Entering a Tenancy
|This information applies to British Columbia, Canada. Last reviewed for legal accuracy by Tenant Resource & Advisory Centre, 2018.|
DO: carefully review and sign a tenancy agreement. This is one of the most effective ways you can protect yourself as a tenant.
DO NOT: forget that the Residential Tenancy Act prevents landlords and tenants from “contracting out” of the law. Any term of a tenancy agreement that avoids the law is considered unenforceable.
- 1 Protect yourself with a written contract
- 2 Tenancy agreements
- 3 Roommates
- 4 Changing terms in a tenancy agreement
Protect yourself with a written contract
Although verbal tenancy agreements are covered by the Residential Tenancy Act (RTA), it is always best to have a written agreement with your landlord. Signing a hardcopy contract is one of the best ways you can protect yourself as a tenant, since it proves the terms you agreed to at the start of your tenancy. Your landlord may use the standard Residential Tenancy Branch (RTB) tenancy agreement, or they may use their own custom tenancy agreement. If they choose to use their own agreement, it must have all the standard information required by law – just like the RTB agreement. See section 12 of the RTA and section 13 of the Residential Tenancy Regulation for more information.
Terms in a tenancy agreement
According to section 13 of the Residential Tenancy Act (RTA), every tenancy agreement is supposed to include:
- the standard terms – listed on the Residential Tenancy Branch’s (RTB) standard tenancy agreement and in the Schedule of the Residential Tenancy Regulation (RTR);
- the names of the tenant(s) and landlord(s);
- the address of the rental unit;
- the date the agreement is entered into;
- the address and telephone number of the landlord or landlord’s agent;
- the date the tenancy will start;
- the tenancy period – whether it is on a weekly, monthly, or other basis;
- if a fixed term tenancy, the date on which the tenancy ends;
- if a fixed term tenancy with a “vacate clause”, the date on which the tenant must vacate;
- the amount of rent;
- how much rent varies depending on the number of occupants;
- when rent is due;
- what services and facilities are included in rent; and
- the amount of security deposit or pet damage deposit required, and the date it was or must be paid.
Section 5 of the RTA prevents landlords and tenants from “contracting out” of the law. In other words, if you sign a tenancy agreement with a term that unfairly reduces your rights as a tenant, that term may be considered unenforceable. For example, it is illegal for a landlord to include a term in an agreement that allows them to inspect a tenant’s home at any time without proper notice. Section 29 of the RTA clearly states that landlords must give at least 24 hours notice in writing, and that rule cannot be avoided.
Section 6 of the RTA prevents landlords from including “unconscionable” terms in tenancy agreements. According to section 3 of the RTR and RTB Policy Guideline 8, an unconscionable term is as a term that is oppressive or grossly unfair to one party. For example, RTB Policy Guideline 1 says that it is likely unconscionable for a landlord to include a term in an agreement that requires a tenant to put utilities for another unit in their name.
A month-to-month tenancy does not have a pre-determined date on which it ends. The tenancy continues until the tenant gives proper notice to move out, or until the landlord legally ends the tenancy. Section 1 of the RTA refers to a month-to-month tenancy as a “periodic tenancy”. Month-to-month tenancies are by far the most common type of periodic tenancy, but a tenancy can also be established on a weekly or other periodic basis.
Pros: Month-to-month tenancies offer flexibility. If your life takes an unexpected turn that requires you to move, you are only required to provide one-month notice in writing to end your tenancy.
Cons: Month-to-month tenancies leave you vulnerable to evictions for “landlord’s use”. If your landlord wants to occupy your rental unit, allow a “close family member” to occupy the unit, make major renovations, or demolish your building, they can issue you a Two Month or Four Month Eviction Notice for Landlord’s Use of Property under section 49 of the RTA.
Fixed term tenancies
A fixed term tenancy – often referred to as a “lease” – has a pre-determined date on which the tenancy ends or is up for renewal – most commonly after one year. If you enter into a fixed term tenancy, pay close attention to what your agreement says happens at the end of the term. There are three possibilities:
- You must vacate at the end of the fixed term: This type of “vacate clause” can only be used in limited circumstances listed in section 13.1 of the RTR, or when a subtenant is signing a temporary sublease. If you have this type of fixed term tenancy, you must move out at the end of the term and you are not entitled to any compensation.
- The tenancy may continue on a month-to-month or another fixed term basis: You and your landlord can mutually agree to extend your tenancy for another fixed term. However, if you would prefer that your tenancy instead continue on a month-to-month basis, your landlord cannot force you to renew the agreement on a fixed term basis. If you do not want your tenancy to continue on either a month-to-month or fixed term basis because you plan to move out at the end of the term, you must provide your landlord with one full month notice in writing.
- The tenancy agreement does not say what will happen at the end of the fixed term: According to section 44(3) of the RTA, if your tenancy agreement is silent on the matter, it will automatically continue on a month-to-month basis, unless you and your landlord mutually agree to renew on a fixed term basis. Again, if you plan to move out at the end of the fixed term, you must provide one full month notice in writing.
Pros: Fixed term tenancies offer stability. For the duration of your agreement, you cannot be evicted because of a Two Month or Four Month Eviction Notice for Landlord’s Use of Property.
Cons: Fixed term tenancies provide less flexibility than month-to-month tenancies. If you need to end your tenancy early – also known as “breaking your lease” – you may end up owing your landlord some money.
See RTB Policy Guideline 30 for more information.
Sections 6 and 7 of the RTR list the refundable and non-refundable fees that a landlord can legally charge a tenant.
Late payment of rent: Your landlord can charge a non-refundable fee of up to $25 for late payment of rent, but only if this term has been written into your tenancy agreement.
New, replacement, and additional keys: Your landlord can charge a non-refundable fee for replacing a key that you lost, or for providing an additional key at your request. This fee cannot be more than the direct cost of the key. Your landlord can also charge you a refundable fee if they provide you with any keys in addition to the key that provides your sole means of access to the residential property. Again, this fee cannot be more than the direct cost of the key. At the start of your tenancy, your landlord cannot charge you a fee for rekeying the locks.
Returned cheque: If you do not have enough money in your bank account when your landlord tries to deposit your rent cheque, your bank may charge your landlord a service fee. If this happens, your landlord can require that you pay them back for the cost of the fee. In addition, your landlord can charge you a non-refundable fee of up to $25 for the return of your cheque by a financial institution, but only if this term has been written into your tenancy agreement.
Moving fees: If you request to move to a new rental unit within the same property, your landlord can charge you a non-refundable fee that does not exceed the greater of $15 or 3% of your rent. Also, if you live in a building or complex managed by a strata corporation, you may be required to pay non-refundable move-in and move-out fees.
A security deposit – often referred to as a “damage deposit” – is money that a landlord collects at the start of a tenancy and holds until the end of the tenancy. According to section 19(1) of the RTA, the maximum amount a landlord can charge for a security deposit is half the monthly rent. If your landlord requires a security deposit, you must pay it within 30 days of the date it is required to be paid.
A security deposit secures the tenancy for you and your landlord. Once you have paid your deposit, you cannot decide to move in somewhere else, and your landlord cannot decide to rent to someone else. If you pay a security deposit but do not move in, your landlord may be allowed to keep your deposit. You may even have to pay additional money to cover the cost associated with re-renting your unit, or to cover your landlord’s lost rental income if they cannot find a replacement tenant.
Security deposits also cover damage. If your landlord believes you are responsible for damage beyond reasonable wear and tear, they can ask the RTB for permission to keep your security deposit.
Applying your security deposit towards rent: According to section 21 of the RTA, you are not allowed to apply your security deposit towards rent without your landlord’s permission. For example, you cannot pay only half of your last month’s rent and tell your landlord to cover the remaining half with your security deposit, unless you have their written consent.
Pets and pet damage deposits
According to section 18 of the RTA, landlords can restrict pets entirely, or set limits on the number, size, or type of pets a tenant can have in their rental unit. If your landlord allows you to have a pet, it is important to include that term in your tenancy agreement. Do not rely on verbal permission alone – make sure it is in writing.
If you are allowed to have a pet, your landlord can require a pet damage deposit of up to half the monthly rent. This is the maximum amount a landlord can charge for a pet damage deposit, regardless of how many pets you have. You will have to pay this deposit either at the start of your tenancy, or when you get a pet at any point during your tenancy. If your pet causes extraordinary damage or unreasonably disturbs others, your landlord may try to evict you and keep your pet damage deposit. See RTB Policy Guidelines 28 and 31 for more information.
Guide dogs: If you have a dog that falls under the Guide Dog and Service Dog Act, your landlord must allow it and cannot require a pet damage deposit.
Overpaying a deposit
The maximum amount you can be charged for a security deposit or pet damage deposit is half the monthly rent. If you have been overcharged for either, section 19(2) of the RTA allows you to deduct the overpayment from your next month’s rent. Some landlords may not know that tenants have this right, so make sure to clearly communicate with your landlord if you decide to deduct rent for this reason. If you are not comfortable withholding rent, you can apply for dispute resolution to recover the overpayment.
“Co-tenants” are roommates who share a single tenancy agreement. Each pay period, co-tenants collectively pay rent to their landlord, and decide among themselves how to divide the cost. This is the most common type of roommate setup for couples, friends, and families. To ensure that you are considered a co-tenant rather than an “occupant/roommate”, make sure your name is clearly listed on your tenancy agreement.
Co-tenants are jointly responsible for everything related to their tenancy, which means they are all equally responsible for each other’s behaviour. If the full rent is not paid on time because of one co-tenant, the landlord could issue an eviction notice that applies to everyone. Similarly, if damage has been caused to the rental unit, the landlord could choose to seek monetary compensation from any roommate – even if it was not that person’s fault.
Disputes between co-tenants: Disputes between co-tenants are not covered by the Residential Tenancy Act (RTA) and cannot be resolved through the Residential Tenancy Branch (RTB). A common dispute can arise when one roommate is late with their portion of the rent, and the other roommates are forced to pay the difference to avoid eviction. From a legal standpoint, this type of monetary dispute would have to be settled through Small Claims Court, the Civil Resolution Tribunal, or BC Supreme Court.
Problems can also arise when one co-tenant decides to move out, as that decision can affect the remaining co-tenants. Here are the two possible scenarios for when a co-tenant moves out:
- If the roommate leaving gives proper notice in writing to move out, the tenancy will end for the other co-tenants as well – even if they did not sign the notice. The remaining roommates will have to either move out or sign a brand-new tenancy agreement in order to stay.
- the roommate leaving does not give proper notice in writing to move out, the tenancy will continue and all of the co-tenants will still be responsible for paying the full rent on time. The remaining co-tenants may wish to speak to the landlord about legally ending the tenancy or amending the tenancy agreement to add a replacement roommate.
See RTB Policy Guideline 13 for more information.
Tenants in common
“Tenants in common” are tenants who live in the same rental unit but have separate tenancy agreements with the landlord. For example, a landlord may rent out individual bedrooms in a house under separate agreements. With this type of roommate setup, you are only responsible for your own behaviour. If another tenant fails to pay their rent on time or decides to move out, it will have no legal effect on your tenancy.
Sharing common space in this way can be an effective way to get cheaper rent without having to sign an agreement with another person. However, the disadvantage of this type of setup is that your landlord may not consult you when choosing your roommates.
Problems between tenants in common: Disputes between tenants in common are not covered by the RTA and cannot be resolved through the RTB. If you and another tenant in common have a dispute relating to your tenancy that cannot be settled on your own, consider putting your concerns to your landlord in writing. Once notified, your landlord should attempt to intervene and correct the situation. Alternatively, some legal problems may have to be settled through Small Claims Court, the Civil Resolution Tribunal, or BC Supreme Court.
Occupants / roommates
An “occupant/roommate” is a person who rents from a tenant with whom they live, rather than the landlord, and is therefore not covered under the RTA. This living situation is common in shared houses where a “head-tenant” rents out bedrooms to roommates. If you enter this kind of arrangement, you will not be protected by the RTA, and TRAC and the RTB will not be able to assist you. See RTB Policy Guideline 19 for more information.
Disputes between “occupants/roommates” and tenants/landlords: Occupants/roommates cannot use the RTB’s dispute resolution system to settle disputes with tenants, landlords, or other occupants/roommates. Instead, any legal problems would have to be settled through Small Claims Court, the Civil Resolution Tribunal, or BC Supreme Court.
Changing terms in a tenancy agreement
Aside from the exceptions listed in section 14(3) of the RTA, the terms of a tenancy agreement can only be changed by mutual consent. If you and your landlord both agree to a change, feel free to amend your existing agreement. For example, you can cross out a term, enter a new one, add the date, and both initial the change. Alternatively, you can sign an addendum on a separate sheet of paper that outlines the agreed upon change. Either way, make sure that you receive a copy of the revised tenancy agreement or addendum. See section 14 of the Residential Tenancy Act for more information.
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