students in Halifax say they’re being taken advantage of by one of the city’s largest property rental companies, which seemingly as official policy uses leases in breach of the Tenancy Act for non-Canadian tenants.
Jianing Xu says she was asked by Killam Properties to pay rent for her Cathedral Lane apartment in three-month increments. The odd payment agreement is explicitly illegal under Nova Scotia’s Tenancy Act. Landlords are not permitted to charge people more than one month’s rent at a time, no matter what a signed lease agreement says.
According to Xu, Killam said the rent arrangement was due to her being an unknown risk. “‘We don’t know you and you don’t know us,’” she says she was told.
Since leaving China to move to Halifax three years ago, the 21-year-old has been studying finance and global management at Saint Mary’s University. But Xu was told by building manager Charles Bruce that he was worried she could go back to China anytime and skip out on rent.
The Coast learned of at least four other Chinese students in Halifax that had this same kind of three-month rent agreement drawn up with Killam, two of whom live in the same building as Xu. The SMU student says she’s personally spoken with others in similar situations, each one with varying rental agreements that all include paying more than one month’s rent upfront.
Dan Sampson, Killam’s director of property management, didn’t believe these kind of rental arrangements were in breach of the Tenancy Act, or that they disproportionately affect international students.
Killam requires a credit check to be performed for a lease application, explains Sampson. Since international students don’t have social insurance numbers, the company allows for a Canadian co-signer. If that isn’t possible, Killam asks for a chunk of rent upfront and a more secure payment structure.
“We can make agreements with tenants in order to secure tenancy that fall outside the Act as long as both parties agree to it,” says Sampson. “If there is a dispute then we will revert back to Tenancy.”
That’s false. Asking for more than a month’s rent and drawing up a lease that isn’t allowed under the Tenancy Act is grounds for complaint, says Dean Johnston, director of residential tenancies with Service Nova Scotia.
“The Act is very specific in that a landlord and a tenant are not permitted to contract outside of the Act or in contravention of the act,” he says.
Johnston, whose job is to mediate disputes between landlords and tenants, says he’s “had complaints on the program before on this.”
Confronted with this information, Sampson reneged on his previous statements and acknowledged the rental agreements are in breach of the Act. He says any tenant who brings a formal complaint about the payment structure to Service Nova Scotia will have it changed back to a one-month amount.
During The Coast’s investigation into this story, building manager Charles Bruce knocked on Xu’s door and told her the payment structure would be changed to the legal one-month of rent at a time. The news came as a surprise to the tenant.
“It was changed because she indicated to [Bruce] that she couldn’t do that. She couldn’t pay the rent in three-month increments or she didn’t want to because she thought it was unfair. And then she went to the media,” explains Sampson.
HACK & CHEESE PAGE 35