Dispute Resolution for Tenants

From Clicklaw Wikibooks

Do prepare well for a hearing and make sure you submit all your evidence on time. Don't show up late or miss a dispute resolution hearing altogether. You may not get another chance.

What is dispute resolution?

Tenants in BC are protected by the Residential Tenancy Act. This is the law that makes rules for tenants and landlords. You may be able to use the Act to deal with problems you have with your landlord, by going to dispute resolution at the Residential Tenancy Branch. A dispute resolution hearing is like a landlord-tenant "court." You can ask an arbitrator to interpret the rules in the Residential Tenancy Act. For example, you can ask for repairs, or dispute an eviction notice. Dispute hearings are almost always held over the phone by conference call. During the hearing, you can present evidence, and bring witnesses. The arbitrator will decide what to do about the problem, based on an interpretation of the law and your evidence. You and your landlord must obey the decision.

Rules and procedures

Rules of Procedure are posted on the Residential Tenancy Branch website. These rules can give you an idea of how the hearing is conducted. It is also useful to look at the Policy Guidelines on that website. The Guidelines help explain what is meant by certain parts of the Residential Tenancy Act and are meant to assist arbitrators in making their decisions.

Time limits

You must apply for dispute resolution within a certain number of days if you are responding to a notice from your landlord. For example, you only have a few days to challenge an eviction notice. The time limits for dispute resolution are written on the notices the landlord gives you. If you don’t know how much time you have to apply for dispute resolution, immediately take the notice to the nearest Residential Tenancy Branch, Government Agent or Service BC Centre.

Early resolution

You can phone the Residential Tenancy Branch and ask an information officer to phone the landlord on your behalf if you believe that the issue can be resolved easily by having the information officer explain to the landlord that he is acting in a way that is not allowed under the Residential Tenancy Act. Make sure that you take note of the information officer's name.

How to apply

Where do I apply?

You can apply for a dispute resolution hearing at the Residential Tenancy Branch in Burnaby. If you can't access this office, you can apply through a Service BC Centre close to where you live (go to the Service BC website to see locations). You can also submit an application online.

Fee

It costs $100 to apply for a dispute resolution hearing. You can pay by credit card if submitting your application online. If paying in person, you can pay by credit or debit card (credit not accepted at Service BC), cash, certified cheque or money order made out to: Minister of Finance, if paying in person. If you win your case, the arbitrator can order the landlord to pay you back the fee if you request it on your application.

If you have a low income, you can ask for a fee waiver so you don't have to pay. You need to fill out a form called Application to Waive Filing Fee. Bring proof of your income, and be ready to give information about your income and expenses.

Note that if you are applying online, you can either submit your payment online, or pay later in person within 3 days of submitting your application. If you qualify for a fee waiver, you can fax your fee waiver application and documents to the Residential Tenancy Branch after submitting your application, or bring it in person within 3 days. Your application is not considered submitted until all fees/ fee waivers have been processed.

Applying online

You can submit an online Application for Dispute Resolution form over the Internet to request a hearing before an arbitrator to resolve a dispute. The filing fee must be paid online by credit card. The Residential Tenancy Branch will then send you information by email about how and when the hearing will be held, how to prepare the hearing packages that you must serve on the respondent(s), and other information related to the dispute resolution process.

Filling out the application form

You must fill out a form called Tenant’s Application for Dispute Resolution, or apply online. When you are applying for dispute resolution, you are the "applicant" and your landlord is the "respondent."

  • You must write the address of your place where you had the problem.
  • You need the legal name and the address of the owner of the property if you are making a monetary claim. If you don't know who the owner is, you can do a title search to find out. For information on how to do this, see TRAC's website- Finding Out Who My Landlord Is. You can name the manager or property manager if your application is to resolve a dispute not related to money.
  • You need to check off the box on the second page of the form that best describes why you are applying for dispute resolution. The arbitrator will only deal with sections of the law that you write down on the form.
  • If you paid the $100 filing fee, check off the box that says you want to recover the cost of the filing fee from your landlord.
  • Include copies of evidence you will use in the hearing with the application. You can also provide it later, as long as you give copies to the landlord and arbitrator as soon as possible, or at least 14 calendar days before the hearing.

Serving notice to your landlord

The Residential Tenancy Branch will give you a package of documents once you apply for dispute resolution. The package will include the date of your hearing, important information about serving documents and include extra copies of the documents for the landlord. You must serve the documents to your landlord within 3 calendar days of receiving them.

There are two ways to serve the documents:

  • In person: Bring a witness who has read the documents when you give them to the landlord. You must give the documents to the landlord within three days.
  • Send by registered mail: Keep the receipt from the post office to prove you sent the notice. Mail the documents to the landlord as soon as you receive them.

Applying for dispute resolution as a group

If you and your neighbours have the same problem with the same landlord, the law says you can apply for dispute resolution as a group. For example, if several tenants have a problem with the heating in a building you can all apply for a repair and service order together. Only one hearing will be held. Not everyone in the group will need to attend the hearing. To apply, you and your neighbours need to fill out forms available from the Residential Tenancy Branch. Call the Residential Tenancy Branch or the Tenant Information Line for more information.

In certain, serious cases, TRAC may be able to represent groups of tenants at their hearings. If you are interested in receiving free representation from TRAC, contact the Tenant Information Line.

How to prepare for a hearing

You can represent yourself at the hearing. You need to present evidence to the arbitrator to tell your side of the story. Your landlord can also present evidence. The arbitrator will make a final decision based on this evidence, so it’s important to prepare your case well and have all your evidence with you. The hearings usually last no longer than one hour from start to finish so it is important that you are organized and that you stay on topic.

Getting help

Government cutbacks to legal aid mean that you can no longer receive legal aid representation for dispute resolution hearings. Many community groups have also had to cut back services. (See the Other Resources section for groups that are still helping tenants at dispute resolution hearings.) You may need to be prepared to represent yourself at a hearing. If you aren't fluent in English, you can bring someone who is fluent in English to the hearing to interpret for you.

Getting organized

Make a list of the most important points you want to make at the dispute resolution hearing. Organize these points in the order that they happened.

Getting evidence

If you have witnesses, it is best if they come to the hearing. If they can't come in person, get a sworn statement. This is your witness' description of what happened, sworn before a lawyer or Notary Public. This will cost you money.

If your hearing is held over the telephone, your witnesses can participate. Give the names and phone numbers of your witnesses to the Residential Tenancy Branch before the hearing. Make sure you talk to your witnesses before the hearing. They need to know what questions you are going to ask them. And you need to know what answers they are going to give!

You can also submit letters, receipts, photographs, audio and video tapes as evidence for the dispute resolution hearing. If you need equipment to play a video or audio tape, you must tell the Residential Tenancy Branch in advance. If you are seeking a monetary order, please use the Residential Tenancy Branch Monetary Order Worksheet. If you are the applicant, you must provide copies of all evidence to the Residential Tenancy Branch and your landlord as soon as possible, or at least 14 days before the hearing. If you are the respondent, you must provide copies of all evidence to the Residential Tenancy Branch and your landlord as soon as possible, or at least seven days before the hearing. Your landlord must do the same. If your evidence is only made available at the hearing, the landlord can ask for the hearing to be held at a later date, or for the arbitrator to not consider it. The arbitrator may refuse to consider evidence not submitted within the deadline.

All evidence must be organized, clear, and legible. The first page of your evidence package should be an index, clearly numbering and describing the evidence included. All parties should have identical copies of your evidence package, so everyone can follow along during the hearing.

Practice presenting your case

Once you have gathered the facts and evidence, practice telling your side of the story. Present your case to a friend who can ask questions if some of your points are confusing. You may need to explain something in a different way to make your point clear.

During the hearing

Organizing your evidence

This includes your tenancy agreement, letters, notices, photographs, receipts and witnesses. Make sure your papers are in the order you want to present them. It is important to discuss all of your evidence during the hearing, because the arbitrator may not consider it unless you explain what it is meant to show.

Have a pen and paper, or computer ready so you can take notes during the hearing.

Dispute resolution for tenants.png

Keep your answers short and to the point

You should only talk about things related to your case. For example, if you are trying to get your damage deposit back, don't bring up your rude neighbours. Also, hearings are only scheduled for one hour so you do not want to run out of time.

Only talk about what you know for sure

It's okay to say that you don't understand a question. It's also okay to say that you don't know or that you've forgotten something. Just tell the truth, and don't make guesses.

Wait your turn

If your landlord is talking to the arbitrator first, you can write down any questions you may want to ask. When it's your turn, you can make your points.

Don't get mad

Even if you think your landlord is rude or lying, try to stay calm. Don't interrupt. Your behaviour in the hearing can influence the arbitrator's decision.

Take an interpreter

If you have trouble speaking or understanding English, bring a friend fluent in English who can interpret for you.

Don't be late!

Dispute resolution hearings can be very brief. If you're late, they will start the hearing without you.

Conference call hearings

Dispute resolution hearings are almost always held by conference call. They are the same as in-person hearings except that you attend by phoning in to the Residential Tenancy Branch. When you apply for a dispute resolution hearing you will be given a hearing package. The first page of the package is a Notice of Hearing and it contains instructions on how to participate in the hearing. You’ll need these instructions when your hearing time arrives. Here are some points to remember about conference call hearings:

  • When your hearing time arrives have your hearing package and all your evidence in front of you.
  • Dial the number provided in your hearing letter, followed by the seven digit code and then the pound sign (#) for access to the conference call. (Dial carefully. If you make a mistake you could miss the hearing.)
  • Try to call about one minute before the hearing time, but not more than five minutes before the hearing. If you call too early you won’t be able to access the call.
  • When you are connected to the call you will hear a message telling you that you are part of a conference call and that you should wait for other participants to come on the line.
  • The arbitrator may come on the line late if held up in another hearing. Do not hang up. Wait on the line so that the arbitrator does not conduct the hearing without you.
  • If you have technical problems getting through to the hearing call the Telus operator (0). Ask the operator to put you through to the Residential Tenancy Branch to sort out your problem. (Calling the Branch directly will mean waiting on hold and potentially missing your hearing.)

The decision

If an arbitrator decides in your favor, the landlord must obey the decision. If the landlord ignores the order, you should contact the Residential Tenancy Branch. In some cases, you may need to go back to dispute resolution. For example, if the landlord ignores an order to do repairs, you will need the Residential Tenancy Branch's permission to take money off your rent to pay for repairs.

Collecting money from the landlord

You could be awarded money back from your landlord at the dispute resolution hearing, but your landlord might not pay you. You should write to your landlord enclosing a copy of the order, and asking them to pay. A Residential Tenancy Branch arbitrator’s order is as serious as any court order. If the landlord doesn't pay, you can file the order at the Small Claims Division of the Provincial Court. (Look in the Blue Pages of the phone book under "Court Registries.") The court staff will explain your options after you have filed the order.

Mistakes in the arbitrator's decision

You can ask an arbitrator to correct a mistake in the decision within 15 days of receiving it. For example, if you won at dispute resolution but there is no mention of getting your $100 filing fee back, it may be a mistake. You can also ask for reasons for the decision, if they are missing or not clear. You must fill out a form from the Residential Tenancy Branch called Request for Correction or Request for Clarification.

Review of a dispute resolution decision

In some cases, you may be able to get a dispute resolution decision reviewed. (This is not an appeal.) You cannot apply for another dispute resolution hearing because you didn't like the decision.

Reasons for review

You can apply for review at the Residential Tenancy Branch for the following reasons:

  • You could not attend the original hearing because something happened that you did not expect and was beyond your control. For example, your car broke down on the way to the hearing or you had a medical emergency. You will need evidence, such as a receipt from a towing company or a note from a doctor.
  • You have new evidence that was not available when the original hearing was held. The evidence must be related to the issues being raised in the hearing. For example, you applied for a repair order and a building inspector’s report was only available after the hearing.
  • You have evidence that the arbitrator’s decision was obtained by fraud. When a person lies to the arbitrator, this is called fraud. You must provide proof of the fraud and show how it influenced the decision.

If you don't meet the grounds for review at the Residential Tenancy Branch, you may be able to apply for a judicial review at the Supreme Court of BC.

Where do I apply?

You can apply for a dispute resolution review at the Residential Tenancy Branch in Burnaby. If you can't access this office, you can apply through a Service BC centre close to where you live. Go to the Service BC website to see locations.

Fee

Applying for a review of a dispute resolution order will cost you $50. If you didn't have to pay a fee for your original hearing, you won't have to pay a fee for the review hearing either.

The application form

You must fill out a form called Application for Review Consideration. An information officer with the Residential Tenancy Branch can explain the form, or you can call the Tenant Information Line for more information. It is important to fully answer the questions on the application and provide evidence of your reasons for wanting a review.

Time limits

You need to apply for a review:

  • within 2 days of the date you received an arbitrator's decision for early termination or an order of possession, or an order regarding assigning or subletting a tenancy, or a landlord's notice to end a tenancy for non-payment of rent,
  • within 5 days of the date you received an arbitrator's decision for a repair, or for a notice to end the tenancy,
  • within 15 days of the date you receive an arbitrator's decision for any other type of dispute resolution hearing.

If your application is submitted after the deadline, the arbitrator will decide whether or not to accept it.

Who will look at my application?

The review could be considered by any arbitrator, including the one who conducted the original hearing. The arbitrator will consider only your application, new evidence that you provide, and the records from the original hearing. You won’t be able to speak to the arbitrator about your application. The arbitrator can refuse your application if you do not have grounds (good enough reasons) for review.

What happens to the original decision?

Applying for review does not automatically stop the decision. The arbitrator may decide to suspend the original decision until the review is complete. This will stop the landlord from enforcing the order. For example, if the original decision was to end your tenancy, the arbitrator may allow you to stay in your place until the review is complete.

Serving notice to your landlord

If the arbitrator approves your application, you will receive written notice that there will be a review. You must deliver the notice about the review within three days. There are two ways to serve the notice:

  • In person: Bring a witness who has read the documents when you give them to the landlord. You must give the documents to the landlord within three days.
  • Send by registered mail: Keep the receipt from the post office to prove you sent the notice. Mail the documents to the landlord as soon as you receive them.

What the arbitrator can do

The arbitrator reviewing the decision can:

  • make a decision based on the written material, like your application, new evidence and written statements provided by you or your landlord,
  • suspend the original decision until the review is complete, or
  • hold another hearing where you and your landlord are asked to participate.

Judicial review at Supreme Court

You can ask for a review of the arbitrator’s decision at a judicial review at the Supreme Court of BC. This is your only option for review if:

  • your case does not meet the grounds for review of a arbitrator's decision provided by the Residential Tenancy Branch, or
  • you want to challenge a arbitrator's decision resulting from a review.

You will probably need a lawyer to represent you in a judicial review. It costs money to apply unless you are considered low income. If you lose, the court could order you to pay the landlord's legal costs. Get legal advice before applying for judicial review. The Community Legal Assistance Society (CLAS) website has some information on preparing for judicial review, or you can call CLAS at 604-685-3425 or toll-free at 1-888-685-6222.

Legislation and links

Legislation

Links

Resources and forms

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.
Personal tools
Namespaces

Variants
Actions
Site
Tools
Contributors
Print/export