As winter approaches, the Revy Rentals Facebook group and the Stoke List and are flooded with renters looking for a place to rest their heads for the winter season. There’s no doubt that the rental market is competitive and that those seeking accommodation will not end up with a wide variety of choice. No one wants to be a difficult tenant in a competitive market, but it’s important to know your rights so you don’t get taken advantage of.
If you are renting a house, an apartment, a manufactured home, or a basement suite (whether legal or illegal) your situation is governed by the Residential Tenancy Act. If you own a mobile or manufactured home in a park, and are renting a pad, the Manufactured Home Park Tenancy Act will apply. If you are renting a room and live with the owner in a situation in which you share a kitchen, you are not covered by the Residential Tenancy Act and disputes will need to be resolved in Small Claims Court. This article aims to offer some guidance for those who live in Residential Tenancy situations.
Damage and Security Deposits
A landlord may require you to pay no more than half of one month’s rent, which you must pay within thirty days of moving in. If you have already paid an excessive security deposit, you can deduct it from your rent if you write an explanatory letter to your landlord. Landlords may take an additional sum not exceeding half a month’s rent as a pet deposit.
Landlords cannot take any additional security deposits throughout the tenancy (with the exception of pet deposits), and are only allowed to require one security deposit from the rental unit.
Even if you haven’t signed an agreement, if you put down a security deposit, you have essentially agreed to rent that property, and the landlord may be able to keep the deposit if you change your mind. If you change your mind and the period of the tenancy has already started, the landlord can also charge you rent. Make sure you are absolutely certain you want a place before paying your deposit.
Once a tenancy agreement is signed, it can’t be changed unless both parties consent to the change in writing. Changes can be made on the contract and initialled by both parties.
During the Tenancy
Generally you will be responsible for cleaning carpets, replacing light bulbs, and day-to-day upkeep. If something needs to be repaired, it’s a good idea to ask for that in writing. If your landlord refuses or fails to respond when you have asked, you can apply to the Residential Tenancy Board for a dispute resolution hearing.
A landlord must give 24 hours written notice to enter the premises, with an exception for emergencies or order made by the Residential Tenancy Branch.
A common source of tension is whether or not guests are permitted in the rental unit, and for how long. A landlord is not permitted to unreasonably restrict the tenant from having guests. However, tenants are responsible for the behaviour of their guests. If it appears that a supposed “guest” is actually living at the unit, the landlord could take action and terminate the tenancy.
If you have a fixed term lease, you are not allowed to move out until the end of that term, unless the landlord has breached a material term of the tenancy agreement and you give one month’s notice. If you have a month-to-month tenancy, you can end it with one full month’s written notice, unless your tenancy agreement says otherwise.
In order to get your deposit back, you will need to walk through the house with your landlord. If you don’t, you may lose the right to claim your deposit.
Tenants are required to leave the unit in good condition and may have specific cleaning responsibilities, including things like steam cleaning the carpets, cleaning the oven, or cleaning the base boards. Your landlord can’t require you to use a professional cleaning service, but can ask you to rectify deficiencies in your cleaning or can deduct from your security deposit if you have cleaned inadequately.
Dispute resolution under the Residential Tenancy Act for landlords and tenants is designed to be accessible, inexpensive, and relatively easy. Most disputes are heard over the phone by an arbitrator, who will provide you with a decision. You won’t need a lawyer, as the process is designed for everyone to use and understand.
If you are having problems with your rental situation, there are lots of resources available. The Residential Tenancy Branch has plenty of information for both landlords and tenants. The Tenant Resource and Advisory Centre is an excellent and accessible online resource.
Next column: I’ll explore the same topic from the other side; what landlords need to do to avoid legal problems with tenants.