|This information applies to British Columbia, Canada. Last reviewed for legal accuracy by Anna Kurt, Ganapathi Law Group in July 2018.|
BC’s residential tenancy law applies to most types of rental housing in the province. Learn key aspects of this law, and answers to common questions raised by tenants and landlords.
- 1 What you should know
- 1.1 BC’s residential tenancy law
- 1.2 Responsibilities of tenants and landlords
- 1.3 At the beginning of a tenancy
- 1.4 Ending a tenancy — by the landlord
- 1.5 Ending a tenancy — by the tenant
- 1.6 How disputes are resolved
- 2 Common questions
- 2.1 Can a landlord ask for a security deposit at the beginning of a tenancy?
- 2.2 What kinds of fees can a landlord charge?
- 2.3 When can a landlord increase rent?
- 2.4 Can a tenant sublet their unit?
- 2.5 Can a landlord enter a tenant’s rental unit?
- 2.6 What if a tenant’s right to quiet enjoyment is not respected?
- 2.7 What if a landlord won’t make a needed repair?
- 2.8 Can a landlord take away a service?
- 2.9 At the end of a tenancy, how can a tenant get their security deposit back?
- 3 Who can help
What you should know
BC’s residential tenancy law
Most rental housing in BC is governed by the Residential Tenancy Act. This is BC’s main law setting out protections for tenants and landlords. It applies to rental apartments and rented houses, including secondary suites. It also applies to rentals in many other types of housing, such as rented strata units and rented co-op units.
But it doesn’t cover all types of tenancies. For example, tenancies in manufactured home parks are covered by the Manufactured Home Park Tenancy Act.
The Residential Tenancy Branch is the BC government agency that administers the Residential Tenancy Act. Here's the branch's website. They help tenants and landlords resolve problems by providing a formal dispute resolution process. We explain this process shortly.
Responsibilities of tenants and landlords
Under BC’s residential tenancy law, tenants are responsible for:
- paying rent and other fees in the tenancy agreement on time
- keeping the rental unit and common areas clean
- repairing any damage they or their guests cause, as soon as possible (this does not include reasonable wear and tear)
- telling the landlord of any needed repairs or problems, such as mice, cockroaches, or bedbugs
- not disturbing other people living in the building or neighbouring property and not letting guests do so either
Landlords are responsible for:
- making sure the rental unit and the building are reasonably safe, healthy, and suitable to live in
- providing a tenancy agreement, condition inspection reports, and giving receipts for rent or other fees paid in cash
- doing repairs and keeping the rental unit and building in good condition
- ensuring the rental unit and building has proper heating, plumbing, electricity, locks, walls, floors, and ceilings (with no water leaks or holes)
- maintaining anything included in the tenancy agreement, such as the fridge, stove, laundry facilities, garages, and storage sheds
- paying the utility bills if utilities are included in the rent
At the beginning of a tenancy
Before renting a unit, a tenant should:
The tenancy agreement
Under the Residential Tenancy Act, a landlord must prepare a written tenancy agreement for every tenancy. The tenancy agreement must cover several things, including whether the tenancy is periodic (for example, weekly or monthly) or a fixed term, the amount of the rent, when rent is due, what services are included, and the amount of the security deposit. The Residential Tenancy Branch website has a tenancy agreement template.
Both the landlord and tenant must sign and date the tenancy agreement. Within 21 days of entering into the agreement, the landlord must give the tenant a copy of the agreement.
If a landlord doesn’t prepare a tenancy agreement, standard terms prescribed under BC’s residential tenancy law apply to the tenancy.
Condition inspection report
The landlord and tenant together must inspect the condition of the rental unit at the start of the tenancy. The landlord must complete a condition inspection report, and both parties must sign it. This is a written record of the condition of the rental unit. The report should show if the rental unit is not in good condition. For example, there may be stains on the rug or holes in the walls. The report can include photographs. This report can be useful if there is a disagreement later.
The landlord must give the tenant a copy of the condition inspection report within seven days after the inspection is completed.
Ending a tenancy — by the landlord
A landlord can give a tenant a notice to end tenancy for certain reasons. The tenant can dispute the landlord’s reasons. The most common reasons are explained here.
For failing to pay rent
A tenant must pay their rent, in full and on time. If they don’t, the landlord can give the tenant a 10-day notice to end tenancy for non-payment of rent. Then the tenant has five days either to pay all the rent owing — which cancels the notice — or to apply for dispute resolution. Otherwise, the tenant must move out within 10 days after receiving the notice.
If a tenant does neither, the landlord can apply to the Residential Tenancy Branch for an order of possession. The branch may issue the order without holding a hearing.
A landlord cannot take a tenant’s personal property or lock the tenant out for failing to pay rent. If a landlord takes a tenant’s property, the tenant can apply for dispute resolution, asking the branch to order the landlord to return the property or pay the tenant for it.
The landlord must give the tenant one month’s notice in this case. The most common cause is repeated late payment of rent. Other common causes are disturbing other occupants, seriously damaging the rental unit or the building, or having too many people living in the rental unit.
Other reasons a landlord may point to as amounting to cause include taking part in illegal activity that harms — or is likely to harm — the building or other occupants, or breaking a rule in the tenancy agreement and ignoring a landlord’s written notice.
For demolition, renovation or repair, or conversion
A landlord must give a tenant four months’ notice of this. A tenant has 30 days to dispute it. A landlord may want to renovate or tear down the building or convert it to condominiums. A tenant is entitled to one month’s rent when a landlord issues a four-month notice to end a tenancy.
If a landlord or purchaser ends a tenancy with this notice but then doesn’t take steps to follow through with the stated plans within a reasonable time, or use the place for the stated purpose for at least six months, they must compensate the tenant for 12 months’ rent. A tenant must apply to the branch to get this extra compensation.
For use by landlord or purchaser or their close family member
A landlord must give a tenant two months’ notice of this. A tenant has 15 days to dispute it. A tenant is entitled to one month’s rent when a landlord issues a two-month notice to end a tenancy.
If a landlord or purchaser ends a tenancy with this notice but then doesn’t take steps to follow through with the stated plans within a reasonable time, they must compensate the tenant for 12 months’ rent. A tenant must apply to the Residential Tenancy Branch to get this extra compensation.
Ending a tenancy — by the tenant
A tenant can end a tenancy by giving written notice to the landlord. The notice must include the address of the rental unit and the date the tenant is moving out.
For a month-to-month or periodic tenancy, the landlord must receive the tenant’s notice at least one month before the effective date of the notice and before the final month’s rent is due.
For a fixed-term tenancy that requires the tenant to move out at the end of the term, the tenant can move then without giving the landlord notice. For a fixed-term tenancy that doesn’t require the tenant to move out at the end of the term, the tenant must give written notice to end the tenancy at least one month before the effective date of the notice and before the day that rent is due.
A tenant may also be able to end a tenancy if a landlord breaches a material term. For example, if the landlord refuses to provide essential services such as heat, electricity or water. The tenant must first give written warning that a term has been breached and ask the landlord to fix the breach. If, after a reasonable time, the landlord has not fixed the breach, the tenant can end the tenancy after the landlord receives notice in writing.
How disputes are resolved
Dispute resolution is the formal process for resolving disputes between landlords and tenants. The process involves a hearing, like a court hearing, but less formal. Hearings are usually by phone teleconference. Both landlords and tenants can explain their side of the case and call witnesses to do the same.
The Residential Tenancy Branch website explains how to apply for dispute resolution. The site also offers tips on how to prepare for a hearing, and how to ask for review of a decision.
Applying for dispute resolution
A landlord or tenant can apply online or at a branch office, unless there isn’t one nearby. Then, apply at a Service BC office. There’s an application fee. The amount depends on the type of application.
If you apply for dispute resolution, you will receive an information package you must serve on (give to) the other side, in person or by registered mail.
At the hearing
The parties have an opportunity to present evidence related to the claim. An arbitrator makes a final and legally-binding decision.
Review of a decision
A party to a dispute resolution proceeding may apply to the Residential Tenancy Branch for a review of the arbitrator’s decision.
A review may only be considered if:
- a party couldn’t attend the hearing due to circumstances they couldn’t foresee or control, or
- a party has new evidence not available at the time of the hearing (meaning it did not exist), or
- a party has evidence that the decision was obtained by fraud.
Can a landlord ask for a security deposit at the beginning of a tenancy?
Yes. A landlord can require a tenant to pay up to a half-month’s rent as a security deposit. But they can’t require another deposit if the rent goes up during the tenancy. A tenant should pay the deposit when they sign the tenancy agreement. They have to pay it within 30 days of moving in. If they don’t, the landlord can give them a one-month notice to end the tenancy. A tenant should always get a receipt for the security deposit. A landlord has to give a receipt if the tenant pays with cash.
A landlord can also require a pet damage deposit of another half-month’s rent — but only one deposit, no matter how many pets a tenant has.
A landlord must pay interest on security and pet damage deposits when returning the deposits to the tenant — at the rate the BC government sets each year. The Residential Tenancy Branch website has a deposits calculator.
What kinds of fees can a landlord charge?
A landlord can charge a refundable fee for keys and other access devices — but not if the key or access device is the tenant’s only way to access the property. They must repay the fee when the tenant returns the key or device.
A landlord can charge a non-refundable fee for things like additional keys, access devices, and garage-door openers, and to replace these things. They can also charge a non-refundable fee for certain other things, such as a service charge from a financial institution if a tenant’s cheque is returned.
In all cases, the fees can’t be more than the actual cost of the items.
When can a landlord increase rent?
A landlord can increase rent only once in a 12-month period and only by the amount allowed under the Residential Tenancy Act. The Residential Tenancy Branch website includes a rent increase calculator. Before increasing rent, a landlord must give a tenant three full months’ notice using the form called notice of rent increase. The landlord must also serve the notice on the tenant in the way the Act requires.
Can a tenant sublet their unit?
A tenant can assign or sublet their tenancy agreement with the consent of the landlord. The landlord’s consent is always required, but the landlord must not unreasonably withhold consent if the tenant has a fixed-term tenancy of six months or more.
If a tenant gets a roommate who does not have a tenancy agreement with the landlord, the roommate is not covered by residential tenancy laws and does not have any standing with the landlord. Disputes between tenants and roommates are not handled by the Residential Tenancy Branch. Instead, the parties would have to go to the Civil Resolution Tribunal (for disputes up to $5,000) or Small Claims Court (for disputes from $5,000 to $35,000).
Can a landlord enter a tenant’s rental unit?
Under the Residential Tenancy Act, a landlord can’t enter a tenant’s unit, except in certain specific situations. A landlord can enter a tenant’s unit:
- In an emergency, like a fire or flood.
- If the landlord gives the tenant between 24 hours and 30 days written notice, saying what date and time they want to come in, and giving a good reason, such as doing repairs or showing the unit to potential tenants or purchasers.
- If the landlord gets an order from the Residential Tenancy Branch to enter the rental unit.
- If the landlord wants to inspect the rental unit. They can do this once a month — if they give proper notice.
- If the landlord has the tenant’s permission.
Except in an emergency, a landlord can come in only between 8 am and 9 pm — unless the tenant agrees to other times. Neither tenants nor landlords may change locks, except in an emergency or if they both agree in writing.
What if a tenant’s right to quiet enjoyment is not respected?
Under the Residential Tenancy Act, a tenant is entitled to quiet enjoyment of their rental unit. This includes the right to reasonable privacy and to be free from unreasonable disturbance. A landlord can’t interfere, or let other occupants or employees interfere, with a tenant’s right to quiet enjoyment of their unit. Noise, sights, and smells can all interfere with quiet enjoyment. If a tenant has noisy neighbours, they can call the police, as well as the landlord. The outcome in part depends on the municipal noise bylaw where the tenant lives. Some municipalities prohibit noise after a certain time at night.
A tenant can’t withhold rent if their landlord or other tenants interfere with their privacy or quiet enjoyment. However, they can apply for dispute resolution and compensation.
A tenant can have guests — they’re not the landlord’s business. But if it looks like the guests have moved in, the tenant may be breaking the tenancy agreement. The landlord may increase the rent — but only if the tenancy agreement allows for a rent increase if more people move into the rental unit. Or the landlord may try to end the tenancy because of an unreasonable number of occupants.
What if a landlord won’t make a needed repair?
If a landlord won’t make a necessary repair, a tenant should first talk to the landlord and then make a written request to the landlord to make the repair. If that doesn’t work, the tenant can apply for dispute resolution. A tenant should not hold back rent or pay for the repairs, hoping the landlord will pay them back — unless the landlord has agreed in writing to do so.
Can a landlord take away a service?
A landlord can take away a service (but not an essential service) if they give 30 days’ written notice to the tenant and reduce the rent by the value of the cancelled service.
At the end of a tenancy, how can a tenant get their security deposit back?
At the end of the tenancy, the landlord and tenant together must do an inspection of the rental unit. The landlord must complete a condition inspection report. The landlord must give the tenant a copy of the inspection report within 15 days after the tenant moves out or when they get the tenant’s forwarding address — whichever is later. A landlord who doesn’t complete the report may lose the right to claim against the security deposit for any damages to the unit or building. A tenant who doesn’t do the inspection may lose the right to get their security deposit back.
After a tenant moves out and gives a landlord a forwarding address in writing, the landlord must do one of the following things within 15 days:
- return the security deposit and any pet damage deposit with interest
- ask the tenant to agree in writing to any deductions the landlord wants to keep and then return the rest of the deposits
- file a dispute resolution application asking to keep some or all of the deposits
If the landlord does not do any of these things, the tenant may be able to get double the deposit provided. If a tenant gives the landlord their written forwarding address within one year of moving out, but the landlord does not return the deposit, the tenant has two years from the end of the tenancy to apply to the Residential Tenancy Branch for dispute resolution and an order that the landlord return double the deposit.
If the tenant does not give the landlord their forwarding address within one year of moving out, the landlord can keep the security deposit and the pet damage deposit.
Who can help
With more information
The Residential Tenancy Branch is the BC government agency that administers the Residential Tenancy Act. They help tenants and landlords resolve problems by providing a formal dispute resolution process.
- Call 604-660-1020 (Lower Mainland), 250-387-1602 (Victoria) or 1-800-665-8779 (toll-free)
- Visit website
The Tenant Resource & Advisory Centre (TRAC) offers a telephone infoline to help tenants experiencing legal problems. They also provide free representation to tenants at dispute resolution hearings in limited situations.
- Call 604-255-0546 (Lower Mainland) or 1-800-665-1185 (toll-free)
- Visit website
Landlord BC represents landlords and property managers throughout BC, providing advice and answers to legal questions.
- Call 250-382-6324 (Victoria) or 1-888-330-6707 (toll-free)
- Visit website
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