Ending a lease early - Domestic Violence Certificates

1. I live in a rental unit (for example, an apartment or rented home), and I have experienced domestic violence. I want to get out of my lease. Can I end my lease early?

The law in Nova Scotia that deals with rented homes/rental units is called the Residential Tenancies Act (RTA). The RTA was changed as of September 16, 2013, to allow victims of domestic violence to end their leases early, without any financial penalties if certain conditions are met.

These changes to the RTA allow victims of domestic violence to work with the Department of Justice's Victim Services program to end a year-to-year or fixed-term lease with one month's notice.

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2. What is a year-to-year lease? What is a fixed term lease?

A year-to-year lease is one that is renewed automatically every year. A person living in the rental house or unit – called a ‘tenant’ – will have an anniversary date. This anniversary date is the date that they first signed the lease for the rental unit. For example, if you signed a yearly lease for an apartment on May 1, 2013, your anniversary date is May 1st of every year. Most year-to-year leases will have a written lease agreement.

A fixed term lease is one that has a specific end date. Fixed term leases can be for any length of time – a couple of months, 6 months, a year, etc. Fixed term tenancies must have a written lease agreement that states the terms of the lease and the end date.

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3. What are the normal end dates for year-to-year and fixed term leases?

Under normal circumstances, the RTA requires that a tenant give at least 3 months’ notice, in writing, to their landlord if they will be leaving a year-to-year lease.

A fixed term lease, under normal circumstances, ends on the date specified in the lease. If the tenant remains in the unit past the end of the term, and the landlord accepts rent for another month, the tenancy automatically becomes a month-to-month tenancy.

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4. How do the changes to the Residential Tenancies Act help victims of domestic violence?

Before these changes, when a tenant broke their lease without giving the appropriate notice for a yearly lease, or moved out before the end date of a fixed term lease, they would have been responsible for paying rent for the remainder of the lease. For example, if you left a fixed term lease 4 months before the end date stated in the lease, you would have been responsible for paying the rent for those 4 months (even though you were not living there anymore). This is because the lease you signed is a contract, in which you agreed to live in the rental unit and pay rent for the amount of time outlined in the lease.

The changes to the RTA now allow tenants who have experienced domestic violence to get out of their lease earlier than what would normally be allowed and therefore not be required to pay rent for the rest of the lease period even though they no longer live in the rental unit.

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5. How do I apply to end my lease early through this process?

The first step is for you, or someone you allow to act on your behalf, to contact the Department of Justice Victim Services office nearest to you. You, or the person acting for you, will have to get an application form from Victim Services. This form is called the ‘Application by Tenant for Early Termination of Lease.’

If you are able to go to the Victim Services office yourself, a Victim Services Officer will help you complete your form.

If someone is acting on your behalf to pick up this form and help you complete it, you will have to sign the form to show that you are giving that person permission to act on your behalf and submit the application for you. It is important that the form be completed and submitted to Victim Services as quickly as possible.

Once the application is filed with Victim Services, they will confirm with you whether or not you meet one of the grounds necessary to get a domestic violence certificate through this process.

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6. What are the grounds necessary to get a domestic violence certificate to end my lease early?

In order to qualify for a domestic violence certificate to end your lease early, you will need to have one of the following things in place:

  • an Emergency Protection Order (EPO) that was issued within 90 days of the date of your application that was not revoked (overturned) by the court (Victim Services will need a copy of the Emergency Protection Order and written confirmation from the Supreme Court that the EPO was not revoked – it is helpful if you can provide a copy of your EPO to the Victim Services officer, and they can confirm whether or not the order was revoked)

OR

  • a domestic violence complaint filed with a police agency, identifying the tenant applicant (you) as the victim (Victim Services will need written confirmation from the police agency or the name of the police agency official confirming the information and the policy incident/occurrence number) AND a peace bond or other court order currently in force that contains a ‘no contact’ condition relating to domestic violence AND an assessment by Victims Services that you are a victim of domestic violence.  You should provide as much detail as possible to the Victim Services officer (including the date on which the incident(s) occurred and police incident number(s), and copies of any peace bonds or other orders). The Victim Services officer can then get written confirmation of this information.

If you meet these requirements and your application is approved, Victim Services will issue a ‘domestic violence certificate.’ You will then need to give a minimum of 1 full months’ notice to your landlord that you are ending the lease. For example, you must give notice by the end of the calendar month (e.g. on or before May 31) for the tenancy to end on the last day of the following calendar month (e.g. June 30).

This must be done by completing a ‘Notice to Quit’ (Form Q). This form must be served on your landlord, along with a copy of the certificate ‘Release from Lease Obligations’ form. Victim Services will supply you with this form.

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7. Do I still have to pay my rent if my lease is terminated early through this process?

You are responsible for paying one month of rent – for the one month notice period. You are also still responsible for paying any rental arrears (any previous rent that you didn’t pay and still owe to the landlord).

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8. If my lease is ended (‘terminated’) through this process, what happens to anyone who was living with me?

If your lease is terminated through this process, it means the lease of anyone else living with you will be terminated too. You are not responsible for telling the other tenants that the lease is being terminated, or for serving any kind of notice on them, but you can if you choose, and are comfortable and safe in doing so.

NOTE: If the other tenant is the person who abused you, it is probably best that you not be the person to tell them about the lease being terminated.

The landlord may establish a new lease with the remaining tenants/occupants, but they don’t have to.

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9. What if I want to stay in the rental unit, and I want the other tenant(s)/occupant(s) to leave instead?

You can discuss this with your landlord. If the landlord agrees, you can terminate the current lease using your domestic violence certificate and Notice to Quit, and then enter into a new lease with the landlord on your own.

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10. What if my landlord disputes my Notice to Quit?

Your landlord can only dispute (‘disagree with’) your Notice to Quit if:

  • proper notice has not been given (if the notice given was less than a full month) OR
  • the Notice to Quit (Form Q) is not completely correctly.

If the landlord disputes the Notice to Quit, they can make an application to the Residential Tenancies Program. If you have given notice, you will not have to attend a hearing, but you can submit a written response to the landlord’s application, if you wish.

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11. I have a week-to-week or month-to-month lease – do the changes to the Residential Tenancies Act affect me?

No. Tenants with week-to-week leases can already end their lease with 1 week’s notice under the current law. Tenants with month-to-month leases can already end their lease with 1 month’s notice under the current law.

If you have a week-to-week or month-to- lease and wish to end your tenancy, you can complete a ‘Notice to Quit’ (Form C) and serve it on your landlord within the appropriate amount of time (with at least 1 week’s notice for weekly leases, or with at least 1 month’s notice for monthly leases). Click here for the Notice to Quit (Form C), including instructions on completing the form.

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12. I live in a land-lease community (‘trailer park’) in a manufactured home, and have a lease with the community landlord/owner. Can I use this process to end my lease early if I’ve experienced domestic violence?

If you live in a manufactured home in a land-lease community, you don’t need a domestic violence certificate. You can use the terms already in the Residential Tenancies Act to terminate your lease in the same amount of time as the domestic violence certificate process (1 month). For more information, click here.

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13. How do I serve the Notice to Quit on my landlord?

If it is safe to do so, you can hand deliver the Notice to Quit to your landlord, or you can have someone do this on your behalf. You can also send the Notice to Quit to your landlord through registered mail (the landlord must pick up the letter for it to be considered served).

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14. I live on a First Nations reserve, or have an occupancy agreement with the Canadian Forces Housing Authority – can I apply to end my lease early under the Residential Tenancies Act if I have experienced domestic violence?

No. The Residential Tenancies Act is a provincial act – it doesn’t apply to situations governed by Federal laws. First Nations reserves and Canadian Forces Housing are overseen by the Federal government.

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15. Who can I call for more information?

For more information on how to end a year-to-year or fixed-term lease due to domestic violence, call the Victim Service office closest to you, or toll free at 1-888-470-0773. For information on the location of Victim Services Offices in Nova Scotia, please click here

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