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Nova Scotia court says damage to student rental house like movie 'Animal House'

ANTIGONISH, N.S. — A Nova Scotia small claims adjudicator has likened a dispute over damage to a student rental house as something that could have been included in the 1978 movie “Animal House.
Nova Scotia's provincial flag flies in Ottawa on Friday July 3, 2020.Eight former tenants of a Nova Scotia rental house are on the hook for nearly $6,000 in damages in a small claims case the court likens to the movie Animal House.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld

ANTIGONISH, N.S. — A Nova Scotia small claims adjudicator has likened a dispute over damage to a student rental house as something that could have been included in the 1978 movie “Animal House.”

As a result, eight former tenants of the house in Antigonish, N.S., are now on the hook for nearly $6,000 in damages following a written decision released Friday by adjudicator Raffi Balmanoukian.

In his ruling, Balmanoukian draws similarities to the National Lampoon comedy featuring the late John Belushi. It features a troublemaking fraternity in what has been described as the original frat house party movie.

“Missing from that classic, perhaps is a storyline in which the homeowner and inhabitants confront each other about the state of the dwelling in which much of the action takes place,” wrote Balmanoukian. “If such a scene there had been, I expect it would have looked something like this dispute.”

The adjudicator characterized the photographic evidence of the state of the house as showing a “pigsty.” He noted that the lawyer for the tenants “did not disagree.”

The home was described as a rental property “targeted to, and … rented by college students — several at a time.” Antigonish is home to St. Francis Xavier University.

According to landlords Emily and Rick Wilson, the house was “virtually destroyed” aesthetically, with siding, window and door damage as well as “copious amounts of garbage and debris.”

They also told the court the sump pump cistern was used as a “trash can” for a makeshift bar in the basement, resulting in it burning out.

Balmanoukian noted a series of photos submitted as evidence that included one showing the sump pump cistern full of cans and various “red Solo cups” and another bundle of photos showing abandoned exterior furniture, including a doorless fridge and a “princess-and-the-pea” stack of mattresses.

Other photos showed exterior garbage “some bagged and some not” on a deck and in a shed along with at least one beer keg.

Emily Wilson testified the RCMP were called to the property two or three times and at least one occasion for a violation of COVID-19 gathering limits that were then in effect.

The tenants argued that while the property needed cleaning and some items were left behind, the state of the property “wasn’t that bad” when they left it at the end of April 2022.

Only one of the eight tenants testified and admitted responsibility on behalf of the group for the cleaning of the property and for melted siding from a barbecue, but nothing else.

Under cross-examination he said the tenants “did a couple of quick cleans” before vacating and had kept the property in a “reasonable state.”

Balmanoukian disagreed and after applying the $2,100 security deposit to the overall bill, awarded the landlord $5,932.27 to help cover the costs for such things as cleaning, garbage removal, painting, plumbing and siding repair.

“If the tenants believe they bear different levels of responsibility, that will be for themselves to resolve by way of claims or crossclaims between themselves,” the adjudicator concluded.

“I hope they emerge from this with an enhanced sense of their own responsibility, and more cognizant of what should be their own self-respect.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Aug. 7, 2023.

— By Keith Doucette in Halifax

The Canadian Press