Dalhousie Legal Aid cuts walk-ins due to high demand
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Dalhousie Legal Aid cuts walk-ins due to high demand

A community worker with the Dalhousie Legal Aid Service says the office is dealing with more tenancy cases than it can handle.

Joanne Hussey says the number of renters seeking out free legal help to deal with evictions has reached the point where the office has been forced to eliminate its walk-in service for the month of May.

“We’ve decided to pause our drop-in intakes, which usually happens twice a week,” says Hussey.

Hussey says the office normally sees about 10 drop-ins per time.

Part of the challenge, she says, is the sheer volume of cases she and the other community legal workers are handling.

“But also, we are a teaching clinic, so we have new students who are joining us at this point and so we’ll be spending some time training them,” Hussey added. “We’ve generally been able to make it work during those student transitions, but this time we just felt we needed to take that break.”

Hussey says since September, Dalhousie Legal Aid has worked with 102 households facing evictions, compared with the 30 households the clinic assisted during the same period the previous year. She says where the clinic’s work was once equally divided between tenancy issues and income assistance cases, that has since shifted almost entirely to tenancies.

Hussey says that it often takes a lot of time, as the complaints process with Nova Scotia Residential Tenancies can take months.

“I think it’s a whole lot of things that came together at the same time,” she says. “When (the federal pandemic emergency benefits) went away, that caused problems.”

“We saw rents increasing in Halifax at levels that we’ve never seen before, and we also have the rent cap, which has kept rents from increasing drastically while tenants have a lease, but it also means if people have to move, they face a huge increase,” Hussey explains.

The chair of the Dartmouth chapter of ACORN, a grassroots advocacy group that works on affordable housing issues, says the loss of drop-in services is a blow to the community.

“For low-income people,” says Lisa Hayhurst, “nobody can really afford legal services, (Dal Legal Aid) is basically who they turn to.”

She herself used the office’s walk-in service just a few weeks ago to ask a question about a letter she received from her landlord.

“With the housing crisis and renovations going on,” she says, “tenants don’t really know where to go, so they have to turn to Dal to help them through the hearings.”

Dalhousie Legal Aid is a non-profit charity funded through donations and grants from the Law Foundation of Nova Scotia, Nova Scotia Legal Aid, and Dalhousie’s Schulich School of Law.

Hayhurst says she would like to see more provincial funding for organizations like Dal Legal Aid.

“What we (at ACORN) want to do is call on the province of Nova Scotia to put more funding into tenant advocacy and legal resources so some of the stress will be taken off Dalhousie Legal Aid,” she said.

“There’s definitely a need for funding for all the services for people experiencing homelessness or at risk of homelessness,” Hussey says, “I think we really need the government and the public to recognize there are a lot of people working really hard to make sure this situation that is already bad doesn’t get so much worse.”

Data from Nova Scotia Residential Tenancies indicates the number of hearings held to resolve tenant and landlord disputes has increased over the past several years, with 2,528 hearings in 2021 and 2,615 in 2022. The highest number in the past seven years was in 2019, when there were 3,170 hearings.

Since the start of January this year, there have been 1,121 hearings to date.

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