Every tenant has a right to “quiet enjoyment”. This means that tenants are entitled to:
- reasonable privacy;
- freedom from unreasonable disturbances;
- exclusive use of their rental unit (unless the landlord is allowed to enter by law); and
- use of common areas for reasonable and lawful purposes;
Here are some possible violations of a tenant’s right to quiet enjoyment:
- unreasonable and ongoing noise;
- unreasonable and ongoing second-hand smoke;
- intimidation or harassment;
- landlord entering the rental unit too frequently;
- landlord entering the rental unit without permission or proper notice;
- landlord refusing the tenant access to common areas of the residential premises;
- landlord preventing the tenant from having guests visit under reasonable circumstances;
- landlord refusing to make repairs that are needed to ensure safety; and
- landlord forcing the tenant to sign an agreement that reduces their rights
If one of your neighbouring tenants is violating your right to quiet enjoyment, it is not your responsibility to approach that neighbour and resolve the problem. It is a landlord’s responsibility to make sure that all tenants are respecting each other’s quiet enjoyment. The best way to address the problem is to stay calm, and start keeping a written record of the date, time and nature of the disruptions. If possible, try to have someone witness these disruptions too.
If you believe your right to quiet enjoyment is being breached, you should contact your landlord in writing. See TRAC’s template letter, Loss of Quiet Enjoyment. Once you have informed your landlord, they have a legal obligation to protect your right to quiet enjoyment. If your landlord does not respond to your complaint in a helpful way, you can apply for dispute resolution through the Residential Tenancy Branch. Keep in mind that this dispute would be against your landlord for failing to resolve your complaint, not your neighbour. Through dispute resolution, you can ask for monetary compensation and an order that your quiet enjoyment no longer be violated. In cases where the breach was very serious, and caused intangible damage (i.e. damage that does not have a dollar value), such as emotional suffering, humiliation, or health problems, you can request to be awarded aggravated damages.
Tenants have the right to the exclusive possession of their rental unit. Landlords cannot enter a tenant’s unit unless they comply with the requirements of the Residential Tenancy Act. In order to legally enter a rental unit, landlords must provide tenants with written notice of at least 24 hours – but not more than 30 days – before entering. This notice must state the:
- the time (between 8am and 9pm); and
- a reasonable reason for entry, such as making repairs.
If your landlord has followed the law and given proper notice, they are allowed to enter – even if you are not home at that time. Landlords are allowed to inspect units once per month, as long as they provide proper notice.
If your landlord enters your place illegally, write them a letter explaining the law. See TRAC’s template letter, Landlord’s Right to Enter a Rental Unit Restricted. If the problem continues, you can consider applying for dispute resolution where an arbitrator can:
- give you permission to change your locks, at your landlord’s expense, and keep the only key;
- allow the landlord to enter only under certain conditions;
- order the landlord to pay you money for violating your quiet enjoyment; and
- order your landlord to obey the law in the future.
It can be difficult to prove to an arbitrator that your landlord entered your place illegally. Evidence such as photos, videos, complaint letters, and witness statements can improve your chances of winning your case. Even a handwritten log of times when your landlord entered the unit illegally can be helpful.
There are certain situations when a landlord is allowed to enter the unit without notice or consent:
- there is an emergency and entry is necessary to protect life or property;
- the landlord has obtained a Residential Tenancy Branch order granting permission;
- the landlord must provide housekeeping services in accordance with the tenancy agreement; or
- you abandon the rental property (see our page on Abandonment of Property).
The right to quiet enjoyment does not mean a tenant has the right to be free from all noise. You should expect to hear some noise from your neighbours, especially if you live in an older building without sound proofing. At the same time, always remember to be mindful that the noise you create travels to other units. If you are having guests over, it’s important to consider how much noise they are making as well, as you are responsible for them while they are in your unit.
Frequent and excessive noise may be considered a loss of quiet enjoyment. If a landlord is renovating the building for an extended period of time or another tenant is having loud parties at night, these may be breaches of quiet enjoyment. A landlord can only be expected to intervene if notified about the problem, so it is important to inform your landlord in writing if you have any concerns.
If you receive a notice to end tenancy for disturbing other tenants, you have the right to dispute the notice through the Residential Tenancy Branch. Your landlord would need to prove that the disturbance was significant. Arbitrators will often cancel a notice to end tenancy for a first time offence, but not always. It is up to each arbitrator to decide on a case-by-case basis whether or not to uphold the notice to end tenancy.
The right to quiet enjoyment gives tenants the right to be free from unreasonable disturbances, which can include second-hand smoke. If you are being bothered by second-hand smoke, tell your landlord in writing. Within a reasonable period of time, your landlord should take steps to minimize the disturbance. They may not be able to tell other tenants to stop smoking entirely, but they should try to ensure that your right to quiet enjoyment is no longer being violated.
If you are a non-smoker and concerned about being exposed to second-hand smoke, make sure to find out the rules for not only your unit, but the entire building. Ideally, you should find this out before you begin a tenancy. Keep in mind that in buildings with a “no-smoking” policy, some tenants who lived in the building before the policy was introduced may still be allowed to smoke. Even if this is the case, however, the smokers in your building are still not allowed to ruin your quiet enjoyment.
If you or your guests do smoke, it is equally important that you understand the rules about smoking. Are you allowed to smoke inside the rental unit? Can you only smoke on the balcony? Are there designated common areas for smoking? Remember, you are not allowed to ruin other tenants’ quiet enjoyment.
Whenever possible, eliminate the potential for future conflict. If you have to go to the street to smoke, consider whether this is realistic and safe for you or your guests. If you smoke, don’t rent in a non-smoking building, thinking it will pressure you to quit. Be realistic with yourself.
Your landlord is never allowed to intimidate, threaten or harass you. Just like how a doctor must act professionally about matters related to your health, your landlord should treat you professionally when dealing with your tenancy. Of course, you should also act in a professional and respectful manner when dealing with your landlord.
If your landlord’s behaviour interferes with your personal safety, you can apply to the Residential Tenancy Branch for monetary compensation, the right to change your locks, and an order telling your landlord to follow the law. Alternatively, you could consider ending your tenancy early for breach of a material term. See our page on Breaching Important Terms for more information.
If your landlord or another tenant ever physically hurts you, threatens to hurt you, forcibly enters your home, or puts you in danger, contact the police immediately.
Landlords are responsible for ensuring the rental property meets health, safety, and housing standards. If your unit has fallen into disrepair to a point where it is unsafe to occupy, this could constitute a breach of quiet enjoyment. See our page on Repairs and Maintenance for more information.
If a disturbance is so severe that you cannot continue to occupy the unit at all, you may be able to end your tenancy based on a breach of a material term. In order to end a tenancy in this way, a tenant should first inform the landlord of the issue in writing, and allow a reasonable amount of time for the problem to be fixed before giving notice.
The test for breaching a material term is high. Your landlord may try to seek compensation from you for leaving early. If so, you will need to be able to prove that the disturbance was so significant that the tenancy could not continue. You can also seek compensation for the costs you incur as a result of the landlord’s breach of a material term. You may wish to speak to an RTB Information Officer before ending your tenancy for a breach of material term.
See our page on Breaching Important Terms for more information.
- RTB Decision – Duty to Minimize Impact of Smoking on Others
- RTB Decision – Tenant Entitled to Partial Reimbursement Even if Landlord Made Every Effort to Minimize Disruption
- RTB Decision – Single Illegal Entry by Landlord, if Serious Enough, can Support Claim for Nominal Damages
- RTB Decision – Tenant Awarded Partial Damages Even When Landlord Minimizes Interference; Tenant has Duty to Mitigate and Minimize Loss
- Lawrence v. Kaveh, 2010 BCSC 1403
- Court rules that second hand smoke can interfere with quiet enjoyment; also discusses implied terms, such as when a landlord implies that rental housing will be smoke-free