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

If you pay rent for your home, you are most likely protected by the Residential Tenancy Act, SBC 2002, c 78 (RTA) – the law that outlines tenants’ and landlords’ rights and responsibilities. The RTA is a provincial law that applies only to British Columbia (BC). If you have rented in other provinces or countries, do not assume that the same rules apply. After reading this Tenant Survival Guide, you may be surprised at how BC’s tenancy laws differ from tenancy laws around the world.

One of the most important things to understand about the RTA is that it cannot be avoided. All tenants are guaranteed certain legal rights by law, regardless of what their tenancy agreement says. According to section 5 of the RTA, any term of an agreement that “contracts out” of the RTA is considered unenforceable. If your landlord tries to unfairly reduce your rights in this way, contact the Tenant Resource & Advisory Centre (TRAC) or the Residential Tenancy Branch (RTB) for more information.

The RTB is the department of the provincial government in charge of residential tenancy law. The most important service they provide is dispute resolution, which is essentially BC’s tenant-landlord “court”. With over 1.5 million tenants living in BC, there is never a shortage of residential tenancy law disputes. When tenants and landlords cannot resolve disputes on their own, they can apply for dispute resolution to have an “arbitrator” make a legally-binding decision on their behalf. The RTB also offers tenants and landlords the following services and resources:

  • legal information in person, over the phone, and by email;
  • website (gov.bc.ca/landlordtenant) and social media;
  • online tools, such as a Solution Explorer and Calculators;
  • online application process for dispute resolution;
  • approved residential tenancy forms;
  • Rules of Procedure for Dispute Resolution; and
  • Policy Guidelines on key topics.

Are you covered by the law?

When renting a home in BC, you want to be covered by the Residential Tenancy Act (RTA). If the RTA does not apply to your living situation, you will still have certain rights under common law, but they will be less clear and harder to enforce. The Tenant Resource & Advisory Centre (TRAC) and Residential Tenancy Branch (RTB) can only provide legal assistance to tenants and landlords protected by the RTA.

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Housing not covered by the RTA

Section 4 of the RTA lists the types of living situations not covered by the RTA:

  • accommodation where the tenant shares a bathroom or kitchen with the owner of the property;
  • accommodation provided to a student or employee by their school;
  • accommodation included with property occupied primarily for business purposes and rented under a single agreement;
  • vacation or travel accommodation;
  • emergency shelters and transitional housing;
  • correctional institutions;
  • rental agreements with terms of 20 years or longer;
  • accommodation rented by a housing cooperative, or “co-op”, to a member of the cooperative;
  • accommodation in a housing-based health facility that provides hospitality support services and personal health care;
  • accommodation made available in the course of providing rehabilitative or therapeutic treatment or services;
  • housing that falls under the Community Care and Assisted Living Act, Continuing Care Act, or Hospital Act; and
  • accommodation, if designated under the Mental Health Act, in a Provincial mental health facility, an observation unit, or a psychiatric unit.

If the RTA does not cover your living situation, you will not be able to apply for dispute resolution through the RTB. Instead, you may need to use Small Claims Court, the Civil Resolution Tribunal, or BC Supreme Court.

Occupants / Roommates: There is another living situation that may not be covered by the RTA, but is also not mentioned in section 4. If you rent from a tenant with whom you live, you may not be protected. This type of setup is common in shared houses where a “head-tenant” rents out a room to a roommate. Unless the landlord agrees to add the new roommate as a “tenant”, that person will most likely be considered an “occupant/roommate” and not be covered under the RTA. See RTB Policy Guideline 19 for more information.

If you currently rent a room from a tenant with whom you live, consider speaking to their landlord about being added to your roommate’s tenancy as a “co-tenant”, or signing a separate agreement. If that is not possible, you and the tenant to whom you pay rent can consider signing a contract that outlines the rules you both agree to follow. This will offer some legal protection, even though your situation is not covered by the RTA.

Manufactured (Mobile) Homes: Manufactured Home Park Tenancies, also known as mobile home tenancies, may or may not be covered by the RTA. If you own a mobile home and rent the land it sits on, your tenancy falls under the Manufactured Home Park Tenancy Act, SBC 2002, c 77 (MHPTA). However, if you rent a mobile home within a manufactured home park, your tenancy falls under the RTA. As long as you are covered by either the RTA or MHPTA, you can access the RTB’s resources, including dispute resolution.

Housing covered by the RTA

The good news is that most rental housing in BC is protected by the Residential Tenancy Act (RTA). Tenants most commonly live in apartment buildings or rented houses, including secondary suites, but the RTA can apply to other types of housing too. Rented co-op units, hotel tenancies, illegal secondary suites, rental units on “lands reserved for Indians”, strata buildings (condos or townhomes), subsidized housing, and verbal tenancies can all be covered by the RTA, to varying degrees. These types of tenancies may involve additional laws and governing bodies and can present complex scenarios for tenants and landlords.

Cooperative Housing: The RTA does not apply to accommodation rented by a housing cooperative, or “co-op”, to a member of the cooperative. However, if you rent from a member of a co-op, and are not a member yourself, you will most likely be protected by the RTA.

Hotels and Single Room Occupancies (SROs): Hotels are covered by the RTA, if a tenancy has been established and the property is the tenant’s primary and permanent home. You have probably heard of a specific type of hotel known as a Single Room Occupancy Hotel, or “SRO”. These are commonly found in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside and provide short-term or long-term housing to low income tenants. Like standard hotels, SROs are covered under the RTA, if there is a tenancy agreement in place and the property is the tenant’s primary and permanent home. See RTB Policy Guideline 27 for more information.

Illegal Secondary Suites: A secondary suite could be a basement suite, laneway house, or other unit that is on the same property as a residential house. If a secondary suite does not comply with zoning and bylaw requirements, or has not been registered with the City, it may be considered an “illegal suite”.

The most important thing to remember about illegal suites is that they are covered by the RTA. That being said, it is not ideal to be living in one, as your housing could be at risk if your City finds out about the suite. This can sometimes happen if a dispute with a neighbour turns into a complaint to the City, or if you go to the City seeking help with repair or maintenance concerns.

When a City discovers an illegal suite, they may decide to shut it down. If this is the case, you will be given a One Month Eviction Notice for Cause under section 47(1)(k) of the RTA and your landlord will most likely not be responsible for paying any of your moving expenses.

Rentals on “Lands Reserved for Indians”: If you are renting a home on “lands reserved for Indians” (Reserve Lands) as defined by section 91(24) of the Constitution Act, the RTA may partially apply. Any disputes over use and possession of Reserve Lands, such as eviction, fall under the authority of the Federal Government – not the provincial RTB. However, the RTA may apply to a situation involving a monetary claim, such as the return of a security deposit, but only if the landlord is not an Indian or Indian Band, as defined by the Indian Act. See RTB Policy Guideline 27 for more information.

Strata Buildings (Condos or Townhomes): In strata buildings, owners own individual units but share ownership of the common space. When you rent a strata property from an owner, you are covered by both the RTA and Strata Property Act, SBC 1998, c 43 (SPA). All strata buildings have a set of bylaws and rules that owners and tenants must follow. When entering into a tenancy, your landlord should have you sign a “Form K”, which indicates that you have been notified of the current bylaws and rules. Even though you are not an owner, you may still be subject to fines or fees. For example, you might have to pay fees when moving in and moving out according to section 7(f) of the Residential Tenancy Regulation, or you may have to pay fines levied by the strata corporation if you disturb neighbours or damage property according to section 131 of the SPA.

A strata corporation can also try to evict a tenant under section 138 of the SPA by serving a One Month Notice for Cause under section 47 of the RTA. However, even though this ection exists in the SPA, the RTB has been known to deny jurisdiction in such cases at dispute resolution, claiming that a strata corporation does not fit the definition of “landlord” in section 1 of the RTA. This is a grey area of the law where the SPA and RTA somewhat contradict each other. If you receive an eviction notice from a strata corporation, the safest action is to not ignore it. Instead, apply for dispute resolution and allow an arbitrator to rule on the matter.

Subsidized Housing: The term “subsidized housing” generally applies to any housing where the government provides monetary assistance to lower the rent. Unless you are a member of a housing cooperative, or “co-op”, subsidized housing is covered by the RTA. Here are the most common types of subsidized housing:

  • Public housing: a government department, BC Housing, manages rental units for low-income families, seniors, and people with disabilities.
  • Non-profit housing: non-profit organizations receive government money to manage subsidized rental units for tenants throughout the province.
  • Rental supplements:
    • Shelter Aid for Elderly Renters (SAFER) – cash assistance for eligible BC residents who are age 60 or over and pay rent for their homes.
    • Rental Assistance Program (RAP) – cash assistance for eligible low-income working families to help with monthly rent payments in the private market.

Verbal Tenancies: Although section 13 of the RTA requires landlords to prepare tenancy agreements in writing, section 1 of the RTA also says that a tenancy agreement can be “oral, express or implied”. This means that you do not have to sign a written agreement to establish a tenancy. Despite the fact that verbal tenancies are covered by the RTA, it is still always best to have a written agreement with your landlord.

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

This information applies to British Columbia, Canada. Last reviewed for legal accuracy by Tenant Resource & Advisory Centre, 2012.


Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.5 Canada LicenceTenant Survival Guide © TRAC Tenant Resource & Advisory Centre is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.5 Canada Licence.
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