Repair and Service of Tenant’s Residence (19:VII)
A. Duty to Provide and Maintain Rental Unit in Repair
Sections 32(1)(a) and (b) of the RTA provide that a landlord must provide and maintain residential property in a state of decoration and repair that complies with the health, housing and safety standards required by law, and having regard to the age, character and location of the rental unit. It must be suitable for tenant occupation. With respect to a landlord’s obligation to repair, the RTR Schedule states that the landlord must provide and maintain the residential property in a reasonable state of decoration and repair, suitable for occupation by a tenant.
A landlord is responsible for repairing:
- the rental structure, and roof;
- heating, plumbing, electricity;
- locks, walls, floors, ceilings;
- fire doors, and fire escapes;
- intercoms, elevators; and
- anything else included in a tenant’s rent, if so identified in the tenancy agreement.
If a landlord is required to make a repair to comply with the above obligations, the tenant should be advised to notify the landlord of the need for repair (preferably in writing). If the landlord refuses to make the repair, the tenant may seek an Arbitrator’s order. If the tenant fails to notify the landlord and substantial damage results from the lack of repair, the tenant may have breached his or her duty.
When a tenant goes to the RTB to request a repair order, they may also request for a rent reduction until the repair is complete.
Tenants must maintain “ordinary health, cleanliness and sanitary standards” in their rental unit. Tenants must also repair damage caused to the rental unit and property (this includes common areas) by their or their pet’s wilful or negligent acts or omissions, or those of a person permitted by him or her on the rental unit or property (RTA, s 32(3)). There is no duty to repair reasonable wear and tear (s 32(4)).
B. Withholding Rent
A tenant cannot withhold rent because of repairs needed unless an Arbitrator gives an order permitting it. Another way to seek repairs can be through the local municipality’s Standards of Maintenance bylaw however this is only the case in some municipalities, for example, Vancouver, the City of North Vancouver, and New Westminster. Tenants should check with the municipality to see if there is a Standards of Maintenance bylaw in place. A tenant can call a local municipality and ask for a free inspection if the repair problem relates to structural defects (requiring a building inspector), health problem (e.g. mould or pests), or fire problem (e.g. fire inspection for fire exits, smoke alarms). The inspection may result in a formal report and may require the landlord to conduct repairs. The inspection report can also be important evidence to present at an RTB dispute resolution when seeking a Repair Order or an Order for reduction in rent.
NOTE: There is a risk attached to calling a City Inspector. The inspection could result in the municipality ordering the suite vacated, resulting in an eviction for the tenants.
C. Emergency Repairs
Before advising any tenant on this course of action, an advocate should be aware that this is a rather complicated area. To qualify, the repairs must fall into the categories below, and must be urgent and necessary for the health and safety of persons or the preservation and use of the property and rental units. Pursuant to s 33, a tenant may conduct emergency repairs without going to dispute resolution if the landlord fails to make repairs within a reasonable time after a tenant has made a reasonable effort on two or more occasions to contact the landlord. Sometimes there is a discrepancy between what a tenant, landlord, and RTB might consider ‘emergency’ repairs. Before a tenant conducts any repairs, he or she should call the Residential Tenancy Branch, speak to an Information Officer, and make note of the Officer’s name and what the Officer tells them. The specific types of repairs that may qualify as emergency repairs are urgent, necessary for the health, safety or preservation of property AND concern:
- major leaks in the pipes or roof;
- damaged or blocked water or sewer pipes or plumbing fixtures;
- malfunction of the central or primary heating system;
- defective locks that give access to the residential premises;
- electrical system repair.
Emergency repair is a complicated area. Tenants must follow the exact procedure under s 33(3) of the RTA or the landlord can make a claim against the tenant. All steps taken should be documented fully. Emergency repairs usually constitute a large repair bill and should only be undertaken by the tenant in the clearest of circumstances. When in doubt, apply first to an Arbitrator for a Repair Order, refer to a Property Use Inspector, or investigate local Standards of Maintenance bylaws.
D. Terminating or Restricting Services or Facilities
A service or facility, as defined in s 1 of the RTA, includes: furniture, appliances and furnishings; parking and related facilities; cable television facilities; utilities and related services; cleaning or maintenance services; maid services; laundry facilities; storage facilities; elevator facilities; common recreational facilities; intercom systems; garbage facilities and related services; and heating facilities or services.
Sections 27(1)(a) and (b) of the RTA provides that a landlord must not terminate or restrict a service or facility if it is essential to the tenant’s use of the rental unit as living accommodation, or providing the service or facility is a material term of the tenancy agreement.
Section 27(2) of the RTA provides that a landlord may terminate or restrict a service or facility other than one referred to in ss 27(1)(a) or (b) if the landlord gives 30 days written notice, in the approved form, of the termination or restriction, and reduces the rent in an amount that is equivalent to the reduction in the value of the tenancy agreement resulting from the termination or restriction of the service or facility. The tenant may dispute the restriction or termination on the basis that the service being restricted or terminated constitutes an essential service.
See RTB Policy Guideline 22: Termination or Restriction of a Service or Facility.
Bedbugs are an increasing problem in British Columbia, particularly in the West End and Downtown Eastside of Vancouver. Bedbugs are small (about 1/5 inch long) parasites that tend to live in and around bed frames, cracks in walls, along baseboards, and under carpet edges. They are active at night, coming out to feed on sleeping people before returning to their crevices and crannies. Bedbugs are extremely difficult to get rid of, and the extermination process can be frustrating for both landlords and tenants.
1. Landlord Obligations
Under s 32(1) of the RTA, landlords must maintain the property in a state of repair that complies with health standards and is suitable for human occupation. Although bedbugs are not a public health risk (they do not transmit infectious diseases), they are still considered a pest and an infestation creates unsuitable living conditions. Some municipalities, such as Vancouver, have Standards of Maintenance bylaws that require landlords to get rid of pest infestations. If a landlord is refusing to treat the infestation, a tenant can call their municipality for an inspection and for an order that the building be treated. Each municipality’s bylaws will vary, so it is best to call city hall.
Landlords are obligated to bear the cost for treatment of an infestation, provided the tenant cooperates with treatment (see Tenant Obligations below). In Vancouver, the Health Bylaw mandates that only a trained and certified person can spray pesticides in a multiple-unit dwelling. The landlord should not, and legally cannot, do it themselves. There are also other requirements in the Health Bylaw, such as notification in writing 72 hours prior to spraying. The pesticide technician should also adhere to the label on the pesticide bottles.
2. Tenant Obligations
Under s 32(2) of the RTA, the tenant is also obligated to maintain the property in a sanitary condition. This includes notifying the landlord of any suspected infestation. Upon discovery of a bedbug infestation, the tenant is obligated to cooperate with the landlord in treating the infestation. If tenants do not cooperate, they could be found liable for the cost of treatment, or be evicted. The landlord is obligated to get rid of the infestation unless it can be proven the tenant brought the bedbugs with them when they moved in.
If a landlord refuses to have the suite or building treated, the tenant can apply to the RTB for an order compelling the landlord to do so, or as noted above can get an order from a city inspector. Vancouver Coastal Health no longer does inspections, but is available to answer questions over the phone at 604-675-3800.
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