Dispute Resolution for Tenants
|This information applies to British Columbia, Canada. Last reviewed for legal accuracy by Tenant Resource & Advisory Centre, 2018.|
DO: seek help when going through the dispute resolution process. Ask a friend, family member, or legal advocate for assistance with gathering evidence, submitting your application, serving documents, and participating in the hearing.
DO NOT: forget the timelines for disputing eviction notices: 5 days for a 10 Day Notice, 10 days for a One Month Notice, 15 days for a Two Month Notice, and 30 days for a Four Month Notice.
- 1 The basics
- 2 Resolving disputes without dispute resolution
- 3 Applying for dispute resolution
- 4 Preparing for dispute resolution
- 5 Participating in dispute resolution
- 6 Collecting money from your landlord
- 7 Reviewing a dispute resolution hearing decision
The Residential Tenancy Branch (RTB) offers a service called dispute resolution, which is essentially BC’s tenant-landlord “court”. When facing a legal problem with your landlord, you do not have to hire an expensive lawyer and go to Small Claims Court or BC Supreme Court. Instead, you can request that a RTB arbitrator look at your case and make a legally-binding decision. Almost all legal disputes between tenants and landlords must be resolved through the RTB dispute resolution system.
Types of orders
Arbitrators have the power to settle legal disputes on a range of topics. An arbitrator can:
- order your landlord to follow the law;
- order your landlord to pay you money;
- order your landlord to repair your rental unit;
- prevent your landlord from entering your rental unit;
- give you permission to change your locks;
- give you permission to withhold money from future rent payments; and
- cancel an eviction notice that your landlord has given you.
Rules of Procedure and Policy Guidelines
For more detailed information on dispute resolution, you can review the RTB’s Dispute Resolution Rules of Procedure – a comprehensive resource that covers topics such as filing an application, making a cross-application, exchanging evidence, amending an application, adjourning a hearing, etc.
When preparing for a dispute resolution hearing, you should also see if there are any RTB Policy Guidelines related to your dispute. These resources go into greater detail on certain topics compared to the Residential Tenancy Act, and are often referred to by arbitrators when making decisions.
Resolving disputes without dispute resolution
Dispute resolution should often be viewed as a last resort, as it can be time-consuming, costly, and unpredictable. When faced with less urgent issues such as minor repairs or noisy neighbours, first notify your landlord in writing and give them a reasonable chance to fix the problem before applying for dispute resolution. Of course, when dealing with more urgent issues, such as an eviction notice or emergency repair, consider applying for dispute resolution right away.
Tips when talking to your landlord
Talking to your landlord can be challenging, especially when you disagree on an issue. Here are a few tips to keep in mind:
- Prepare ahead of time: It can be helpful to summarize your main points in advance, or have a practice conversation with a friend or family member.
- Consider your timing: Try to have the conversation when you are calm and composed, rather than upset and emotional.
- Stay on topic: Raising irrelevant issues can derail the conversation and make it harder to address your main concerns. If your landlord is getting off topic, acknowledge that you have heard what they said, but then refocus them on the original conversation.
- Consider your landlord’s perspective: An effective communicator can be respectful of the other person’s perspective, while also clearly and calmly stating their own.
- Be professional: It is in your best interest to be professional when dealing with your landlord, regardless of how they have treated you in the past. Stay focused on getting the best possible outcome rather than engaging in personal attacks and aggressive comments.
Tips when writing a letter to your landlord
You may struggle to find the right words when writing your landlord. To help with this, TRAC has developed a series of template letters on topics such as bed bugs, deposits, illegal rent increases, etc. Download one of our letters as a starting point. From there, you can add your own details, the date, and your signature before sending the letter.
Here are some tips to consider when writing your letter:
- Keep it short and sweet: Stick to your main points and avoid overwhelming your landlord with irrelevant details.
- Organization is key: Structure your letter in a way that makes it easy to read. If you are dealing with multiple issues, you may want to number them and address them one by one.
- Think twice: Before sending your letter, review it, or have someone else review it. You may even want to wait a night to see if you would change anything the next day.
- Consider your tone: Do not simply send a letter to complain to your landlord. You want your letter to be professional so that it helps you achieve a successful outcome. For example, do not write in CAPITAL LETTERS, since that means that you are SHOUTING!
- Be respectful: Remember that your landlord may keep a copy of your written communication for their record. Avoid writing anything that an arbitrator would find disrespectful.
Residential Tenancy Branch early intervention
You can contact the Residential Tenancy Branch and request that an Information Officer call your landlord and explain the law. Some landlords will be more likely to behave once a government employee has outlined the potential consequences for their illegal behaviour.
Applying for dispute resolution
How to apply
You can submit hardcopy applications at any Residential Tenancy Branch (RTB) office or Service BC Centre. The RTB has also recently improved their online application process. Compared to the hardcopy application process, the online system offers several benefits, including:
- the ability to upload evidence online;
- the ability to apply for fee waiver applications online;
- helpful email reminders and notifications;
- an intuitive design with step-by-step instructions;
- the ability to resume incomplete applications; and
- mobile-friendly functionality.
It costs $100 to apply for dispute resolution. However, if you win your hearing, the arbitrator can order your landlord to repay you the fee – as long as you have made that request as part of your application. Alternatively, if you have a low income, you can apply for a fee waiver application that cancels the fee entirely. To be successful, you may need to provide evidence of your income, such as an income assistance statement, employment insurance benefits statement, recent paystub from an employer, and/or recent bank statements.
There are varying deadlines for dispute resolution applications, depending on the nature of the dispute. For example, here are the time limits to dispute eviction notices:
- 5 days to dispute a 10 Day Eviction Notice;
- 10 days to dispute a One Month Eviction Notice;
- 15 days to dispute a Two Month Eviction Notice; and
- 30 days to dispute a Four Month Eviction Notice.
Naming your landlord
Name yourself as the “applicant” and your landlord(s) as the “respondent(s)”. Although tenants may sometimes only have one landlord – the owner of the rental unit – it is quite common for an owner to appoint an “agent”, such as a property management company, to act on their behalf as a secondary landlord. If this is the case, it can be wise to list both landlords on your application form.
If you are asking for money as part of your application, make sure to include the legal name and address of the owner. This will make it easier to enforce your monetary order through Small Claims Court if the owner refuses to pay. If you do not know who the owner of your rental unit is, you can complete a land title search through the Land Title Office. See TRAC’s webpage, Finding Out Who My Landlord Is for more information.
Serving notice to your landlord
Once your dispute resolution application has been accepted, the RTB will provide you with a package of hearing documents that lists the date and time of your hearing, instructions on how to prepare for your hearing, and copies of the application and submitted evidence. Hearing dates are set based on urgency, with the most serious applications receiving the highest priority, and monetary order applications receiving the lowest priority.
Once you have received your hearing documents, you have three days to serve them on the respondent(s) in one of the following ways:
- Delivering them in person to your landlord, and/or your landlord’s agent. If possible, bring a witness so you have proof that your documents were served properly.
- Sending them via registered mail. (Considering mailed documents are deemed received five days later, you are only required to mail your hearing documents within three days.) If you serve the documents via registered mail, make sure to keep the receipt and confirmation of delivery as evidence.
A group of tenants facing related issues can ask the RTB to join their applications together and hold one dispute resolution hearing for everyone. If the RTB agrees to this, the lead tenant will be required to attend the hearing, while the other tenants will have the option to attend.
Preparing for dispute resolution
Gathering and submitting evidence
To be successful at dispute resolution, you will have to gather and submit enough quality evidence to convince an arbitrator to rule in your favour. Telling your side of the story is generally not enough; you should be prepared to present relevant evidence in a convincing manner.
Here are some examples of evidence that you should consider submitting:
- Tenancy agreement: Your landlord is legally required to give you a copy of your tenancy agreement within 21 days of entering into your tenancy.
- Written communication: Include written communication that strengthens your case, such as letters, forms, and notices. Relevant emails, texts, and social media messages may also be considered by arbitrators.
- Photos: Add descriptions of the photos and when they were taken. You should number and label them in a consistent fashion – for example, “Living Room Photo 1” and “Living Room Photo 2”.
- Audio and video recordings: Indicate which parts of the audio recordings and videos you would like the arbitrator to listen to and watch.
- Witnesses: Have witnesses speak at the hearing or submit signed witness statements.
- Affidavits: Submit affidavits (sworn statements) signed by you or your witnesses. A lawyer, Notary Public, or Commissioner of Oaths can assist you with this process. Affidavits may cost money but are generally considered stronger evidence than unsworn statements.
- Receipts: You will need proof of the expenses you paid when seeking a monetary order.
- Monetary Order Worksheet: If you are applying for a monetary order, you must submit the Residential Tenancy Branch form, “Monetary Order Worksheet”.
Deadlines to submit evidence
All evidence that you want to rely on at dispute resolution needs to be submitted to the Residential Tenancy Branch (RTB) and properly served on your landlord.
The person applying for dispute resolution – the “applicant” – should do their best to submit evidence with their application. If that is not possible, the RTB and the respondent must receive the evidence at least 14 days before the hearing. Evidence should always be submitted as soon as possible, as arbitrators have the right to refuse evidence that was intentionally submitted later than it could have been.
The person responding to the application – the “respondent” – must ensure that all their evidence is received by the RTB and the applicant at least seven days before the hearing. Again, if evidence submission is intentionally delayed, the arbitrator may decide to not consider it.
Late evidence: If you miss the deadline for submitting evidence, you can still submit your evidence late. Be prepared to have an argument ready for why the arbitrator should consider the evidence at the hearing. For example, the evidence may have only become available after the evidence deadline. If your landlord brings up evidence during a hearing that you did not receive on time, you can ask the arbitrator to not consider it, or to adjourn (reschedule) the hearing to a later date. See section 3.17 of the Rules of Procedure for more information.
Service rules: The way that evidence is served can affect when it is legally considered received. For example:
- evidence delivered in person is considered received that same day;
- evidence left in a mailbox or mail slot is considered received three days later; and
- evidence that is mailed is considered received five days later.
Tenants who have filed for dispute resolution must, where possible, digitally submit evidence to the RTB through their online system. If you are not able to upload evidence in this manner, you can still submit physical copies directly to the RTB, or to any Service BC Centre across the province. Digitally submitting evidence to the RTB will make it available to the arbitrator handling your case, but the RTB will not send copies to your landlord on your behalf. This means that, when you digitally submit evidence to the RTB, you must also serve copies of that evidence to your landlord using an accepted method of service according to the Residential Tenancy Act.
When submitting digital evidence, you should ensure that your evidence is well organized. According to section 3.10.1 of the Rules of Procedure, digital evidence should be accompanied by descriptions of the evidence, logical numbering systems for photographs, a time code for the key point in any audio or video recordings, etc. You must also submit RTB form, “Digital Evidence Details”, available on the RTB website at gov.bc.ca/tenantlandlord. This form will help keep your evidence organized for the arbitrator, and ensure you follow the required steps for service.
When serving digital evidence on your landlord, you must ensure that they are able to access the evidence. For example, if you submit video evidence to the RTB online, and then make a DVD of that video to serve on your landlord, you must confirm with your landlord that they have playback equipment for the DVD, or can somehow access the information on the disc. When asked about whether they can access a particular format, your landlord must reply as soon as possible. If you choose to submit digital evidence, you must keep exact copies of that evidence for two years after the dispute resolution process has concluded. See sections 3.0 and 3.10 of the Rules of Procedure and RTB Policy Guideline 42 for more information.
The dispute resolution process has been designed for self-representation, which means that most tenants are able to participate in hearings on their own. That being said, if you feel that you need some assistance during your hearing, you have the right to bring a family member, friend, legal advocate, lawyer, translator, or interpreter.
Participating in dispute resolution
Connecting to the conference call
Dispute resolution hearings are almost always held over the phone. When you apply for dispute resolution, you will be given a hearing package with instructions on how to connect to the conference call. Make sure to keep these instructions in a safe place and have them ready for the start of your hearing. It is always a good idea to connect to the conference call early, so that you have time to address any potential technical issues before the hearing starts. If you are unable to connect to the conference call due to matters outside of your control, you may have to submit an Application for Review Consideration.
Start of the hearing
The arbitrator will explain how the hearing will proceed and address any preliminary matters. This is the time to mention anything that needs to be dealt with before the hearing starts. For example, you may have to mention that an advocate will be representing you, a witness will be providing evidence, or that you need to amend your application.
Requesting an adjournment: You may need to request that your hearing be adjourned (rescheduled). For example, this could happen if you did not receive your landlord’s evidence in time to prepare a response. The decision to adjourn the hearing or proceed with the hearing will be up to the arbitrator handling your case.
During the hearing
You should be given a fair chance to argue your case, ask questions, and share evidence, including witness testimonies. Make sure to present your evidence clearly and concisely, and avoid raising issues that are irrelevant to your application. It is important to guide the arbitrator through your evidence; do not assume that they will understand everything on their own.
The applicant generally presents their evidence first, followed by the respondent. One exception to this rule is when a tenant is disputing an eviction notice. For those hearings, the respondent landlord must present their evidence first and explain why the eviction notice should be upheld. The tenant will then be given a chance to present their own evidence and defend their housing.
Negotiating a settlement: The arbitrator may suggest that you and your landlord negotiate a settlement during the hearing. Do not feel pressured to agree to a settlement unless you are completely satisfied with the terms.
Behaviour: Participating in a dispute resolution hearing can be an emotional experience, but it is important to always act in a professional manner and not interrupt anyone while they are speaking. Instead, write down your questions or concerns so that you can address them later. Speak clearly and respectfully to both the arbitrator and your landlord, and never raise your voice or use inappropriate language. Bad behaviour could hurt your credibility and, in turn, your chances of winning your hearing. If you believe it will be difficult to remain professional at your hearing, consider asking a friend, family member, or legal advocate to help you present your case.
End of the hearing
At the end of the hearing, the arbitrator may inform you of their decision or they may decide to take more time to review the evidence. According to section 77 of the Residential Tenancy Act, arbitrators are required to reach a decision within 30 days. For hearings about eviction notices and other urgent matters, arbitrators will usually make their decision within a few days.
Collecting money from your landlord
Arbitrators have the power to issue orders that require one person to pay money to another person. A landlord could be issued a monetary order if their tenant has not paid the rent, while a tenant could be issued a monetary order if their landlord has broken the law.
Residential Tenancy Branch (RTB) monetary orders are legally-binding, which means the person who is required to pay must follow through with the payment. If you have obtained a monetary order that your landlord refuses to pay, you will have to enforce that order in Small Claims Court, since the RTB cannot enforce their own orders. A Small Claims Court judge could help you get paid by garnishing your landlord’s wages or placing a lien on their property. Visit TRAC’s webpage, Enforcing a Monetary Order for more information.
Reviewing a dispute resolution hearing decision
Residential Tenancy Branch Correction and Clarification
If a decision is unclear or contains a mistake, you can submit a “Request for Correction” or “Request for Clarification” form to the Residential Tenancy Branch (RTB), free of charge. You will most likely not have to notify your landlord of this application, unless an arbitrator instructs you to do so.
For some types of issues, such as the following, there is a 15-day deadline to apply from the date you receive the decision:
- the decision is too complex or ambiguous and needs to be clarified;
- the decision contains an obvious error; or
- something was accidentally left out of the decision.
For other types of issues, such as the following, the 15-day deadline may not apply:
- the decision has a typo;
- order has grammatical errors; or
- the decision has a math error.
Residential Tenancy Branch Review Consideration
You can ask the Residential Tenancy Branch (RTB) to review a decision that you have lost. This is not a chance to simply re-argue your case, as reviews are only granted in limited circumstances. [i Section 79(2)] of the RTA lists three situations where the RTB may accept an Application for Review Consideration:
- A person was unable to attend the hearing for reasons unanticipated and beyond their control.
- There is new evidence that was not available at the time of the hearing, and would have influenced the original decision.
- The other party intentionally used fraud to get the outcome they desired.
Fee: There is a $50 fee to apply for a Review Consideration, unless you had your application fee waived for the original hearing.
Deadlines: There are different application deadlines, depending on the nature of the dispute. For the following types of decisions, there is a two-day deadline from the time you receive the decision:
- unreasonable withholding of consent to assign or sublet;
- eviction for non-payment of rent;
- order of possession for the tenant or the landlord; and
- application to end a tenancy early.
For the following types of decisions, there is a five-day deadline from the time you receive the decision:
- repairs or maintenance;
- services or facilities; and
- any eviction notice other than one for non-payment of rent.
For all other types of decisions, there is a 15-day deadline from the time you receive the decision. See section 80 of the RTA for more information.
BC Supreme Court judicial review
If your RTB hearing or decision was unfair, but your situation does not fit the eligibility criteria for a RTB Review Consideration, you can apply for a judicial review through BC Supreme Court.
The RTB is considered an expert tribunal on matters of residential tenancy law. This means that the standard of review for RTB decisions is quite high; a BC Supreme Court judge can only set aside a RTB decision if they find it to be procedurally unfair, patently unreasonable, or blatantly incorrect.
When you participate in a RTB dispute resolution hearing, you have the right to natural justice – also known as procedural fairness. This means that the arbitrator must allow you a fair opportunity to know the case against you, present evidence, and argue your side of the story. In addition, section 58 of the Administrative Tribunals Act defines a decision as being “patently unreasonable” if it:
- is exercised arbitrarily or in bad faith;
- is exercised for an improper purpose;
- is based entirely or predominantly on irrelevant factors; or
- fails to take statutory requirements into account.
If a BC Supreme Court judge finds a decision to be procedurally unfair, patently unreasonable, or blatantly incorrect, they will usually order a new dispute resolution hearing at the RTB, rather than reach a new decision on their own. This means that even if you are successful in your judicial review application, there is no guarantee you will win your new hearing at the RTB.
Deadline: 60 days from the date the RTB decision was made.
Key referral: The Community Legal Assistance Society (CLAS) is an expert organization on the topic of judicial review. If you are a tenant whose housing is at risk because you lost your dispute resolution hearing, CLAS may be able to provide free assistance with a judicial review application. They also offer an online Judicial Review Self-Help Guide.
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