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New Cape Breton bylaw aims to crack down on overcrowding

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Jacqueline Mercer still remembers when tragedy struck just down the street from her Sydney, N.S., home.

"There was too many, too many crammed into not enough space,” the Ashby resident recalled on Thursday.

In December 2022, a 33-year-old Cape Breton University student from India died in a fire at a Park Street duplex he was renting with seven others.

Now Mercer, who currently has three international students living in her home, is welcoming a new municipal bylaw aimed at preventing that kind of thing from happening again.

"I think that's a good idea if they follow through with it, like if they do do the inspections, if there's somebody who's going to check,” Mercer said.

The Cape Breton Regional Municipality's (CBRM) new licensing bylaw for shared dwellings - or rooming houses - means landlords have to be licensed by Aug. 20.

The application fee starts at $200, and has to be renewed on a yearly basis.

The municipality says the message is clear: overcrowded and unsafe living conditions won't be tolerated.

"People living in spaces that aren't bedrooms, whether that be hallways or closets. We've also seen building codes not being followed,” said Jenna MacQueen of CBRM communications. "It will be a complaint-based enforcement.”

The municipality says there will be a grace period until Aug. 20 to give landlords a chance to get licensed, and up to speed on the new bylaw. Afterwards they will start enforcing it.

"If there's non-compliance, fines will be enforced,” MacQueen said.

She added in most cases, complaints likely come from neighbours or tenants themselves.

While the new bylaw is aimed largely at landlords, Mercer said inspections would help ensure those who rent are also doing their part regarding safe living conditions.

"Sometimes what happens when the students come, there may be four people renting the place but then they have a friend who doesn't have anywhere to go so then they're taking in their own people,” she said.

In a news release, CBRM said the new bylaw will require ongoing yearly inspections of properties for which shared dwelling licenses are approved.

For more Nova Scotia news visit our dedicated provincial page.

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