will jump to $750.

The largest increase was in 2011. A few months after McKenna filed a formal complaint to the tenancy board, his landlord hiked the rent by a whopping $125—a move McKenna says was designed to bully him out.

But the residential tenancy officer—not a judge, but a low-level bureaucrat—who heard his case found no evidence of retaliation.

"There is currently no rent control in Nova Scotia and therefore, the landlord may charge any rent that they believe the market can bear, " the officer wrote, concluding the increase was valid.

It's true Nova Scotia doesn't have rent control now—but we did. The Rent Review Commission set a maximum allowable increase each year, and landlords could apply to go over that cap if, for example, they had splurged on repairs. But in a controversial move, the province wiped out the program in 1993.

Over the last couple years, especially following the big shipbuilding announcement in the fall of 2011, rent control has poked its nose out again in Halifax like an uncertain groundhog. Sue Uteck and Dawn Sloane, former city councillors for the south end and north end districts, brought up rent control in summer 2012 when their constituents complained of rental hikes as high as $400 a month. Uteck told The Chronicle-Herald at the time: "I don't know if rent control is the answer, but how do you prevent these massive increases?"

In north end Halifax, Clayton Park and Dartmouth, rents have increased in recent years alongside housing prices. Residents in these neighbourhoods are worrying aloud about gentrification and so-called "renovictions." As a solution, tenants' rights advocates like to serve rent control up on a silver platter. But Halifax's housing market has softened recently, and the vacancy rate has increased since 2012, leading critics of rent control to ask if it's really necessary. One thing is for sure: there is no system in place to smooth rent increases, and landlords are able to set the rate at whatever they think is reasonable.

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