No matter what a house or commercial building or its property looks like, there’s one item that must stand out: the civic number.

HRM assigns every property a civic number, which must be displayed on or near the building for location identification purposes. As per the HRM’s Civic Addressing Bylaw, numbers can be distinct or unique, but within specific guidelines. They must be at least 10 centimetres tall on residential properties and 20 centimetres tall on non-residential properties. If the building is 30 metres away from the edge of the road or is hidden, a sign that is at least 1.2 metres from the ground must be posted at the edge of the driveway. The colour must contrast with the building or post it is displayed on.

“When we wrote the by-law in 2002, we consulted with fire, police, and paramedics and came up with a compromise,” says HRM’s civic-addressing coordinator Gayle MacLean. “We wanted to give people a choice about how they address their house but we wanted the end result to be the same, particularly in the dark where those numbers would need to be most visible.”

For those who are worried that the style they choose won’t fit these guidelines, the region offers blue and white reflective signs. They can be ordered and picked up at various fire stations around the municipality.

Matt Covey, division chief for fire prevention agrees with MacLean. He says that by having both options, residents and the municipality can ensure that civic numbers are clearly displayed.

“I think what they’ve done is established a standard within the bylaw that meets the objectives of the blue sign, so whether they all look the same or not isn’t important,” he says. “What is important is that they meet that reflective, identifiable standard.”

HRM doesn’t inspect to make sure people follow the rules. “It’s completely a complaint-driven process,” MacLean says. “For example, if you’re living in a condo building and your condo co-op hasn’t posted the number properly, you can call and complain and say ‘can you please ensure the numbers are posted clearly and are visible.’”

If municipality does receive a complaint, the property owner is notified by registered mail and has 21 days to fix the problem. After that, civic-addressing staff visit the site to see if the work is done.

MacLean says the problem is usually fixed when they do the follow-up visit, but if not, HRM will post one of the blue and white signs on the property and bill the owner for the work. “We do a remedial action process to ensure that we meet the whole point of the process which is to get the number up,” she says.