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Off-campus living: A Primer 

For most students, university life involves a new set of responsibilities, including dealing with abandoned parents, demanding landlords, disturbed neighbours and perhaps the police. Here’s a handy guide to ensure each of these relations is as stress-free


One of the joys of university can be living on your own, but if you sign a lease without asking questions, it might be a very long year. "You need to read that lease," says Lori Errington, a spokesperson for Service Nova Scotia. SNS is the provincial department under which the Residential Tenancies Act falls. The RTA governs renting in the province.

Every lease is different, so it's crucial that tenants carefully read through it and discuss any possible changes with the landlord. And for those coming from Ontario, the landlord/tenant rules in Nova Scotia are a little different, so it's good to get familiar with what's expected in the agreement. "This is going to govern your obligations and rights as a tenant for the duration of your stay in that apartment," says Errington.

One of the details included in a lease is the length of the lease. Most leases run on a year-to-year basis, so for students who don't plan on staying in the city year-round, they're looking at eating the cost or subletting the apartment. Under the RTA, you must get the landlord's permission to sublet. However, "a landlord can't arbitrarily say no, but they do have the right to require that the subletting tenant go through the same background checks as a new tenant," says Errington.

If you sublet and the lease is still in your name, you are responsible for any unpaid rent and damages. Some landlords may agree to accept the new tenant as their tenant and will release you from the lease. Errington says this is the safest bet.

When signing the lease, it's important all of the tenants sign it. If one of the roommates' names isn't on it, this makes the other tenants liable for that person's rent or any damage to the apartment.

It's also important tenants do an inspection with the landlord before taking control of the apartment. Errington says SNS runs into cases where the landlord hasn't done the inspection or is unwilling to do the inspection. One of the dangers this presents is the landlord may later charge the tenant for damage that already existed prior to them moving in. "What we want tenants to know is you can get the form and do your own inspection," says Errington, adding that you should take photos and have a witness sign the report. (A sample form can be found on SNS's website.)

In Nova Scotia, the maximum damage deposit a landlord can charge is half a month's rent, although some landlords may try to charge more for things such as having pets. This is not allowed. "If you're in a situation where a landlord is trying to do things that don't line up with the act, look for another place to rent," cautions Errington.

Assuming there is no damage to the rental unit at the end of the lease and all rent payments are up to date, landlords must return the damage deposit within 10 days. The damage deposit is repaid with interest (at a rate of one percent per year).

Open communication is the key to maintaining a good relationship with the landlord. If problems pop up, it's important to talk with the landlord. Ideally, do it via email so there's a record of the communication.

When it's getting time for the lease to end, appropriate notice must be given to get out of it. On a yearly lease, tenants must give at least three months written notice before the anniversary date. Without enough notice, the lease will automatically renew. On a month-to-month lease, only one month's notice is needed.

When renewing a lease, it's important to keep in mind that rent control does not exist in Nova Scotia, so rent increases are left up to the landlord. "I think it strikes most of us as fundamentally unfair that a landlord can raise your rent as much as they please," says Cole Webber, the coordinator of Dalhousie Legal Aid's Tenants' Rights Project.

The Tenants' Rights Project is an excellent resource for people who need assistance with their tenant rights and they offer assistance by phone (423-8105) and at their office on 2209 Gottingen Street. They also offer workshops in the community.

SNS also has a line (800-670-4357) which offers assistance. On SNS's website, there's even a renting guide specifically aimed at students. People can also stop in at any Access Nova Scotia location to ask questions.


Now that you've got all rental matters covered, it's time to start enjoying your new digs, but don't enjoy it too much or it might lead to some strained neighbour relations and maybe even a visit from the police.

The key to having a good relationship with your neighbours is getting to know them. Introduce yourself when you move in and provide them with your contact information. If you plan on having some people over, let them know. (Inviting them over for the festivities isn't a bad idea either.)

Halifax has a noise bylaw you're going to want to know about, that is if you don't want to get dinged with a $452 fine. "Essentially, the noise bylaw states that any noise that's deemed to be unreasonable is subject to a fine," says Brian Palmeter with the Halifax Regional Police.

Under the bylaw, different types of noise are classified and the ones most likely to apply to students, such as noise from yelling, shouting, singing and loud music, have prohibited times associated with them. Monday to Friday, that's before 7am and after 9:30pm, Saturdays before 8am and after 7pm, and Sundays before 9am and after 7pm. Tickets can still be issued outside of those times if the noise is deemed excessive. Tickets are complaint driven, so there needs to be a complainant for a ticket to be issued.

Palmeter says the police will often come proactively to a party to get people to quiet down, before it's too late. "Work with the police if you're given an option to shut the party down," he cautions. "Don't argue. Shut it down."

If you're driving to a party, make sure you keep the liquor out of reach and put it in the trunk to be safe (in a bag to boot), says Palmeter. And if you're heading to the party on foot and have an open bottle of alcohol, be sure to put it in a bag. Otherwise, you could be looking at getting a ticket. "Every year we issue hundreds of those at $452 apiece," says Palmeter. And if you're underage, you'll get two tickets, one of them for being underage.


Speaking of drinking, the drunk tank is a spot where students have been known to find themselves. Palmeter says there are two things that will generally lead to people spending a night there: one is if somebody is in such a state of intoxication that they are a risk to themselves or others; the other is if they're drawing negative attention to themselves, such as getting into fights, tipping over mailboxes or urinating in public.

A summary offence ticket is also issued. This means it costs $118.50 for a night's accommodations in a not-so-posh cell.

Palmeter says one of the areas where people have a lot of confusion is in regards to marijuana laws. "Everybody thinks there's this magical number, you know, if you have so many grams you're fine," he says. The bottom line is possession of marijuana is illegal and whether the charge is for possession or trafficking depends on what the evidence supports.


With so many means of communication in place these days, there's no reason not to keep in close contact with your parents. If you're pressed for time, Tweet about all the wonderful things you are learning and how you miss them. You could also Facebook them.

The fact of it is, keeping in touch is important. Call them, email them or visit them. Tell them what you're going through and what you like or dislike. Just be honest with them---if they've had post-secondary education, odds are they've been through it too.

Besides, they raised you and might even be paying your tuition. You owe to them to keep them in the loop.

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