AM I COVERED BY THE LAW?
When renting a home, you want to make sure you are covered by BC’s Residential Tenancy Act (RTA). This is the law that the Tenant Resource & Advisory Centre (TRAC) and Residential Tenancy Branch (RTB) can help you with. If you are covered by the RTA, you will be protected in some very important ways. If you are not covered by the RTA, you will still have some rights under BC law, but these rights will be far less clear and harder to enforce.
Section 4 of the Residential Tenancy Act (RTA) describes the types of living arrangements NOT covered by the RTA:
- accommodation where the tenant shares a bathroom or kitchen with the owner of the property;
- accommodation provided to a student by their school;
- accommodation included with property occupied primarily for business purposes and rented under a single agreement;
- vacation or travel accommodation;
- emergency shelters and transitional housing;
- commercial tenancies;
- accommodation in care, rehabilitation, or psychiatric facilities;
- correctional institutions;
- rental agreements with terms 20 years or longer;
- accommodation rented by a housing cooperative (or “co-op”) to a member of the cooperative; and
- housing that falls under the Community Care and Assisted Living Act, Continuing Care Act, Hospital Act, or Mental Health Act.
If your living situation is not covered by the RTA, you will not be able to resolve disputes through the Residential Tenancy Branch. Instead, you may need to use Small Claims Court, Supreme Court, or independent mediation services, such as Mediate BC. You may also need to seek assistance from a legal advocate or lawyer.
Roommates / Occupants
Another type of living arrangement that is not covered by the RTA (but isn’t listed in Section 4 of the RTA) is one where a person rents from another tenant with whom they live. This is common in houses where someone rents a room from their roommate. Unless the landlord agrees to add that person as a co-tenant or tenant in common, they will most likely be considered an “occupant” or “roommate”, and not be covered by the RTA.
See TRAC’s webpage on Roommates for more information.
Manufactured Home Park Tenancies (Mobile Homes)
One other type of living accommodation that may or may not be covered under the Residential Tenancy Act is Manufactured Home Park Tenancies, also known as mobile home tenancies.
If you own a mobile home and rent the site it sits on, your tenancy falls under the Manufactured Home Park Tenancy Act (MHPTA). However, if you are renting a mobile home within a manufactured home park, you are covered by the Residential Tenancy Act.
As long as you fall under either the Residential Tenancy Act or Manufactured Home Park Tenancy Act, you can ask the Residential Tenancy Branch for help with your tenancy questions.
BC’s Residential Tenancy Act (RTA) may apply to the following, to varying degrees:
- Rented houses
- Basement suites
- Strata property (condos or townhomes)
- Subsidized / non-profit housing
- Rentals on Indian Lands (the use of the word “Indian” is in reference to the “Indian Act“)
- Hotels occupied under a tenancy agreement, including Single Room Occupancies (SROs)
- Illegal secondary suites / unregistered suites
- Verbal tenancies
Most rental housing in BC is covered by the RTA. Tenants most commonly live in rented apartment buildings or houses, but residential tenancy law applies to other types of housing too. Strata buildings (condos or townhomes), subsidized housing, rental units on Indian lands, hotel tenancies, illegal suites, and verbal tenancies may all be covered by the RTA, to varying degrees. These types of tenancies involve additional laws and governing bodies, and can therefore present complex scenarios for tenants and landlords.
Strata Property (Condos or Townhomes)
Condominiums and Townhomes are strata properties. This means that individual units on the property are owned separately, but all owners share ownership of the common space. When you are renting a strata property from a strata owner, you are covered by both the Residential Tenancy Act and Strata Property Act.
Strata corporations adopt a set of bylaws and rules that all owners and tenants must follow. It is important that you read and accept these bylaws and rules before entering into a tenancy agreement. The tenant and landlord must also sign a Form K, which indicates that the tenant has received a copy of the current bylaws and rules.
Even though you are not the owner, you may still be subject to fines or fees. For example, you might have to pay fees when moving in and moving out, or fines if you disturb neighbours or damage property.
Subsidized / Non-Profit Housing
The term “subsidized housing” generally applies to any housing where the government provides some sort of monetary assistance. As long as you are not a member of a housing cooperative (or “co-op”), subsidized housing is covered by the Residential Tenancy Act. Here are the most common types of subsidized housing:
- Public housing: BC Housing (government) manages public housing units for low-income families, seniors, and people with disabilities.
- Non-profit housing: Non-Profit Societies (organizations) receive government money in order to manage subsidized housing developments for select tenants throughout the province.
- Rental supplements:
The application process and eligibility requirements vary depending on the type of subsidized housing. For more information, see the BC Housing website.
Finding public housing or subsidized housing can be a great option for obtaining housing that you would otherwise not be able to afford. The process, however, can take some time. It may be more realistic to begin the application process as part of a future plan rather than an immediate solution.
Illegal Secondary Suites / Unregistered Suites
A secondary suite could be a basement suite, laneway house, or other unit that is on the same property as a residential house. You may have heard about “illegal suites” or “unregistered suites”. These terms refer to secondary suites that do not comply with zoning and bylaw requirements, or haven’t been registered with the municipality.
It is important to understand that illegal or unregistered suites are covered by the Residential Tenancy Act. That being said, it is not ideal to be living in one, and issues may arise if the municipality becomes aware of the suite. This can sometimes happen when disputes with neighbours turn into complaints to the municipality, or if the tenant goes to the municipality seeking help with repair or maintenance concerns.
When a municipality discovers an illegal suite, they may decide to shut it down. If this is the case, you will be given a One Month Eviction Notice, and the landlord will most likely not be responsible for paying your moving costs.
Rentals on Indian Lands
If you are renting within the boundaries of Indian Lands, the Residential Tenancy Act (RTA) may partially apply. Any disputes over use and occupation of Indian Lands (e.g. eviction) fall under the jurisdiction of the Federal Government, meaning the RTA would not apply. However, the RTA may apply for something like a monetary claim (e.g. return of security deposit), but only if the landlord is not an Indian or Indian Band.
Hotels and Single Room Occupancy (SRO)
Hotels are covered by the Residential Tenancy Act, if a tenancy agreement is in place and the property is the tenant’s primary home. You may have heard of a specific type of hotel known as a Single Room Occupancy Hotel, or SRO. These can be commonly found in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside, and provide short-term or long-term housing to low income tenants. Like standard hotels, SROs are covered under the RTA, if they are being used as the tenant’s primary home.
A tenancy agreement is a legal contract between you and the landlord that outlines the terms and conditions for the rental property. Most of the time when we talk about a tenancy agreement, we are referring to a written document, but a tenancy agreement can also be verbal. Although verbal tenancy agreements are covered by the Residential Tenancy Act, we do not recommend them. It is always best to sign a written agreement with your landlord in order to avoid future problems.