Nova Scotia’s Utility and Review Board is investigating whether the owner of five mobile home parks in the Halifax region can force residents to install water meters before they can sell their homes.
In a written complaint filed with the board, municipal councillors Lisa Blackburn, Lorelei Nicoll and Richard Zuwarski have asked whether the provision of metered water service makes the landlord a private utility, and whether this would mean the water service provider would fall under the board’s regulatory power.
“If you’re selling water you are selling a utility, that makes you a utility service provider and … you should be governed by the UARB, they should be overseeing what you do,” Blackburn said in an interview.
Three of the mobile home parks are in Blackburn’s district, while the others are in Nicoll’s and Zuwarski’s. Over the past three years, Blackburn said she has heard from about 100 residents on the issue.
Mobile homes sit on lots rented from the park. Blackburn said she’s been told by residents that before they can put their homes up for sale, they are being required to pay for a water meter to be installed by the park owner.
Blackburn has been told the meters cost anywhere from $250 to $500 each.
The five parks are Woodbine Park (Beaver Bank), Springfield Estates Mobile Home Park (Middle Sackville), Sackville Estates (Lower Sackville), Alderwood Mobile Home Park (Lakeside) and Westphal Park (Dartmouth).
Heather Scott, the landlord for the mobile home parks, declined comment for this story.
“It is our policy not to participate in interviews or to issue any statements with and to the media,” Scott wrote in an email.
For the most part, Blackburn said, water in most of these parks — excluding Springfield Estates, which gets its water from Little Springfield Lake — comes from the municipal water supply.
Much like an apartment, water is included in lot rents under signed leases so there’s no measure to determine how much individual households are using.
“What the owners of the park are doing are they’re trying to slowly phase-in residents to pay for their water,” Blackburn said. “In order to get permission to sell your trailer, your mini-home, you have to install a water meter, and then from that point on the new owners will be charged for the water.”
She said “on the surface” she has no problem with a private business wanting to charge for water its residents are using. The problem, she said, in a lack of oversight.
“Like, when the park owner decides to raise the rates,” she said, “who do the residents go to with their concerns?”
Lori Watkins, who has lived in Woodbine Park for 16 years, said forcing people to pay to have meters installed before they sell is wrong “on so many levels.”
“And the people who are suffering the most are the ones who can afford it the least,” said Watkins, who is not selling her home so has not installed a water meter.
“You can’t get any water until you pay that fee, so she’s [Heather Scott] making money off the backs of the people who are moving out and the ones who are coming in.”
Watkins has been told the water meters cost $500 each.
‘Rather unique’ circumstances
The complaint also said there are concerns about water quality, testing and monitoring of water that is being drawn from Little Springfield Lake for residents who live in the Springfield Estates Mobile Home Park.
In the board’s response to the councillors, the board’s chief clerk wrote that “this matter poses a rather unique set of circumstances” and it is allowing this matter to proceed through its complaint resolution process.
The complaint is not related to Halifax Water. But the review board contacted the water commission because it is an interested party.
Because this matter is currently before the review board and falls under its jurisdiction, Halifax Water also declined comment.