Advocating for the Rights of Rental Property Owners

Investment Property Owners Association of Nova Scotia (IPOANS)
Written by William Young

The Investment Property Owners Association of Nova Scotia (IPOANS) is dedicated to educating rental property owners and advocating for their rights in its province. The association was founded in 1978, a time in the province’s housing history that its executive director Kevin Russell remembers as much different than today. Back then, the main driver behind the association beginning its operations was rent control, established in the province in 1973.

After its introduction, rental housing providers began seeing negative financial impacts because of it and the stunting of further growth opportunities with very little incentive to expand. This led to a lot of frustration from rental property owners who felt that the provincial government was turning a deaf ear to their problems. Only five years after the introduction of rent control, IPOANS entered the market and, to this day, acts as a platform for these concerns on behalf of property owners across Nova Scotia.

IPOANS operates under three pillars. The first is advocacy, as the association concerns itself with lobbying government departments about policies that negatively affect the housing industry and for changes in regulations to improve the livelihoods of its members. These actions can also lead to renters reaping the benefits of the association’s efforts.

The second pillar is education, specifically with programs the association offers to its clients. One such is the residential property management course, a ninety-hour online course in which students receive a Nova Scotia Community College professional studies certificate in Residential Property Management, as well as a residential building service excellence course, an upcoming thirty-hour online course in enhanced customer service techniques. The latter’s curriculum is currently in high demand as it will help to educate participants on the critical operating system components of buildings and best practices for essential building services. These classes allow for better communication for residents, and the association has high expectations for the residential building service excellence course, launched in May of this year.

The final pillar is membership services, in which the association offers best-in-class opportunities for its members to gather and improve skills and connections through in-person networking events like the Annual Awards Gala, Dinner and Trade Show, in-person Lunch and Learn sessions, online learning opportunities, and more. The association is “constantly elevating the game of members,” Russell affirms.

Rent control is still impacting the housing market in Nova Scotia today, as a temporary rent control regime implemented in September 2020 is currently in place and will be until at least December 2023 and, dependent on government thinking at the time, possibly longer. Russell sees this as affecting the current rental housing supply, as rental housing providers are unable to raise the rent sufficiently to cover operating costs, which further demotivates rental housing providers to remain in the industry.

Russell feels the situation is at a critical juncture, as more rental housing supply is needed; in fact, a survey published in December 2021 revealed that about 9,000 duplex and single-family homes usually three-to-four-bedroom units suitable for families are being sold back into the single-family ownership market, which is serving to put current renters at risk of homelessness while taking away living spaces from prospective renters.

Developers in the market cannot build affordable housing due to the spiking of land costs, property taxes, wages, material and labour costs, and the scarcity of trade labour in the market, leading to the critical situation faced today. Now, with new investment property owners entering what is a high-priced market and these same duplexes selling for around $500,000 per unit—considerably higher than for its previous owners—there is a pronounced need to increase affordable rental housing which will in turn begin to resolve Nova Scotia’s ongoing housing crisis.

A typical sight on the metro Halifax skyline today is the many cranes in operation, which Russell admits will not help affordable housing right now but more so in the next three to five years as new units come to market. Along with the new construction, there is a heightened market demand for apartment living over homeownership, the latter of which many new buyers see as simply out-of-reach. Nowadays, prospective buyers want to live in a luxury space that offers the same amenities and advantages that a condo or single-family home would offer.

Amidst all this, IPOANS has commissioned economics consulting firm Gardner Pinfold Consulting to research ongoing construction costs of developing a forty-eight-unit residential building in 2022. After an update in March of this year, costs were estimated at $337,000 per door in a wooden building and $398,000 per door in a concrete building, a $100,000 increase over the previous year. Russell is firm that the government needs to get involved with meaningful solutions or else costs like these as well as rent costs will only grow.

IPOANS is committed to leading the way for property owners by focusing on solutions to the challenges in the housing market. Russell explains how the association has put forward five government solution policies to help combat high development costs in the province. The five solutions are as such: make land available at no cost, offer building permits at no cost, offer a 50 percent personal sales tax rebate, provide capital subsidy per unit, or waive annual property taxes on affordable units.

These ideas certainly come at a necessary time as so many renters in the province who live in core housing need are spending more than thirty percent of their income on shelter, and today’s workers—especially those in entry-level positions or working for minimum wage—need homes closer to workspaces, which is currently unfeasible due to construction costs.

There is also a need to renovate existing rental housing, as the stock will play a critical role in the housing crisis soon. The most affordable housing Nova Scotia has is its existing rental stock. Russell outlines how sixty percent of rental stock in the province was built before 1996 and the stock is nearing the end of its building lifecycle, further underlining the need for action. Existing rental housing providers must be allowed to re-invest into their properties to extend the building lifecycle and receive a reasonable return on their investment.

Another big factor negatively impacting the rental housing industry is the need for modernization in the Residential Tenancies Act (RTA), which Russell describes as, “the bible that governs the rights of Nova Scotia’s 6000 plus landlords and 300,000 renters.” Landlords and renters both feel that the RTA is currently a broken process biased toward the other end of the discussion and against their interests.

He feels that there is a need for a quick, transparent, unbiased, and consistent decision-making that will result in final judgements in these conflicts but that does not seem to be currently possible. However, Russell sees it all as a game of inches, meaning that progress is indeed being made by the efforts of organizations like the IPOANS but more slowly than they would like.

He says that, in the last couple of years, the association’s efforts have helped to cool the temperature on anti-landlord rhetoric among renters, which he feels will help ongoing discussions. With a lack of political will to make much needed changes to the RTA and a hostile market, Russell is still firm that the association will keep advocating on behalf of its members and that “we will eventually get there.”

As 2022 hits its mid-point, IPOANS will continue to expand its membership based on its three pillars. When asked about the best steps that property owners in the province can take, Russell encourages managers to oversee operating expenses as closely as possible—especially with only an allowable two percent rent increase—strengthen the applicants’ screening process, and engage with local politicians at all levels to alert them to the problems being experienced.

IPOANS stands as a positive voice for residential landlords and a respected force that can help managers get their message out and advocate for them effectively. “The wider our geographic area, the stronger our memberships become,” Russell says, emphasizing that strength in numbers and solidarity between property owners is what will not only help the association continue its growth but will also help in the ongoing challenge that is the Nova Scotia housing market.

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