Metro Vancouver renters looking for a cheap deal may be in for a rude awakening this year -- but there are things they can do to make their current living situation better.
The average price for a one-bedroom apartment has climbed this month over last, rising $30 from $2,227 to $2,257, according to Liv.rent's January 2023 rent report. Canada's top five priciest rental cities are located in the Metro Vancouver region, too.
But even with sky-high monthly costs, many landlords raise the monthly rental rate above the allowable limit or fail to make necessary emergency repairs.
Rob Patterson, a lawyer with the Tenant Resource and Advisory Centre (TRAC), says tenants must file out an application for dispute resolution with the Residential Tenancy Branch (RTB). This can be done through the Online Application for Dispute Resolution, directly with the RTB, or through a Service BC Office with the required fee or fee waiver documents.
The typical application fee is about $100, and "most hearings are conducted over the phone with an arbitrator, rather than a judge," according to TRAC.
What should the application contain?
The renter should note how much money is being claimed and include copies of all documentary and digital evidence to be relied on in the proceeding. A copy of the Notice to End Tenancy should also be included if they seek an order of possession to cancel a Notice to End Tenancy.
Before submitting an application, tenants should try to solve an issue with their landlord first. They should ensure they are familiar with their "rights and responsibilities at the start of a tenancy, during a tenancy, and when ending a tenancy," according to the RTB. To help understand what arbitrators look for and how to submit proper evidence, tenants should search past decisions at the RTB for issues similar to their own.
A tenant may file a claim when a landlord fails to make repairs, such as repairing a leaky roof or broken door, or if they fail to uphold the cleanliness of the unit. Both parties bear a responsibility to uphold the cleanliness of the unit, but if an issue might fall outside of a tenant's control, such as a pest issue that doesn't result from the unit being untidy, then the landlord bears a responsibility to rectify it.
Tenants should report any issues to their landlord immediately or they could be held responsible for problems that get worse.
According to TRAC, landlords are generally responsible for the following repair and maintenance issues:
- heating, plumbing, and electricity;
- walls, floors, and ceilings;
- locks, keys, access devices, and intercoms;
- light fixtures in common areas;
- fire doors, fire escapes, and smoke detectors;
- painting at reasonable intervals;
- cleaning the outside of windows at reasonable intervals;
- routine yard maintenance, such as cutting grass and clearing snow, in multi-unit complexes;
- tree cutting and pruning;
- insect and pest infestations, such as bed bugs;
- serious mold issues; and
- anything else that has been included as part of a tenancy agreement, such as appliances
Tenants may also want to apply for dispute resolution if their landlords serve them notice or evict them when they are not legally within their rights to do so.
Patterson says tenants also have recourse for landlords who are in "flagrant disregard of the law," such as cases where they fail to make an emergency repair or are illegally evicting them.
What constitutes an emergency repair?
The Residential Tenancy Act (RTA) defines an emergency repair as a problem that is urgent and necessary for the health or safety of people or property.
Emergency repairs are used in the following issues:
- major leaks in pipes or the roof
- damaged or blocked water or sewer pipes or plumbing fixtures
- the primary heating system
- damaged or defective locks that give access to a rental unit
- the electrical systems
- Renters can report negligent landlords to the Compliance and Enforcement Unit at the RTB which can issue a fine to the landlord of up to $5,000 per day per infraction.
Patterson describes the RTB's use of the fine as akin to them using a "cudgel" - a stick used as a weapon - "to get a landlord to respect the tenants' rights," he tells V.I.A.
Due to its resources, the RTB will typically prioritize cases where a tenant is illegally evicted from their suite.
In those cases, "a landlord is either changing the locks and kicking the tenant out, or is threatening to do that," Patterson explains, adding that there are other "urgent" situations where it may intervene.
Other types of claims for renters
Renters can also file with the Small Claims Court for disputes that fall outside the jurisdiction of the RTB for amounts between $5,001 and $35,000. A claim that exceeds $35,000 must be heard at the Supreme Court of British Columbia.
A renter can also end a fixed-term tenancy with two months' notice in cases of family or household violence or if the individual is going into long-term care. However, they will require that a health care professional or lawyer sign off on this type of notice, explains Patterson.
Tenants who have faced discrimination under section 10 of the BC Human Rights Code can contact the BC Human Rights Tribunal for assistance. This means they have been discriminated against because of their "Indigenous identity, race, colour, ancestry, place of origin, religion, marital status, family status, physical or mental disability, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, age or lawful source of income of that person or class of persons, or of any other person or class of persons."
Find out more information about applying for dispute resolution with TRAC online.