Introduction to Landlord and Tenant Law (19:I)
Landlord tenant law was written to protect the rights and identify the responsibilities of both landlords and tenants. The law serves to prevent and resolve disputes that may arise within a tenancy, in the clearest and lowest-conflict manner possible. This guide seeks to provide basic legal information, including about the rights and responsibilities of tenants and landlords, and about the processes available for resolving disputes between tenants and landlords. For more information or advice specific to your situation, you may wish to consult the resources listed in Section II: Governing Legislation and Resources in this chapter.
A. Common Problems
The following points are pertinent to the most common problems experienced between tenants and landlords:
Notices to End Tenancy & Direct Requests by Landlords
- Once the time for a tenant to dispute a notice to end tenancy is passed, orders of possession may be granted to landlords by Residential Tenancy Branch (RTB) Arbitrators without an oral hearing (Residential Tenancy Act (RTA), s 55(4)). Landlords will have to submit detailed documentation to an Arbitrator, who will render a decision based on paper evidence only.
- If you ignore a “Notice to End Tenancy, and a direct request is made to the Residential Tenancy Branch by your landlord for an Order of Possession, you may be unable to dispute your eviction. See Section XII.B.2 Direct Request. Never ignore a “Notice to End Tenancy”.
- Under s 55(4), monetary orders for rent in arrears may also be granted without an oral hearing when the tenant’s time to dispute the notice has passed.
- The Residential Tenancy Branch may provide forms of dispute resolution other than hearings, for example early resolution by RTB staff. Tenants should request that the Information Officer phone the landlord when the problem is basic and obvious and the law is clear (e.g. a landlord cannot lock out a tenant). The Information Officer will not take on the role of an Arbitrator and will only address situations where the law is very clear. However, if the issue is one where an Information Officer can assist, that can be a faster and lower-conflict solution to a dispute.
- Under s 94(1) of the RTA, penalties of up to $5,000 per day may be imposed against landlords for contravening the RTA, the Regulation, or an order. Administrative penalties are rarely, if ever, imposed and according to the RTB guidelines, such penalties are to be used only in response to “serious, repeated non-compliance.”
- The Rules of Procedure for dispute resolution are revised occasionally. The latest edition took effect on October 26th, 2015. It is important to be aware of timelines. For example, the RTB must receive the applicant’s documents that are to be used at a hearing no later than 14 days before the dispute resolution proceeding, while the respondent’s documents must be received no later than 7 days before the dispute resolution proceeding. This is strictly enforced and while the RTB may forward late documents to the Arbitrator, Arbitrators can choose not to accept them.
- A landlord cannot ask a tenant to pay an application fee. If a landlord does this as a business practice, the tenant should report this to the director of the RTB, who can launch an investigation.
- Landlords can charge security deposits, and an additional deposit for pets. Neither may be more than ½ the monthly rent, and must not exceed more than one month’s rent in total. They can charge fees for replacing keys, garage door openers, access cards and other related items, but the fee charged cannot be more than the actual cost of the item.
- A move-in and move-out Condition Inspection Report must be completed by all landlords and tenants. It is extremely important that tenants take part in inspections for their own protection. It is very useful to take dated photographs during both move-out and move-in inspections
- If a landlord keeps a tenant’s security deposit for longer than 15 days after the end of the tenancy and the tenant has moved out and given the landlord their forwarding address in writing, the landlord can be ordered to pay the tenant double the amount of the security deposit.
- The RTA states that a tenant must pay their rent in full and on time, regardless of whether the tenant believes the landlord has fulfilled their obligations.
- A tenant may withhold the last month’s rent if the tenant has been given a notice to end tenancy for landlord’s use of property (e.g., major renovations, demolition, conversion to condos or co-ops), instead of paying the last month’s rent and then waiting for the landlord to repay the required one month’s compensation.
- Rents may be increased only once per year and only by the amount permitted by RTR s 22, unless the landlord applies for a greater increase as regulated under RTR s 23, or the tenant agrees in writing to a greater rent increase. Limits on rent increases continue to apply at the end of fixed-term tenancies.
- Tenants cannot apply to the RTB for an extension of time to pay rent, except under very limited circumstances such as where the tenant withholds rent for the payment of emergency repairs. Tenants can talk to an Information Officer about what might constitute an emergency repair but an Information Officer cannot authorize the withholding of rent. Always get the Information Officer’s name.
NOTE: Many of the forms referred to in this chapter are available at the RTB web site. Please refer to Section XIX: Forms Available on the RTB Web Site for a complete list of available forms or visit http://bit.ly/1FjmXzc to download them.
The primary sources of landlord-tenant law in British Columbia are the Residential Tenancy Act [RTA], and the Manufactured Home Park Tenancy Act, SBC 2002, c 77 [MHPTA].
Subject to any applicable limitation period and to RTA s 60, a landlord or tenant may start an action or claim in debt or for damages against the other party in respect of a right or obligation under the RTA or a tenancy agreement (s 58). The limitation period is generally two years. Note that this is two years from the end of the tenancy. The events that form the basis of the claim may have occurred earlier, so long as the tenancy is either on-going or ended in the last two years. Common monetary claims brought to the Residential Tenancy Branch (RTB) for dispute resolution by tenants are:
- for the return of the security and/or pet deposit;
- to dispute a proposed rent increase;
- to cancel a notice to end tenancy;
- for compensation for losses due to breaches of the contract such as loss of quiet enjoyment or lack of repairs; and
- for compensation where the landlord has illegally evicted the tenant and/or seized the tenant’s possessions
Landlords commonly bring claims:
- for unpaid rent owed by the tenant;
- to obtain an Order of Possession (to regain possession of a rental unit);
- for the retention of a security and/or pet damage deposit for property damage; and
- for compensation for damage caused by a tenant.
Claims at the RTB can be up to $35,000., per RTA s 58(2)(a) which imposes the same limit as the Small Claims Act. If a claim is over that amount, the amount above the $35,000 figure must be waived in order to file at the RTB. A claim for more than $35,000 must be filed at the British Columbia Supreme Court.
The following are interpretations of the definitions that are set out in Section 1 of the RTA. For the exact wording of the definitions, refer to the RTA itself.
1. Tenancy Agreement
An agreement between a landlord and tenant respecting possession of residential premises. It may be written or oral, express or implied, and may or may not have a predetermined expiry date or not, between a landlord and tenant respecting possession of residential premises. An agreement can be deemed to be in effect even before a tenant assumes occupancy.
Includes a lessor, sublessor, owner, or other person permitting the occupation of residential premises, including his or her heirs, assignees, personal representatives and successors in title and a person, (other than a tenant occupying the rental unit) who is entitled to possession.
A tenant is a person who enters into a tenancy agreement with a landlord. Tenants include the estate of a deceased tenant, and in some contexts, a former or prospective tenant. Otherwise “tenant”, “persons in possession”, and “occupants” are not defined in the RTA. Presumably a tenant is a person entitled to exclusive possession, and the definition of a tenant includes a tenant whose primary residence is in a hotel. Common law licensees are also tenants under the RTA, but not under the Manufactured Home Park Tenancy Act See RTB Policy Guideline 9: Tenancy Agreement and Licenses to Occupy.
4. Residential Property
A building, or related group of buildings, in which one or more rental units or common areas are located, the parcel or parcels on which the building, related group of buildings or common areas are located, and any other structure located on the parcel or parcels.
5. Standard Terms
The standard terms of a tenancy agreement are prescribed in the Schedule attached to the Regulations.
6. Assisted and Supported Living Tenancies
Assisted and supported living tenancies are rental accommodations where hospitality or personal care services are provided by or through the landlord. Registered assisted living facilities are generally exempt from the RTA. However, supported housing facilities may be covered by the RTA depending on the nature of the services provided. Only an Arbitrator, through the dispute resolution process, can determine whether a housing situation is exempt from the RTA. For more information, see Section XIV: Assisted and Supported Living Tenancies in this chapter.