Council Update: Marketing Fines, Museum, Navigators, Woodland Fence

An Air BNB listing in Dartmouth. Photo: Air BNB

Agenda, January 23 here

Marketing Levy Fines

On October 1 last year, it became mandatory for short-term rental operators to start paying the HRM Destination Marketing Levy. The marketing levy is a room tax that hotels have paid for years to fund Destination Halifax and special event grants. Basically, the tourism industry is taxing itself to fund efforts to grow the overall sector in HRM. Levelling the playing field by requiring all tourist accommodations, including short-term rentals, to pay the marketing fee was a frequent ask of the industry and changes in Provincial legislation has since made that possible.

Unfortunately, when the Province changed the legislation, it didn’t do the obvious thing of requiring short-term rental platforms, like Air BNB, to collect the marketing fee as part of each transaction. The result is short-term operators have to report results and remit the fee to HRM directly. To ensure that operators actually comply, the Marketing Levy Bylaw includes a $25 a day fine. So far so good, at least in theory. Unfortunately, things have gone horribly awry with the $25 a day fine.

In rolling out the new bylaw, there seems to have been challenges in communicating to registered short-term rental operators that they have to submit reports each month, even if they had no income to report. HRM does require a monthly report showing $0 collected since we have no way to know that there was no activity. Council has heard from several short-term rental operators who weren’t aware they had to submit a report if they had earned no income. Most folks seem to have caught on at the end of October or into November when HRM emailed them and by that time, the fines owing were significant. At $25 a day, and then $50 a day once there were two months outstanding, many folks are facing penalties of over $1,000. These are folks who registered their short-term rentals, and had no ill intent to avoid paying the marketing fee. Fines of $1,000 or more for failing to submit a $0 report feels wildly disproportionate. There is also an equity piece here since $25 a day isn’t really a big deal to a large hotel operator, but to someone who is renting their cottage or their primary home and has just one unit, it can quickly become a very big deal.

I have met with staff on this and the result was a motion yesterday to look at options to forgive and refund fines for folks who had $0 to report. Staff indicated that they’re hoping to have a very quick response to this motion given that folks have outstanding fines hanging over their heads. Hopefully we can quickly correct what, to me, is an unfair and disproportionate outcome.

Dartmouth Heritage Museum Agreement

HRM has entered into a new operating agreement with the Dartmouth Heritage Museum Society. HRM owns the Heritage Museum’s two properties, Quaker House and Evergreen House, as well as the collection of artifacts. HRM provides funding to the Heritage Museum Society to operate the two historic houses and manage the collection. Funding in the past has been pretty slight, just $100,000 a year, and the Heritage Museum has increasingly struggled to keep operating. Under the new agreement, funding to the Society is being doubled to $200,000, enabling the Museum to hire additional staff and maximize public access to the historic homes. I’m happy to see this needed increase to the Society.

I’m sure someone’s wondering, what about a new museum? Whatever happened to the efforts to finally replace the old heritage museum that closed in 2004? HRM is currently working on a Museum Strategy to look at the whole question. It’s been about 20 years since the old museum on the Dartmouth Common closed, but in that time, no serious study or planning was ever done to identify what HRM should do to replace it. That changed in the late 2010s. HRM is currently working on Phase 2 of a Museum Strategy and that work should return to Council sometime in the coming fiscal year.

Downtown Dartmouth’s Street Navigator, Shawn Parker

Street Navigator Funding

HRM is entering into a new three year agreement with the Downtown Halifax, North End, and the Downtown Dartmouth Business Improvement Districts (BIDs) to fund the street navigator program. Street navigators assist folks who are street-involved, including people who are are homeless or are panhandling. The navigators try to connect people in need with services and provide humanitarian aid such as food, medication, sleeping bags, etc. It’s difficult, but really important work, and I know there are folks in Downtown Dartmouth who are better off because of all of Shawn Parker’s efforts.

The Navigator program is run by the BIDs, but a large portion of the funding comes from HRM. Over the last three years, HRM has provided $120,000 a year, while the BIDs contributed $90,000 for a total budget of $200,000. This has funded program costs and two navigators, one in Downtown Halifax, and one shared between Downtown Dartmouth and North End Halifax. With more and more people experiencing homelessness in HRM, the existing Navigators have been very busy and the program has been stretched thin. As part of their budget submissions this year, the BIDs requested an increase in funding to $345,000 and Council has agreed. Increasing HRM funding to $345,000 will increase the budget for the two existing navigators and the supports they offer and will allow the BIDs to hire a third. The third navigator will likely mean that North End Halifax and Downtown Dartmouth will stop sharing and each have their own. Council approved the recommendation, subject of course to yearly budget deliberations.

Woodland Avenue Fence

The Woodland Avenue fence report was back before Council. Wait, why was Council interested in this specific fence? The Woodland Avenue fence has a complicated back story and there has been ongoing confusion as to who is responsible for it that needed to be resolved so I made a motion on it back in 2022.

First thing to know is that HRM doesn’t build fences alongside roads unless there is a clear public purpose for doing so. Providing for privacy and muffling street noise is a benefit to the private property owners and not something that HRM considers a public purpose. In short, it’s up to property owners to fence their own yards.

Privately-owned backyard fencing in a similar sort of street environment along Portland Street near Bell Lake

So what’s different on Woodland Avenue? The confusion comes from the fence’s origin. In 1984, the City of Dartmouth acquired a small strip of land from multiple homeowners from 23 Kingston Crescent to 39 Kingston Crescent. The land was purchased to allow for the construction of the sidewalk on Woodland Avenue and, as part of the project, the City of Dartmouth built the fence. Several residents on Kingston Crescent have a heartfelt and sincere belief that, because of the 1984 sidewalk project, the fence is HRM’s responsibility. This has been a largely academic argument over the years that has now come to a head because the fence is in poor condition and will need to be replaced in the near future.

To settle the question, HRM staff did a detailed investigation, including reviewing all the former City of Dartmouth records, completing a survey plan, and checking with HRM’s Provincial counterparts since Woodland Avenue is a Provincial roadway all the way to Ryland Avenue. HRM could find no evidence to suggest the City of Dartmouth intended to be responsible for the fence forever. The 1984 council records indicates that property owners were duly paid $5.55 per square foot for their land. They didn’t donate their property to the City in exchange for the fence. The 1984 staff report indicates that the properties were fenced with “board fences of various styles and heights” and since the sidewalk project required the removal of that original fencing, Dartmouth committed to build a new fence along the new property boundary. No where in the 1984 staff report, or in the Council minutes is there any commitment by the City of Dartmouth to assume all of the ongoing maintenance of the new fence.

It’s not unusual for municipal projects to have impacts on neighbouring properties and when that happens, municipalities typically try to make people whole by replacing or repairing stuff that needs to be removed or ends up damaged. This happens all the time and is absolutely a routine part of working in the street right-of-way. It doesn’t mean that every single thing that a municipality touches becomes a municipal responsibility forever. Replacing what the residents were giving up as part of the property transaction seems to have been the intent here since property owners were paid, survey work has confirmed that the fence is located on the boundary, and there is absolutely nothing in the records indicating that this fence would be an ongoing municipal responsibility.

I appreciate that some of the residents on Kingston Crescent feel strongly that this fence is HRM’s to maintain, but there is just nothing in the records to indicate that. I can’t justify using taxpayer money (estimated $134,000) to build a new fence when it’s to benefit private property and HRM doesn’t provide that service anywhere else. Council accepted the staff recommendation to not take on responsibility for the Woodland Avenue fence.


  • Set level of service standards for sidewalks and road projects
  • Established a gravel road paving program that will launch in 2027
  • Adopted the Halifax Common Master Plan with specific planning for the Wanderer’s Block still to come
  • Approved amendments to the Centre Plan to enable the Spring Garden West development
  • Gave first reading for street improvement charges on a number of streets in rural HRM


  1. Sam,

    You mention above that “survey work has confirmed that the fence is located on the boundary, and there is absolutely nothing in the records indicating that this fence would be an ongoing municipal responsibility.”

    We have never seen either the report or surveyors on our street completing a survey.
    I would like to see a copy of that report. The report can be sent to my email.

    Thank you,

    Mr. Patrick Forde

  2. Sam, on another topic, can you provide your opinion on Howard Epstein’s comments at the 23 January HRM Council Public Hearing regarding Spring Garden West? Mr. Epstein talked of the need for child care, grocery stores, family units etc

    From what I heard, it seems the developer was not asked in any way to provide some contribution to the Public Good, in exchange for the concessions he was seeking in the proposed amendments. Was this not an opportunity to negotiate a better development agreement?

  3. Mr. Austin
    I have got a big penalty for $1600 fines just like you said the policy and the system didn’t much clearly and even no opportunity to fix some issue by the first time. Actually I have cancel my bnb account after the policy announced and I have reported the income after my account cancellation. Even I have went to the city office to ask if I need pay something but the office said I don’t have any amount to pay. And Then I got penalty two weeks ago. I have email them to appeal it but no one know how to do this. I have no idea for it. Who can I asking for. And today I saw your Motion then would like to asking if you could help me. Much appreciate.

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