Living in Peace When Renting
|This information applies to British Columbia, Canada. Last reviewed for legal accuracy by Tenant Resource & Advisory Centre, 2018.|
DO: respect your neighbours’ right to quiet enjoyment. Treat them how you expect them to treat you.
DO NOT: think that quiet enjoyment gives you the right to complete silence. If you live with neighbouring tenants, you should expect some noise – especially during the day.
The meaning of quiet enjoyment
Section 28 of the Residential Tenancy Act (RTA) covers “quiet enjoyment” – an important legal principle that gives every tenant the right to:
- reasonable privacy;
- freedom from unreasonable disturbances;
- exclusive use of their rental unit (unless their landlord is allowed to enter by law); and
- use of common areas for reasonable purposes.
Here are some situations that may be considered breaches, or violations, of quiet enjoyment:
- unreasonable and ongoing noise;
- unreasonable and ongoing second-hand smoke;
- intimidation or harassment;
- landlord entering your rental unit too frequently;
- landlord entering your rental unit without permission or proper notice; and
- landlord unreasonably refusing you access to common areas of the residential property.
The RTA deals with tenant-landlord relationships – not tenant-tenant relationships. This means that if another tenant has breached your right to quiet enjoyment, and you do not feel comfortable approaching them about the matter, you can ask your landlord to step in and correct the situation. If your landlord fails to ensure that your right to quiet enjoyment is protected, you can take your landlord – not the tenant – to dispute resolution.
Legal landlord entry
To legally enter a rental unit, landlords must provide tenants with written notice at least 24 hours – but not more than 30 days – before entering. The notice must state:
- the date;
- the time (between 8am and 9pm); and
- a reasonable reason for entry, such as making repairs or completing a monthly inspection.
If your landlord has given proper notice, they can enter your rental unit even if you are not home at that time.
Exceptions: A landlord can enter a rental unit without proper notice or permission if:
- there is an emergency and the landlord’s entry is necessary to protect life or property;
- the landlord has obtained a Residential Tenancy Branch order that gives them permission to enter;
- the landlord or an agent of the landlord needs to provide housekeeping services in accordance with the tenancy agreement; or
- the tenant has “abandoned” the rental property, according to Part 5 of the Residential Tenancy Regulation.
See section 29 of the Residential Tenancy Act for more information.
Illegal landlord entry
If your landlord enters your rental unit illegally, write them a letter explaining that they must provide you with proper written notice in the future. If your landlord continues to break the law, an arbitrator can:
- order your landlord to obey the law in the future;
- give you permission to change the locks and keep the only key;
- allow your landlord to enter only under certain conditions; and
- if your landlord’s behaviour is serious enough, order them to pay you money.
It can be difficult to prove to an arbitrator that your landlord entered your home illegally. Evidence such as photos, videos, complaint letters, witness statements, and affidavits can significantly improve your chances of winning a dispute resolution hearing.
Quiet enjoyment gives you the right to be free from unreasonable disturbances; it does not give you the right to complete silence at all times. If you live with neighbouring tenants, you should expect a reasonable amount of noise – especially during the day. In addition, if you live in an older building, you should expect inferior soundproofing compared to more modern buildings. To help you determine what is considered reasonable noise in your neighbourhood, check to see if your municipality has a noise bylaw.
If noise issues become unreasonable, inform your landlord in writing that your right to quiet enjoyment has been breached, or violated. Once notified, your landlord has a responsibility to investigate the problem and, if necessary, correct the situation. Although the police do not normally get involved in residential tenancy disputes, you can consider contacting them in extreme situations, such as an excessively loud party late at night.
If you are searching for housing as a non-smoker, ask about the smoking rules for the entire building – not only the rental unit you are viewing. Some buildings with “no-smoking” policies may still have tenants who smoke because they have lived in the building since before the policy was introduced. Even though these tenants may legally be allowed to smoke, your landlord must still ensure that their smoking does not unreasonably disturb you.
Marijuana: Landlords in BC are allowed to restrict tenants from growing and smoking recreational marijuana in rental properties. Tenants who have been prescribed medical marijuana may have the right to consume it in their rental unit under the BC Human Rights Code, but they must also ensure that they are not violating another tenant’s right to quiet enjoyment under the Residential Tenancy Act.
Intimidation, harassment, and physical harm
Your landlord is never allowed to intimidate, threaten, or harass you. In the same way that a doctor must act professionally about matters related to your health, your landlord should treat you professionally when dealing with your tenancy. They are running a business and you are their customer.
If your landlord’s behaviour endangers your personal safety, you can apply to the Residential Tenancy Branch (RTB) for the right to change your locks and an order instructing your landlord to follow the law. According to section 45(3) of the RTA, you can also consider ending your tenancy early if your landlord has breached a “material term” and failed to correct the situation within a reasonable period after receiving your written warning. According to RTB Policy Guideline 8, a material term is a term that is so important that even the simplest breach or violation may give you the right to end your tenancy. Although this may seem straightforward, material terms can actually be quite complicated and case-by-case; it is possible for the same term to be considered material in one tenancy but not another.
If you end your tenancy due to breach of a material term, your landlord may apply for a monetary order against you, so be prepared to convince an arbitrator that there was no way your tenancy could have continued. Alternatively, you can always apply for dispute resolution to request permission to end your tenancy early.
Calling the police: The police do not generally get involved in residential tenancy disputes. However, if your landlord or another tenant ever physically hurts you, threatens to hurt you, forcibly enters your home, or puts you in danger, contact the police immediately.
According to section 9 of the Schedule in the Residential Tenancy Regulation, your landlord cannot unreasonably restrict guests from entering your rental property or charge you a fee for having guests visit – even if they stay overnight. However, at some point a “guest” becomes an “occupant”, so be reasonable when it comes to overnight visitors. The Residential Tenancy Act (RTA) does not provide any details on the maximum number of days a guest can visit, so use your best judgement.
Your tenancy agreement might try to limit the number of times guests can stay overnight throughout the year. If that is the case, remember that no tenancy agreement in BC can avoid the law, or contain unconscionable terms – even if it has been signed by the tenant. The RTA says that you can have guests visit and stay overnight under reasonable circumstances, and your landlord cannot take that right away. For example, if your tenancy agreement says that you can have overnight visitors for only 14 days per year, there is a reasonable argument to be made at dispute resolution that an arbitrator should find that term to be unconscionable and unenforceable.
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