The information in this section is based on Nova Scotia’s Residential Tenancies Act and its associated regulations. If you have further questions or would like clarification on any of the information in this section, Service Nova Scotia maintains its own tenancy-related frequently asked questions section at http://www.gov.ns.ca/snsmr/consumer/resten/faq/. You can also call 1-800-670-4357 for general enquiries.
Dalhousie Legal Aid Service (DLAS) also runs a Tenant Information Phone Line, which can be reached at 423-8105. DLAS has also prepared a comprehensive Tenant’s Rights Guide. For a copy visit http://tenantrights.legalaid.dal.ca.
The Source of Your Rights as a Tenant
In Nova Scotia, the Residential Tenancies Act establishes the standard rights and responsibilities of both tenants and landlords. Landlords are required to provide tenants with a copy of the Act after they have signed a rental agreement. If you have misplaced your copy of you simply want to see what is included in the Act, the full legislation can be found on the web at http://www.gov.ns.ca/legislature/legc/statutes/resident.htm.
In Nova Scotia, the Residential Tenancies Act (RTA) favours the interests of landlords who own and profit from rental housing, not the tenants that actually live there. A lack of protection for tenant’s under the RTA makes it difficult for tenants to recover their damage deposits, to avoid evictions, and to even fight for basic repairs. In this context, it is especially important that if you are renting a house or apartment, you know your rights. By knowing what you are entitled to under the law, you help protect yourself against being treated unfairly.
Are you protected by the act?
The Residential Tenancies Act applies to people renting apartments, houses, flats, and mobile homes, as well as individuals living in rooming houses. People that live in student residences, shelters, or hotels are not protected by the Act.
The Federation has consistently lobbied to extend tenancy protection for students living in residence. If you are interested in finding out how to push for tenant’s rights for students living on and off campus visit your students’ union office.
Can You Be Refused Rental Housing?
In Nova Scotia, a potential tenant cannot be denied rental housing on the basis of any of the characteristics listed in the Nova Scotia Human Rights Act. The only exception to this protection occurs when a landlord is renting out a single room in an occupied dwelling and has not advertised the vacancy.
Although a landlord cannot discriminate against someone due to his or her source of income, the landlord can choose to not rent to someone if the landlord feels that he or she will not be able to afford the rental fees. Landlords will usually run credit checks in order to determine a potential tenant’s financial state.
When you sign a lease, you enter a binding legal contract. In Nova Scotia, if a tenant makes a verbal agreement to rent from his or her landlord, there is deemed to be a landlord/tenant relationship governed by the Act. The term is considered month-to-month where there is no written lease. It is preferable to have all commitments from your landlord in writing.
A tenant cannot be made to agree to anything that is illegal or contradicts the standard form of lease.
While a landlord cannot bind you to any contractual terms that are contrary to the Act or illegal, he or she is free to insert rules into your lease as long as the terms are not illegal and can be considered “reasonable.” For instance, a landlord could insist upon a no-smoking rule or choose to disallow pets. You may be subjected to other obligations as well, such as agreeing to steam clean your carpets upon moving out of the dwelling.
What is a Co-Signer?
A co-signer is someone who enters into a rental agreement along with you. In a practical sense, this means that they are willing to assume your debts if you fail to pay them. Many landlords will require a co-signer when they rent apartments to students.
Security (or Damage) Deposits
The Residential Tenancies Act allows a landlord to require a security deposit from new tenants, but it sets out several rules governing the process. This security deposit is intended to help cover the cost of damage to the unit or unpaid rent.
You do not have to pay any extra deposits above this amount (such as a “key deposit”) and a landlord cannot charge potential tenants an application fee.
Regular wear and tear does not count as damage.
Upon moving out, tenants should verify the address where the security deposit is to be sent.
If, after the time period specified under the Act, you have not received your deposit or notice of an arbitration hearing, you can make a claim at Service Nova Scotia.
If you leave your rental unit before the end of your lease, your landlord may be able to keep some or all of your deposit in order to make up for lost rent.
Before You Sign
Most landlords will be friendly before you sign your lease, but there is no guarantee that relations will remain pleasant for the duration of your rental period. Here are a couple of things that you can do in order to help protect yourself:
Take a look through the unit and note everything that is damaged. It is a good idea to take pictures.
If the landlord tells you that he or she is going to make improvements to the apartment or makes any other promises, insist that these promises are put into writing.
Remember that you will be bound by all the terms of your lease, so read it carefully before signing it.
During a lease, your rent will be due on the date set by your landlord-normally the first day of each month. It is your responsibility to pay your rent on time; otherwise, the landlord may be able to begin the eviction process if enough time has lapsed. Landlords can charge a late payment fee of one percent per month of the monthly rent. If you have to pay your rent in cash, make sure that you get a receipt. Landlords can require you to provide post-dated cheques.
The Residential Tenancies Act outlines when a landlord can increase your rent. If your rent increases, consult the Act to determine if the increase is within the regulations.
If any service you are paying for is removed (such as laundry or cable), you can demand it be returned, or ask for a lower rent payment. The withdrawal of a service is considered a rent increase; therefore, a landlord is required to inform you of the removal under the same regulations as they would a rental increase.
If you are presented with an illegal rent increase, you should write your landlord a letter telling him or her why the increase is illegal and make a copy for yourself. If you have any disputes with your landlord over rent, do not withhold your rent payments without an order from an arbitrator.
A landlord must give you proper notice before attempting to evict you. The amount of notice you are entitled to receive depends on why you are being evicted.
Landlords cannot legally evict tenants (physically remove the tenants and their belongings) until they have an Order of Vacant Possession from Residential Tenancies.
Contact Service Nova Scotia and Municipal Relations toll free within Nova Scotia 1-800-670-4357, in Halifax 424-5200 to find out the amount of time you have to file your complaint.
Your landlord is responsible for maintaining the building that you live in and making any repairs required in order to keep your rental unit healthy, safe, and “suitable for occupation.” This includes plumbing, heating, and electrical repairs as well as maintaining appliances, storage areas, and any other amenities that are included in the rent. The landlord must also make sure that you have access to your unit.
As a tenant, you are expected to keep your home clean and to repair any damage that you or your guests may have caused. You cannot, however, be charged for regular wear and tear on your apartment.
You should report any needed repairs to your landlord as soon as possible. If you cannot contact your landlord, the need for emergency repairs should be reported to the emergency contact that he or she has provided. If you are still unable to contact anyone, you can make an Application to Director seeking repairs. Forms for this application can be found at any Access Nova Scotia office or online at http://www.gov.ns.ca/snsmr/access/land/residential-tenancies/downloadable-forms.asp.
If you live in the Halifax Regional Municipality, your landlord may also be obligated to conform to municipal by-laws. The city has adopted a range of requirements for occupational residences, setting standards for things like windows, stairs, balconies, bathrooms, and kitchens. More information can be found at: http://www.halifax.ca/legislation/bylaws/hrm/index.html. If you have any questions about these by-laws, you can call the Halifax General Information Line at 490-4000.
Your landlord has the right to enter your rental unit during “reasonable hours” (usually considered to be 9am to 9pm) for the purpose of showing, inspecting, or working on the property. The landlord is required to give you 24 hours’ written notice of his or her intention to enter the premises. If either you or your landlord has given notice to end the tenancy, the landlord does not have to provide you with any notice.
If you wish to move out before your lease is up, your landlord may be willing to cancel your lease but he or she is under no obligation to do so. As an alternative, you may be able to find someone else to take over your lease. When you assign a lease, you transfer your rights and obligations to another person. In such a case, you are leaving the property and have no intention to return.
When you sublet, you are yourself renting out the unit for a fixed portion of the lease’s duration. Many students sublet their apartments for the summer and then return to them in the fall.
Giving Notice and Moving Out
If you are not interested in renewing your lease for your apartment, you must give proper notice to your landlord indicating your intention to move out at the end of your lease. The notice required will depend on the length of your lease. Ensure that you are familiar with notice requirements when signing your lease.
Your notice to end the tenancy must be in writing and needs to include your name and address, the date you plan to move, and your signature. You have until midnight on the last day of the month to move out unless you agree to some other time. If you do not give proper notice and the landlord cannot find another tenant, you may lose your security deposit and may have to pay the rent for the following month(s).
If you have signed a “fixed-term lease” or a lease with a “move-out” clause (which says you have to move out when the term of the lease ends), you have to move out when it says you do and neither you nor the landlord has to provide notice.
If, during your tenancy, you have a dispute with your landlord that cannot be resolved, you may apply to have it resolved through arbitration. This is done by filing an Application to the Director. The necessary forms are available online or at any Access Nova Scotia office and there is a $25.00 filing fee. See the website for more information: http://www.gov.ns.ca/snsmr/consumer/resten/
If either the tenant or the landlord is not willing to accept the recommendations of the Director’s Report, the issue may proceed to Small Claims Court. It costs $80.00 to file a claim at this level. There is a fee waiver available for low-income individuals. To be eligible, applicants must provide proof of income along with their application.