Tips for tenants

For rent sign

The key to a successful tenancy, for both the landlord and the tenant, is documentation, says Megan Deveaux, a community legal worker with Dalhousie Legal Aid Service.

“You should be doing that; it’s a business transaction,” she says.
Both tenants and landlords should keep records of how the unit looks before moving n, after moving out, and every interaction and request made in between.

“You need a clear line of communication and doing things in advance and in writing,” says Tammy Wohler, a lawyer with Nova Scotia Legal Aid.

Paper trail aside, there are several other things renters should remember throughout the renting process. 

Application fees and deposits

According to the Nova Scotia Residential Tenancies Act, landlords aren’t allowed to charge an application or security deposit advancement fee, but it does happen.

“Once you’ve signed a lease, fair enough, but that’s it,” says Deveaux.
After signing the contract, a half month’s rent, or damage deposit, is used to secure the unit. Anything above that amount or required before anything is signed is illegal.

Site unseen

Renting an apartment without seeing it is common among students Deveaux says. Students from other provinces or countries sometimes can’t or don’t want to visit before the school year starts, so they apply after looking at an ad.

Sometimes these places have lower than market value rent or extra features that seem “too good to be true, but not shockingly so,” says Deveaux.

The photos could be stolen from another ad or several years old, so potential tenants should view the unit in person, if possible.

Electric heat

Documentation is important, but so is asking questions. Before signing a lease, tenants should clarify how exactly a unit is heated, even if the lease stipulates that’s included.

If it’s electricity, but the tenant is also expected to pay for electricity they could pay for heat without knowing it.

“The assumption they’re making is I’m just paying for the lights and the appliances,” says Deveaux. “It’s dishonest, but it happens.”


There aren’t set guidelines for how long it should take a landlord to repair something, but both sides “should be diligent,” says Wohler. She says this issue goes back to records, and tenants making sure they write down when the issue happened, when they first notified the landlord or property manager, and how it progressed.

Issues that affect the space’s liveability, like a furnace breakdown, require immediate action from the owner. Something less serious, like a leaky faucet, can take a little longer.

Landlords’ own rules

Landlords can have their own rules for a property, outside of a standard lease. As with any contract tenants should review these carefully to make sure they follow the tenancies act.

“If you think the rule is silly and wonder who’s going to enforce them, that will backfire,” says Wohler.

Automatic renewal

Unless a lease if a fixed-term lease, where it’s agreed a unit is only rented for a specific period, the lease automatically renews at the end of a term.

“A lot of landlords I’ve run in to don’t realize that once you’ve entered a lease you have security of tenancy, regardless of whether it’s month-to-month or year-to-year,” says Wohler.

Therefore, unless the tenant gives sufficient notice to terminate the lease (four months for a year-long lease or a month’s notice for month-to-month), or the landlord has reasonable grounds for eviction, the tenancy continues.

Returning the damage deposit

Once a tenant leaves the property and the place is left in good condition, a landlord is required to return the damage deposit, but the timeframe on this “misleading,” says Deveaux.

According to the tenancy act, a landlord has 10 days to file a claim for an entire or portion of the deposit, but either party has also up to one year to file a claim as well.

“[Tenants] think, ‘oh, it’s 11 days after the tenancy ends and they haven’t filed so I’II guess it’s OK,’ but that’s not the case, not in Nova Scotia,” she says.

If either the landlord or tenant make a claim, the other person has to decide the deposit amount is worth a legal fight or not.

This story was originally published in Halifax Magazine.

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