APPLYING FOR DISPUTE RESOLUTION
When faced with problems that can’t be resolved through communication, you may need to apply for dispute resolution through the Residential Tenancy Branch (RTB). Dispute resolution is a legal proceeding, but different than court. Hearings are occasionally held in person or in writing, but they are most commonly conducted over the phone. Dispute resolution is also more affordable than court. The standard application fee is $100, and low income tenants may not have to pay the fee at all. Furthermore, while dispute resolution is by no means easy, most tenants do not require the assistance of a lawyer in order to participate.
The person who runs a dispute resolution hearing, an “arbitrator”, acts similarly to a judge. They have the task of conducting the hearing, weighing the evidence, applying the law, and making a decision. Following the hearing, both the tenant and landlord are expected to follow the arbitrator’s orders. If you disagree with what the arbitrator decided, you may appeal, or challenge, the decision through the RTB or BC Supreme Court.
Here are some examples of orders that can be made at dispute resolution:
- that your landlord follow the law
- that your landlord give you money when they do not follow the law
- that your landlord not enter your rental unit
- that you may change your locks
- that you may withhold a certain amount of money from future rent payments
- that your eviction notice be cancelled
Disputes that fall under the Residential Tenancy Act or Manufactured Home Park Tenancy Act must be resolved through the RTB, and not through other courts or the police. One exception is that monetary claims exceeding $35,000 are handled through BC Supreme Court.
You can apply for dispute resolution online through the Residential Tenancy Branch (RTB) website, in person at a RTB office, or in person at any Service BC Centre in your community. When submitting your application and evidence, remember that the rules about serving documents apply. For more information, see TRAC’s webpage on Serving Documents.
Applying for dispute resolution costs $100. However, this fee may be waived by submitting a Fee Waiver Application with proof that you have a low income. You may need to provide an income assistance statement, employment insurance benefits statement, recent paystub from an employer, and/or bank statements from the most recent two months. If you are not eligible for a fee waiver, you will have to pay in order to apply. However, you can request in your application that your landlord repay the fee to you if you win the hearing.
Different types of disputes can have different application deadlines. If you are applying for a monetary order, there is generally a two year time limit from the end of the tenancy to apply. For some types of disputes, such a non-emergency repair, it is best to put your concerns to your landlord in writing and then wait a reasonable period of time to see if the situation is corrected before applying for dispute resolution. See TRAC’s webpage on Template Letters.
For other types of disputes, such as challenging an eviction notice, you may have to act quickly and submit your application as soon as possible. Here is a summary of the application deadlines for disputing an eviction notice:
- 10 Day Eviction Notice – 5 days
- 1 Month Eviction Notice – 10 days
- 2 Month Eviction Notice – 15 days
- 4 Month Eviction Notice – 30 days
If the last day to dispute an eviction notice falls on a statutory holiday or weekend, the deadline is the following day. Please note that when determining your deadline, you must also factor in the rules about serving documents. For example, if you are mailing an application, it may not be considered received by he Residential Tenancy Branch until five days later. See TRAC’s webpage on Serving Documents for more information. When disputing an eviction notice, it can be safer to apply in person or online to ensure that your application is received on time.
If your landlord has applied for dispute resolution, you may want to submit a cross application as a counterclaim. A cross application can only be filed for related issues. For example, if your landlord has applied for a monetary order against you, and you think that your landlord actually owes you money, you can submit a cross application with your own request for a monetary order.
In order to submit a cross application, complete the Tenant’s Application for Dispute Resolution Form. In the “Details of the Dispute” section, write “Cross Application” and the file number for your landlord’s application (this can be found on the Notice of Hearing that your landlord served you).
The Residential Tenancy Branch will schedule your cross application to be heard at the same time as your landlord’s application, as long as it is about a related issue and is filed within the allowable deadline.
How to complete a cross application:
You must submit the cross application at least 14 days before the hearing. You will also need to submit all of your evidence with your application. Once you receive the Notice of Hearing, you will need to serve it on your landlord, with all of your evidence, at least 14 days before the hearing.
Only related issues can be combined into one application for dispute resolution. If there are multiple, unrelated issued that you want to dispute, you will need to file separate applications for each one. If you combine unrelated issues into one application, the arbitrator who hears the dispute will have the right to dismiss some of the unrelated claims. An arbitrator can dismiss a claim with or without leave to reapply. This means that an arbitrator could dismiss an issue that you need to dispute, and say that you are not allowed to file a new application to dispute it.
Examples of related issues that could be disputed together:
- If a landlord has not made repairs, the tenant could file for an order requiring the landlord to make the repair and a monetary order for compensation.
- If a landlord has illegally entered a suite and seized the tenant’s belongings, the tenant could file for an order that the landlord return their belongings, an order allowing the tenant to change the locks, and a monetary order for compensation.
Examples of unrelated issues that may be dismissed if filed together:
- If a tenant wants to dispute a Notice to End Tenancy (eviction notice), and request an order requiring their landlord to make repairs.
- If a tenant wants to request an order to have the locks changed because their landlord is entering illegally, and an order for reduced rent because the landlord has taken away their cable service.
You can request that the Residential Tenancy Branch (RTB) join multiple applications and hold one dispute resolution hearing to decide each application. Every tenant needs to submit an application for dispute resolution, along with a Request to Join Applications form. All tenants should submit their applications at the same time. It will be up to the RTB to decide whether to hold separate hearings, or hear all applications at once. The RTB will generally only consider joining hearings where they deal with one issue that is being experienced by multiple tenants.
If the hearings are joined, the lead tenant will be required to attend the hearing, and the other tenants may also attend if they choose to.
TRAC may be able to represent you if a group of tenants are interested in filing jointly. Please see our Direct Representation page for more information.
Once your application is accepted, the Residential Tenancy Branch will set a hearing date and provide you with hearing documents. These documents include the date and time of the hearing, instructions on how to prepare for the hearing, and copies of the application and any submitted evidence. The hearing date is usually set based on the urgency of the dispute. Hearings regarding a notice to end tenancy or emergency repairs will be given the earliest dates, while hearings regarding monetary claims have the longest wait times.
When you receive your hearing documents you will need to serve them on (give them to) your landlord within 3 days. There are only certain ways that you are allowed to serve your landlord with the hearing documents:
- By giving them directly to your landlord (bring a witness),
- By giving them directly to your landlord’s agent (bring a witness),
- By sending them via registered mail (keep the receipt). If you mail the documents, your landlord is considered to have received them on the 5th day after mailing. The documents will need to be postmarked within 3 days of the day you received them from the RTB
If you do not know your landlord’s address, you can phone them and request it. Landlords are legally obligated to provide tenants with an address for service. If they refuse, however, the address can be found through a land title search.
If another relevant issue comes up while you are waiting for your hearing, or you want to change the amount of money that you are asking for, you can amend your original application. To do this, complete the form Amendment to an Application for Dispute Resolution.
You must submit this form, along with any evidence to support why you are amending your application to the RTB at least 14 days before the hearing. The form can be submitted in person, by fax, or by mail.
Your landlord must also receive a copy of the Amendment to an Application for Dispute Resolution form, as well as all of your supporting evidence, at least 14 days before the hearing. Make sure to serve your landlord using one of the allowable methods of service, and keep proof of service.
The Residential Tenancy Branch (RTB) will reschedule a hearing if both the landlord and tenant agree in writing. If your landlord agrees, the RTB must receive written consent from both of you by 12:00pm at least 3 business days before the hearing.
If your landlord does not agree to reschedule the hearing, it will begin at the scheduled time but you can request that the arbitrator adjourn (postpone) the hearing. In this case, an arbitrator will only agree to adjourn a hearing if you are unable to attend due to exceptional circumstances that are beyond your control. An example of this could be if you are in the hospital.
There are 2 options for requesting that an arbitrator postpone the hearing:
- If you know ahead of time that you will be unable to attend due to exceptional circumstances, you can submit a written request to the RTB at least 3 business days before the hearing. Explain in your request why you will be unable to attend.
- You can have someone else attend the hearing for you to request that it be adjourned, and explain why you were unable to attend.
It will be up to the arbitrator to decide if the hearing should be adjourned. If the arbitrator does not agree to adjourn the hearing, it will proceed without you. If this happens, and your landlord wins the hearing, you can apply for a review consideration of the decision if you believe you were unable to attend due to exceptional circumstances.
See our page I Disagree with my Dispute Resolution Decision for more information.