News / Vancouver

7 things every B.C. renter needs to know

Disputes against landlords can feel futile but there are several things tenants can do to increase their chances of winning says advocate

Metro Vancouver's rental vacancy rate is hovering around one per cent.

Jennifer Gauthier / Metro

Metro Vancouver's rental vacancy rate is hovering around one per cent.

More than half of Vancouverites are renters but with a dismal vacancy rate of less than one per cent, landlords can appear to have the upper hand when it comes to disputes.

But there are several things tenants can do to increase their chances of winning a  Residential Tenancy Branch (RTB) hearing, according to advocates.

"I do think [tenants] give up a little bit too early sometimes. The system is not perfect but if you educate yourself on how to be successful in a Residential Tenancy Branch hearing, then you can be successful,” said executive director of B.C.'s Tenant Resource and Advisory Centre (TRAC), Andrew Sakamoto.

1. You don’t need a lawyer to win

You don’t have to hire a lawyer to successfully win a dispute with your landlord. It costs $100 to apply to the RTB – but low-income households can have that fee waived – and hearings are almost always held over the phone, according to Sakamoto.

“The dispute resolution service is more accessible than people realize.”

Landlords need to be held accountable and tenants play a big role in that, he said.

“The onus is on tenants to follow through and fight back a little bit with their landlord.”

2. Know your eviction rights

The most common issue TRAC deals with is evictions, according to Sakamoto.

“The truth is there are a lot of landlords who issue eviction notices without actually having the grounds to do so.”

But every eviction can be challenged through the RTB and the tribunal often sides with the tenant if the landlord evicted them in bad faith – even if the landlord didn’t break any rules, said Sakamoto.

For instance, landlords are unlikely to win a RTB eviction hearing if they have not given a warning to the tenant first before issuing an eviction notice for cause.

“The landlord should give you a warning. It is not written in the tenancy act but in practice, if you haven’t been informed by the landlord of your transgression and given a chance to correct your behaviour, there is a very good chance you can dispute your [eviction] notice,” said Sakamoto.

3. Got bed bugs? Report it!

It is very difficult to successfully assign blame to a tenant for bed bugs at the RTB, according to Sakamoto. In fact, tenants can get in trouble if they do not report bed bugs right away.

“We hear a lot of stories of tenants who are scared to report bed bus because they think they will be blamed and evicted,” he said.

“The truth is the tenant can get in trouble for not reporting bed bugs right away. It’s safer to tell your landlord as soon as possible rather than delaying and letting the infestation spread.”

It is the landlord’s responsibility to treat the problem, unless a tenant purposely brings the bed bugs in, said Sakamoto.

4. Handshake tenancies are still covered under the law

A tenant can successfully challenge a landlord in RTB even if the landlord has not signed a tenancy agreement, according to Sakamoto.

“As long as you can show that a tenancy has been establish, that is rent is being exchanged for a place to stay, verbal tenancies are still valid and legal,” he said.

But it is still strongly recommended that anything tenants keep a record of all agreements in writing. TRAC offers different template letters for 27 common issues tenants may wish to communicate to landlords.

5. Pay your rent in full and on time

Paying rent late, even just a few days late, is reason enough for a landlord to evict a tenant and it is completely legal for them to do so, said Sakamoto.

“It’s called 10-day notice for non-payment of rent but if you pay within five days, that cancels the notice."

 6. Landlords have to get permission to keep security deposit

Landlords must give tenants their security deposit back unless they apply successfully to the RTB to keep it, according to Sakamoto. Valid reasons for keeping the security deposit include property damage or unpaid rent.

“[Landlords] are not allowed to just decide on their own to keep some or all of your deposit. They either have to get your consent or the permission of the RTB.”

The best part is tenants can go after the landlord for double the security deposit amount if the landlord does not return the security deposit within 15 days, said Sakamoto.

7. Are you covered under the B.C. Tenancy Act?

Not everybody who pays rent or accommodation is considered a tenant as defined in the Resident Tenancy Act.

“You have student housing, co-op housing, both of which are not covered in the act,” said Sakamoto.

Homestays are usually not covered either because if a person shares kitchen or bathroom facilities with the owner, it is not a legal tenancy, he said.

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