Before Renting

From Clicklaw Wikibooks

Do trust your instincts—if your first meeting with a potential landlord is not good, it's likely you'll have problems with that person and should not rent from them. Don't sign an agreement or pay a deposit unless you are absolutely sure you want to move in to the place.

The law in BC

Tenants in BC are protected by the Residential Tenancy Act. The Act is the law that spells out the rights and responsibilities of tenants and landlords. Don't assume that the laws in other provinces are the same as in British Columbia.

The Residential Tenancy Branch is the government office that helps with problems between landlords and tenants. Residential Tenancy Branch staff will give information about the law to tenants and landlords in BC. They can help you by explaining the law to you, and in some cases, by calling your landlord on your behalf. Residential Tenancy Branch offices also hold dispute resolution hearings for landlords and tenants when they cannot resolve disputes on their own.

A dispute resolution hearing is like a landlord-tenant "court." You and your landlord explain your problem to a arbitrator, who is hired by the BC government. The arbitrator decides what to do about the problem, based on your evidence and what the law says. The arbitrator's decision is legally binding. For more information on dispute resolution hearings, see the section Dispute Resolution.

Are you covered by the law?

Not all renters are protected by the Residential Tenancy Act. If your name is on a tenancy agreement as a tenant and you pay rent to a landlord who does not live with you, then you are likely considered a tenant and protected by the Residential Tenancy Act. If you do not have rights under the Act, you may have rights under contract law. For example, you may be able to take your landlord or roommates to a hearing in Small Claims Court to get money back from them. You can only apply for dispute resolution through the Residential Tenancy Branch if you are covered by the Residential Tenancy Act.

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Roommates: If you share a place with the owner you are not covered by the Residential Tenancy Act.

Hotels: Hotel tenants are protected by the Residential Tenancy Act if the hotel is the tenant's primary residence.

Manufactured homes (mobile homes): If you rent both a manufactured home and the pad it sits on, you have the same legal rights as other tenants. But if you own a manufactured home and rent only the pad, the Manufactured Home Park Tenancy Act has special rules for you. This Guide does not cover those rules. Phone the Residential Tenancy Branch for more information (see the Other Resources section or look at the legislation on their website at www.gov.bc.ca/landlordtenant.)

Non-profit housing: If you live in non-profit or subsidized housing, you are protected by the Residential Tenancy Act. This includes tenants living in single room occupancy hotels (SRO) operated by a non-profit society, municipality, or regional district. However, if your rent is based on your income different rules regarding rent increases and evictions may apply.

The Residential Tenancy Act does not apply

The Residential Tenancy Act does not apply to:

  • living accommodation where the tenant shares kitchen or bathroom facilities with the owner of the accommodation,
  • people living in accommodations owned or operated by educational institutions if the institution provides the accommodation to its students or employees,
  • if you live in a housing co-op and are a member of the co-op,
  • commercial tenancies,
  • vacation or travel accommodation,
  • people in jail,
  • living accommodation rented under an agreement with a term of 20 years or more, or
  • people living in care facilities that fall under the Community Care and Assisted Living Act, the Continuing Care Act, the Hospital Act, or the Mental Health Act.

There are other situations when the Act does not apply. See section 4 of the RTA.

What a landlord can ask

According to "Privacy Guidelines For Landlords and Tenants" released by the Office of the Information & Privacy Commissioner for British Columbia:

  • a landlord should not require that a tenant provide their Social Insurance Number on tenancy application forms or rental agreements,
  • a landlord should not demand a tenant's banking information,
  • a landlord cannot request a tenant's credit card information as a condition of renting a property, and
  • requiring a criminal records check is not reasonably necessary.

A landlord may ask to examine a person's driver's licence in order to verify the person's identity. However, the landlord must not write down or photocopy this personal information.

If a landlord refuses to rent to you because you didn't provide personal information that a landlord should not require, you have the right to report the landlord to the Office of the Information & Privacy Commissioner for British Columbia. To read the full privacy guidelines, see http://tenants.bc.ca/Personal-Information/.

Discrimination

A landlord cannot discriminate against you or refuse to rent to you because of your race, colour, ancestry, place of origin, religion, sex, sexual orientation, source of income, or age (19 years or older). The landlord also cannot discriminate against you if you are married or not married, if you have children, or if you have a disability.

There are two exceptions:

  • Shared accommodation: The law does not always apply when cooking, sleeping or bathroom facilities are shared. For example, if a woman wants to rent a room in her house only to another woman, she may be allowed to discriminate in this way.
  • Adults only: A landlord cannot refuse to rent to you because you have children, unless the building is reserved for people 55 years or older. It's illegal for a landlord to advertise “adult only” or to write “adult only” in a tenancy agreement, unless the building is for tenants 55 years or older.

Application fees

A potential landlord cannot ask you to pay a fee to simply apply to rent a place. If you pay an application fee and the landlord will not give it back to you, you can apply for dispute resolution to have it returned. At a dispute resolution hearing you can remind the arbitrator that the application fee was collected from you illegally and should be returned. Of course you need to know the landlord's proper legal name and address and have proof that you paid the fee. Many potential tenants pay these fees in cash and do not know to whom they are paying the fees. Therefore, it is best to not pay an application fee and not rent from someone who asks for it. Take it as an indication of problems to come. (See also the section on Deposits and paying rent.) See section 15 of the RTA.

Information for visiting students

If you are visiting from another country and renting in British Columbia, it is important to know your rights and obligations under the Residential Tenancy Act. If you are not planning on staying for a year, then you should not sign a lease or agreement that says you will stay for a year. Some landlords rent to visiting students knowing that they won't stay for a year, but make them sign a one-year lease anyway. The landlord then uses the broken agreement as an excuse to keep the student's security deposit. Another common problem for visiting students is landlords who don't return security deposits. Some landlords take advantage of the fact that the student will be returning to another country and unable to file for dispute resolution for a return of their security deposit.

If you are renting during your extended stay

If you are renting during your extended stay in British Columbia:

  • Do not sign a lease that states how long you must stay unless you intend to stay for that period of time.
  • Make sure you have a written tenancy agreement with the owner or manager of the property.
  • Do not take over a rental from another student who is renting and leaving the country without having your own agreement in writing with the landlord.
  • Do not sign any documents that you don't fully understand.
  • Do the move-in and move-out inspection reports with your landlord.
  • Designate someone who lives in BC to act as your agent in dispute resolution in case you need to return to your home country before the landlord has returned your security deposit. Contact the Residential Tenancy Branch to do this.
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Protect yourself from the start

Remember that you are entering into a contract—a business deal with a landlord. It is important to make sure everything about the deal is clear from the beginning so that there is little chance of an argument or dispute later.

Renting for the first time? Take TRAC's Online Course!

TRAC has a free online course called Renting it Right, which can help you find rental housing and understand your legal rights. The course is designed for first-time renters, and covers topics such as understanding your needs and preferences, searching for housing, applying to rent a place, signing a tenancy agreement, and moving in. Throughout the course, you can complete activities to help you secure the right place. Examples of activities include:

  • Creating a monthly budget
  • Preparing a list of references
  • Ordering your credit report
  • Writing a cover letter
  • Thinking about potential roommates

By completing the course and passing the final exam, students earn a certificate that can be presented to landlords with a rental application. This is a great option if you do not have rental references!

Register for free at www.RentingitRight.ca.

Legislation and links

Legislation

Links


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