Script 410 gives general information only, not legal advice. If you have a legal problem or need legal advice, you should speak to a lawyer. For the name of a lawyer to consult, call Lawyer Referral at 604.687.3221 in the lower mainland or 1.800.663.1919 elsewhere in British Columbia.
This script has information on residential tenancy. It does not cover every topic for all tenants and landlords. Instead, it gives other information sources, including the Residential Tenancy Branch – called the Branch in this script. This BC government agency administers the Residential Tenancy Act, (called the Act) – it’s the main law in this area. Both the Act and the Residential Tenancy Regulation are available at www.bclaws.ca. The Branch also provides several important services to tenants and landlords.
What are tenants 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. Also, 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.
- Not putting others in the building in danger and not letting guests do so either.
What are landlords 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. 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 should then apply for dispute resolution (explained below). Tenants should not hold back rent or pay for the repairs, hoping that the landlord will pay them back – unless the landlord has agreed in writing to do so.
- Ensuring that 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 fridge, stove, laundry facilities, garages, and storage sheds. 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.
- Paying the utility bills if utilities are included in the rent.
- Investigating any complaints about a tenant disturbing other tenants.
- Not discriminating based on a person’s race, colour, ancestry, place of origin, religion, marital status, family status, physical or mental disability, gender, sexual orientation, age or lawful source of income (this is from section 10 of the BC Human Rights Code – check script 236 for details).
What should tenants do before renting a unit?
- Inspect the rental unit carefully, with the landlord, and make sure it’s suitable.
- Read the tenancy agreement before signing it.
- Know who the landlord is and get the landlord’s full name, address, and phone number (provided on the tenancy agreement).
Condition inspection reports
Landlords and tenants must do an inspection of the rental unit at the start of the tenancy, and then, both the landlord and tenant must complete and sign a Condition Inspection Report – a written record of the condition the rental unit is in. 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 within 7 days of the move-in inspection.
At the end of the tenancy, the landlord and tenant must do another inspection and complete another Condition Inspection Report. The landlord must give the tenant a copy of the move-out report within 15 days after the tenant moves out or when they get the tenant’s forwarding address – whichever is later. Landlords who don’t do the report may lose the right to claim against the security deposit for any damages to the unit or building. Tenants who don’t do the report may lose the right to get their security deposit back.
Written tenancy agreements
The Act requires landlords and tenants to use a written tenancy agreement covering several items, such as legal names of both landlord and tenant, address of the rental unit, amount of rent and when rent is due, what the rent includes, start date of the tenancy, and amount of the security deposit. Even if the tenancy agreement does not have a required term, the Act treats the agreement as if it has the term. The Branch website (www.rto.gov.bc.ca) has a sample tenancy agreement.
Security deposits and pet damage deposits
Landlords 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. Tenants 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 1-Month Notice to End Tenancy. Tenants should always get a receipt for the security deposit. Landlords have to give a receipt if tenants pay with cash.
Landlords 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.
Landlords 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 Branch website has a rate calculator.
After a tenant moves out and gives a landlord a forwarding address in writing, the landlord has to do one of the following things within 15 days:
- Return the deposits 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 security deposit. 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 2 years from the end of the tenancy to apply to the Branch for dispute resolution and an order that the landlord return double the deposit.
Fees: both refundable and non-refundable
Landlords 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 have to repay the fee when the tenant returns the key or device. Section 6 of the Regulation (available at www.bclaws.ca) covers refundable fees.
Landlords 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. Section 7 of the Regulation covers non-refundable fees.
In all cases, the fees can’t be more than the actual cost of the items.
How landlords can end a tenancy
Landlords can give tenants a Notice to End Tenancy only for certain reasons – the forms for this are on the Branch website. The tenant can dispute the landlord’s reasons. The most common reasons are as follows:
For failing to pay rent – tenants must pay all the rent, on time. If they don’t, the landlord can give the tenant a “10-day notice to end tenancy” for non-payment of rent (available on the Branch website). Then the tenant has 5 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 will likely apply to the Branch for an Order of Possession through the Dispute Resolution Process. The Branch may issue the Order of Possession without holding a hearing that the landlord or tenant participate in.
A landlord cannot take a tenant’s personal property or lock the tenant out for failing to pay rent. But a landlord can apply for dispute resolution, asking the Branch for an order to get back possession of a rental unit. 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.
For cause – 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; having too many people living in the rental unit; taking part in illegal activity that harms – or is likely to harm – the landlord, building, or other occupants of the building; or breaking a rule in the tenancy agreement and ignoring a landlord’s written notice.
For change of use – the landlord must give the tenant 2 month’s notice of this. Usually, the landlord or the landlord's family wants to move in, or the landlord sells the rental unit and the new owner or the new owner’s family wants to move in. Or the landlord may want to renovate or tear down the building or convert it to condominiums. The tenant is entitled to one month’s rent when a landlord issues a 2-Month Notice for change of use.
Landlords can increase rent only once in a 12-month period and only by the amount the Act allows. The amount is listed on the Branch website. Before increasing rent, landlords must give tenants 3 full months’ notice using the form called “Notice of Rent Increase – Residential Rental Units,” on the Branch website. The landlord must also serve the notice on the tenant in the way the Act requires. The Act allows a landlord to mail the notice and, in that case, the notice is treated as received by the tenant on the 5th day after it is mailed.
Tenant’s right to quiet enjoyment and privacy
A landlord can’t enter a tenant’s home, except in certain cases, such as an emergency, like a fire or flood. Landlords can also come in if they:
- give 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.
- get an order from the Branch to enter the rental unit.
- want to inspect the rental unit; they can do this once a month – if they give proper notice.
- have 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.
A landlord can’t interfere, or let other occupants or employees interfere, with a tenant’s right to quiet enjoyment of their rental unit. Noise, sights, and smells can all interfere with quiet enjoyment. If tenants have noisy neighbours, they can call the police, as well as the landlord. The outcome depends on the municipal noise bylaw where the tenant lives. Some municipalities prohibit noise after a certain time at night.
Tenants 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. Tenants 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.
Dispute resolution is the process that the Act uses to solve residential tenancy problems. It involves a hearing, like a court hearing, but less formal. Hearings are usually by phone teleconference. Hearings are booked to last one hour. Both landlords and tenants can explain their side of the case and call witnesses to do the same. The time limits to apply for dispute resolution depend on what the type of dispute. The Branch website explains how to apply for dispute resolution, how to tell, or notify, the other side of the hearing, how to prepare for a hearing, and how to ask for review of a decision.
Apply for dispute resolution online or at a Branch office (listed on the Branch website), unless there isn’t one near you. Then, apply at a Service BC office, listed at www.servicebc.gov.bc.ca. It costs $50 to apply or $100 if you ask for more than $5000. You can ask the Branch to waive (cancel) the fee if you can’t pay. You can also ask the Branch to make the other party (landlord or tenant) pay you back for the fee, if you win the dispute. If you apply for dispute resolution, you will receive an information package that you must serve on (give to) the other side, in person or by registered mail.
A group of tenants with the same problem with the same landlord can apply as a group.
Landlords and tenants can apply to the Branch to review the decision – but only if one or more of the following cases apply:
- they couldn’t attend the hearing due to circumstances they couldn’t foresee or control.
- they have new evidence not available at the time of the hearing (meaning it did not exist).
- they have evidence that the decision was obtained by fraud.
The following 4 places have more information:
- The BC Residential Tenancy Branch at www.rto.gov.bc.ca. Check its guide under “Publications” and then “Guides”. Or call the Branch at 604.660.1020 in the lower mainland, 250.387.1602 in Victoria, and 1.800.665.8779 elsewhere in BC.
- The TRAC Tenant Resource and Advisory Centre at www.tenants.bc.ca has the Tenant Survival Guide, the Landlord Guide, and multilingual pamphlets. Call its tenant infoline Monday to Thursday from 9 am to 5 pm at 604.255.0546 in the lower mainland and 1.800.665.1185 elsewhere in BC.
- The Rental Owners and Managers Society of BC (or ROMS BC) at www.romsbc.com represents more than 2,100 members who manage over 50,000 residential rental units throughout BC. It provides advice, answers to legal questions, and other services to its members, residential rental property owners, and property managers. You can reach it at 250.382.6324 in Victoria and elsewhere in BC at 1.888.330-6707.
- The BC Apartment Owners and Managers Association at www.bcaoma.com is a non-profit association that helps rental property owners and their managers by providing information, education, and lobbying for rental housing in BC. It has about 1,200 members who own and manage 100,000 residential rental units throughout BC. You can reach it at 604.733.9440 in the lower mainland and elsewhere in BC at 1.877.700.9440.
[updated October 2012]
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