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HomeNewsDalhousieStudent feels her voice was lost over sound complaint

Student feels her voice was lost over sound complaint

Lily Yang wants students in university housing to know their rights. (Photo by Chris Parent)
Lily Yang wants students in university housing to know their rights. (Photo by Chris Parent)

When the community room next door to her apartment was too loud for her comfort, Lily Yang thought she could rely on the Nova Scotia Residential Tenancies Act to secure peace and quiet for her and her son.

It was a surprise to her, then, when she discovered her Dalhousie-owned apartment wasn’t subject to the act.

Yang, a graduate of Dalhousie’s Master of Public Administration Program, was in her third year of living at Peter Green Hall when the noise started.

A 112-unit apartment building, Peter Green Hall is owned by Dalhousie University and operated by the Halifax Student Housing Society.

The building only houses parents and common-law or married couples studying either at Dal or Saint Mary’s University, and is located between the two schools on Wellington Street.

Yang liked the idea of living in a community apartment building. She thought it would be great for her then two-year-old son, as there would be other students with children, so it’s where she chose to live when she moved from Ontario to study at Dal.

In Sept. 2013, a community room was opened in the unit adjacent to hers. She soon suffered from the noise it produced, and was surprised she wasn’t consulted about the room prior to its installation.

“I had my apprehensions about it at first,” says Yang, “and I said I’ll give it a try, but I was almost certain it would be really noisy.”

The room, bookable by any of the building’s residents who agreed to its terms of use, was soon being used for social events.

Yang says she heard balloons popping during birthday parties, and drawers being slammed shut.

Initially, music kept her and her son up until 10 p.m., when putting him to bed would be a nightmare.

The noise was too much for Yang to bear.

“It filtered through my living room, my kitchen, the bathroom, the bedroom,” she says. “There was no escape from it.”

After she first filed a complaint about it, Yang says, residents were told music was no longer to be played in the room.

While the building has a two-strike rule for noise violations that can ultimately result in eviction, Yang was surprised a similar policy wasn’t enforced for the community room.

She was also surprised a residential unit would be converted in such a way.

“From my experience living in apartment buildings, social rooms are not where people live. They’re not in the residential area for a reason, because they’re too noisy,” says Yang.

“And if they are, it’s soundproofed properly, so that other people’s peace and tranquility are not disturbed.”

Yang says she spoke with the building’s superintendents twice, and e-mailed them and the board of directors with noise complaints. She feels she wasn’t taken seriously.

She thought she could rely on the noise bylaws set out in the Residential Tenancies Act.

The Residential Tenancies Act is a piece of legislation setting out all the rules, responsibilities and rights of being a landlord or tenant in Nova Scotia.

It turned out that as the building was Dalhousie property, the Act did not apply.

Like hotels, nursing homes and jails, university-owned properties are not covered under the Residential Tenancies Act.

Like other residences and housing units owned by Dal, Peter Green Hall is instead subject to internal rules.

Yang says when she called 311, Nova Scotia’s information number for municipal services, she was told her apartment would fall under the tenancy act.

She then consulted two lawyers, one at Dalhousie and one at Nova Scotia Legal Aid, who both said it wouldn’t.

While most rental units are covered by the act, meaning Residential Tenancies officers can mediate any landlord-tenant disputes, students living on university property have to find other means to file grievances.

“I hope students know that,” says Yang, “because where else would you launch your complaints when you have a legitimate complaint?”

She says the only legal course of action she could have taken would have been going to Small Claims Court, which she didn’t have the energy to do.

The Peter Green Hall website makes no mention of the Residential Tenancies Act, including on its application form. It does refer to the fact that it is owned by Dalhousie.

Yang says that after a month of waiting to hear back from someone, the community room was temporarily closed in October to undergo soundproofing.

Aaron Windsor, president of the Halifax Student Housing Society, says the community room was discussed at the building’s board of directors meetings held in the year before its creation.

Windsor says the meetings were open to everyone in Peter Green Hall, and all residents were expected to attend at least one meeting as part of their terms of living in the building.

He says decibel limitations and hours of operation were discussed at these meetings.

According to Windsor, e-mails with an agenda attached were sent to the building’s residents before the meetings happened.

He says the implementation of a social room was on the agenda in these e-mails, but he can’t say whether the room number was announced in these same e-mails. He says the room number was mentioned twice during the meetings.

In Jan. 2013, the room was approved by the building’s volunteer-only board of directors, as well as by Dalhousie. Windsor says the board contacted the city and got legal documentation for the change.

The room was ready by May, but first taken to the semi-annual general meeting, where Windsor says it was approved by all members in attendance.

Yang says she doesn’t remember being emailed about these meetings.

“They may have done it, but I was busy with exams,” says Yang.

“Most of us are parents, and we’re full time students. We don’t have time for that.”

Sound-dampening panels have now been installed, and the room is back in operation. Windsor says it is frequently used for quiet activities.

Yang says she’s concerned that in situations like hers, international students may not understand their right to call the police.

She says that when she has lived abroad, she didn’t know the rules, so she wouldn’t complain about things she would complain about in Canada.

“When you have noise seeping into your unit, you have every right to contact the police,” says Yang. “Disturbance is a broad term and it may vary per person, but if it disturbs one, that’s too many.”

Jesse Ward
Jesse Ward
Jesse, editor-in-chief of the Gazette, is a fifth-year student of journalism at Dalhousie and the University of King’s College. He started university with three years of experience writing for Teens Now Talk magazine, where he is now copy editor. Before writing a story Jesse likes to think about how his metal detector could finally be useful in researching this one, but there is never a way it could be. Jesse has produced writing and interactive features for Globalnews.ca and The Chronicle Herald. He may be followed on Twitter, @RealJesseWard, or from the Gazette office on Mondays around 8 p.m. to his home in West End Halifax. Email Jesse at editor@dalgazette.com.
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