Small Claims Court to Resolve Landlord/Tenant Disputes
SERVICE N.S./MUNICIPAL RELATIONS--Small Claims Court to Resolve Landlord/Tenant Disputes
Changes to the way landlords and tenants resolve disputes will come into effect on Feb. 1. Appeals to decisions made by residential tenancy officers will now be heard in small claims court rather than by a residential tenancies board.
As of Feb. 1, the eight residential tenancies boards will cease to exist and the boards' $50,000 budget will be transferred to the Department of Justice. The money will be used to hire staff and to schedule additional small claims court sittings.
"As a result of this change, appeals will now be heard by legally trained adjudicators," said Peter Christie, Minister of Service Nova Scotia and Municipal Relations. "The residential tenancies boards used to be the initial mediator in landlord/tenant disputes but that role is now handled by residential tenancy officers. We believe the court system is where appeals belong."
When a landlord and a tenant disagree, they can ask a residential tenancy officer at Service Nova Scotia and Municipal Relations to listen to their issues. The officer proposes a solution, called a director's order. Ninety per cent of landlord/tenant disputes are satisfactorily resolved at this level.
In the past, if a landlord or tenant did not agree that the director's order was an acceptable solution, they had the option to appeal it to the residential tenancies board. A board member would conduct a hearing and render a decision. This appeal process is moving to the courts.
"The vast majority of landlord and tenant disputes are resolved by residential tenancy officers; only 10 per cent go to the appeal stage," said Gerald Hashey, director of residential tenancies at Service Nova Scotia and Municipal Relations.
The cost of filing an appeal with small claims court will vary, depending on the amount of money in dispute or the nature of the case. The cost of appealing a case worth less than $2,000 is $25. For cases involving $2,000-$4,999, or where the landlord is requesting a termination of a lease, the fee will be $75. Cases involving $5,000 or more, or a review of a proposed rent increase in a mobile home park, will cost $150.
The 10 existing board members were informed of the government's decision shortly before amendments to the Residential Tenancies Act were introduced in April 2002, as part of the Justice Administration Amendment Act. These were not full-time positions; most members heard appeals during half-day sessions and were paid $60 per session.
In a related change, landlords will be required to hold a public auction to dispose of abandoned personal belongings if they are worth more than $500.
"Arranging a public auction can be time-consuming and costly for landlords," said Mr. Hashey. "Increasing the threshold from $200, an amount which has not changed in many years, will have no impact on tenants and it will reduce red tape for landlords and residential tenancies staff."
FOR BROADCAST USE:
Changes to the way landlords and tenants resolve disputes will come into effect on Saturday (February 1st).
Ninety per cent of the time, landlords and tenants are satisfied with the recommendations of residential tenancy staff at Service Nova Scotia. For the 10 per cent of the cases that remain unresolved, appeals will now be heard in small claims court.
The cost of filing an appeal will be between 25 and 150 dollars, depending on the value and nature of the dispute.
In a related change, landlords will no longer need to hold a public auction to get rid of a tenant's abandoned belongings unless they are worth more than 500 dollars. The old limit, which was in place for many years, was 200 dollars.