Nova Scotia’s new housing minister says next to health care, housing is the most important challenge the province is facing, and says he is very concerned about what is happening in the rental market with some landlords planning significant rent hikes once the temporary rent control measure is lifted in February 2022.
“We’re very interested in watching what’s happening very closely,” said John Lohr.
“At this moment I’m looking into what can be done but I can’t comment further.”
One thing that won’t be done, though, is extending rent control. Instead, the PC party has committed to implementing the recommendations of the housing commission report and both Lohr and Premier Tim Houston say focus will be on increasing housing supply.
Rent control was first brought in by the Liberal government last November during the pandemic. A cap of a two per cent increase was implemented as a way to prevent renovictions in the middle of a pandemic. The policy is set to remain in place until Feb. 1, 2022 or whenever the COVID-19 state of emergency is lifted.
As that February date draws nearer, some tenants have received notices that their rent will be increasing as soon as the rent increase cap expires.
On Thursday, Lohr told media they are keeping their options open as they look for solutions.
“I’m very concerned about what I think are egregious increases in rent and we’re looking at all options,” Lohr said, but when asked to clarify if rent control could be extended as an interim measure, he stood firm to the party line. “We’re not open to that option.”
NDP Leader Gary Burrill says this lacks foresight.
“It is as though they thought that somehow while supply is being addressed that landlords are going to hold off on submitting dramatic increases, when in fact we know that is not going to be the case,” said Burrill.
“We don’t disagree that supply is the answer to the problem, the question is what is going to happen to all those people who are going to face the dramatic increases before supply is brought forward?”
Liberal Leader Iain Rankin says while it was his party who initially decided on the February 2022 expiration date, it was never meant to be a firm date.
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“Yes (rent control) should be removed at some point, but not until our supply gets better,” said Rankin, noting that it could take a number of years for that to happen.
As the debate over the housing crisis continues, the province’s newest housing minister admits that he himself is a landlord and has been “most of his adult life.”
“I think it helps me understand both sides of it,” he told reporters Thursday. “I think a landlord has a responsibility to tenants; I’ve always operated that way to provide good service.”
While Lohr could not say if his position as a landlord put him in a conflict of interest with his role as minister of housing, he says he has requested a meeting with Nova Scotia’s conflict of interest commissioner, Judge Joseph Kennedy, to discuss it.
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