Tenants and landlords who are unable to resolve issues on their own have the option of applying for dispute resolution through the Residential Tenancy Branch. This is essentially BC’s Tenant-Landlord Court.
During dispute resolution, an arbitrator (similar to a judge) will conduct a hearing and allow both the landlord and tenant to present evidence and argue their case. The arbitrator will then consider the relevant sections of the law, along with the evidence submitted by both parties, before reaching a decision based on a balance of probabilities.
Having an impartial arbitrator make a decision for you can be very useful, but should sometimes be seen as a last resort. For some issues, such as when a tenant receives an eviction notice, they will need use the dispute resolution process right away. For other issues, such as when a tenant wants repairs to be made, or is being disturbed by other tenants, it is often best to try to work out the issue informally with the landlord first.
The first step for most tenancy issues is to give your landlord a written request, and allow them a reasonable amount of time to correct the situation.
We certainly do not want to scare anyone away from applying for dispute resolution, as some problems need to be heard by a Residential Tenancy Branch arbitrator with the authority to issue legally binding decisions. That being said, here are some reasons to try resolving issues with your landlord outside of dispute resolution:
- Most tenants and landlords prefer to maintain a good relationship if the tenancy is going to continue. Applying for dispute resolution without first giving your landlord the chance to resolve an issue can be damaging to your relationship.
- Dispute resolution hearings can be unpredictable. The arbitrator’s decision is based on a balance of probabilities, not proof beyond reasonable doubt. Arbitrators are also not bound by other arbitrators’ decisions. This means that they will not necessarily make the same decision as other arbitrators who have heard similar disputes.
- Landlords typically win more disputes than tenants. This could be for a number of reasons, including that landlords are often more experienced with the dispute resolution process and residential tenancy law.
- When an arbitrator issues a decision, it is in favour of one party. This means that at least one party will not get the outcome they desire, and it is possible that neither party will be happy. When a landlord and tenant work together to find a solution, they can often make compromises, and reach a mutually beneficial agreement.
- There is a fee to apply for dispute resolution. Unless you are low-income and qualify for a fee waiver, you will have to pay $100 to apply. You can request that your landlord reimburse this cost if you win the hearing.
- Dispute resolution is not a fast process. It can take several weeks or months to get a hearing date, depending on the issue.
- Dispute resolution hearings can be stressful. It takes time and effort to prepare and submit evidence, and the hearing itself can be emotional.
- Arbitrators are often unwilling to issue an order without evidence that the landlord and tenant attempted to resolve the issue before applying. For example, if you are applying for compensation because your landlord refused to make repairs, it is unlikely that an arbitrator will issue a monetary order unless you can demonstrate that you told your landlord about the problem and gave them a reasonable amount of time to fix it. Similarly, an arbitrator may cancel a landlord’s notice to end tenancy for cause if the landlord cannot prove that they issued the tenant a warning notice before attempting to evict them.
If your landlord is breaking the law, you can try some of the strategies below before applying for dispute resolution.
Put it in writing
First, it is always best to have all communication regarding the issue in writing. This is important in case you are unable to resolve the issue informally. If you need to apply for dispute resolution, it will be helpful to have evidence of correspondence between you and your landlord. Even if you currently have a good relationship with your landlord, you may one day need evidence of your requests. If you speak to your landlord about your tenancy, follow up in writing.
While email can be useful for this, unless your landlord responds directly to your email, it may not be possible to prove that they actually received it. Even if you receive a confirmation email, this does not necessarily mean that your landlord read the email. For this reason, it can be best to put important requests to your landlord in letters that you serve by one of the methods set out in the RTA. See our section on Serving Documents for more information.
Include relevant sections of the law in your letter. You can read through TRAC’s website for information on this, call our Tenant Infoline (604-255-0546 or 1-800-665-1185) or the Residential Tenancy Branch, or read the Residential Tenancy Act. We also have Template Letters you can use for certain issues. When you can show your landlord that you are knowledgeable about your rights, they may be more willing to listen.
Although the goal is to avoid applying for dispute resolution, you can explain in your letter that you have the right to apply if the issue is not resolved informally within a reasonable period of time. For some issues, this could include applying for monetary compensation. Use a polite but firm tone in your letter.
Request that the RTB call your landlord
In addition to putting requests in writing, you can contact the RTB and request that an Information Officer phone your landlord. Having a government agent explain the law to a landlord can be an effective way to resolve issues without needing to apply for dispute resolution.
Contact your city
For some issues, you can contact your city or local health authority. If your city has a Standards of Maintenance Bylaw, a bylaw officer may be able to inspect your unit, and may issue an order requiring your landlord to make repairs. A health authority may also be able to issue an order requiring a landlord to get rid of an infestation or mold.
Get the help of a legal advocate
If you are low-income, you may qualify for the help of a legal advocate – someone who can help you prepare a letter, negotiate with a landlord, and otherwise help you informally resolve disputes with your landlord.