Thursday, October 11, 2012

Of Lawn Signs, Landlords and Tenants ...

With municipal elections fast approaching, some interesting legal questions have come up.  A friend of mine woke up the other day to find an election sign on his lawn which he hadn't authorized.  He phoned the candidate and found out the sign had been authorized by his landlord's mother.

This situation raises some interesting questions.  What right to landlords have to put up election signs on rental properties?  What right do tenants have to stop them?   And what right do tenants have to put up signs of their own?  What about condo owners and condo corporations?

I'll deal with the last question first, as the answer there is somewhat clear.  In Nova Scotia (as in some other jurisdictions), s. 54C of our Municipal Elections Act provides that a landlord cannot "prohibit a tenant from displaying election advertising posters on the premises leased by the tenant".  Similarly, a condo corporation cannot prohibit the owner of a condominium unit from displaying election advertising posters on the premises of that person's unit. 

However, a landlord or condo corporation can "set reasonable conditions relating to the size or type of election advertising posters that may be displayed on the premises and may prohibit the display of election advertising posters in common areas of the building in which the premises are found".  There are similar provisions in both the provincial Elections Act and the Canada Elections Act, so similar rules apply in provincial and federal elections as well.

These provisions have not, to the best of my knowledge, been argued in court in Nova Scotia, so it remains to be seen what kind of restrictions our courts would consider to be "reasonable".

However, it's important to note that the tenant's right is limited to the leased premises.  Most leases make a distinction between the premises actually leased by the tenant, which the tenant generally has the exclusive right to use and occupy, and common areas, such as halls, stairways, driveways, etc., which are used by some or all tenants.  There may also be areas of the landlord's property that aren't covered by the lease at all, such as a front lawn.

For those of you in apartment buildings, the leased premises are usually just the apartment itself.  So you may be able to put a sign in the window (subject to reasonable restrictions on size and type), but not much beyond that.  For those of you leasing entire houses, including the yard, you may be able to put the sign on the front lawn if that is part of the leased premises.  For those of you renting parts of houses or buildings, it is more of a gray area.  In each case, a careful review of your lease to determine what is and isn't included in the leased premises is essential.

As to what right the landlord has to put up an election sign, things are a little less clear.  Elections legislation and the Residential Tenancies Act don't deal specifically with this point, so it will really come down to the specific terms of your lease.  Again, your lease should identify the leased premises, common areas and so forth, and hopefully spells out what rights and responsibilities you and the landlord have with respect to each area.  Generally speaking, the landlord only has limited rights to enter the leased premises, but more rights with respect to common areas, and can do what they want on unleased portions of the property.  So if you live in an apartment, chances are your landlord can't put up an election sign in your apartment, but is likely within their rights to erect an election sign on the front lawn.  If you live in a house, and the leased premises include the whole property, then you likely can prevent the landlord from putting up an election sign on the property. Again, a careful review of your lease will be necessary. 

My friend was ultimately able to resolve the situation by calling his landlord.  And that should generally be your first way of dealing with this issue.  If that fails, you can always contact the residential tenancies program to find out more about your rights and how to assert them.  And, if necessary, you can contact a lawyer to help you interpret your lease.

This blog represents my own personal views and is provided for information purposes.   It is NOT meant to be legal advice.  If you require legal advice, you should consult a lawyer regarding your specific circumstances.

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