Alternatives to Dispute Resolution
The Residential Tenancy Branch (RTB) adjudicates most rental disputes in BC, but there are some exceptions. If your tenancy is not covered by the Residential Tenancy Act (RTA) – or if it is covered, but the type of dispute falls outside the jurisdiction of the RTB – you may have to access a different tribunal or court. Here are the most common examples:
- Civil Resolution Tribunal. The RTB adjudicates disputes between tenants and landlords. If you have an issue with another tenant or occupant with whom you live, you can apply to the Civil Resolution Tribunal (CRT) for assistance. For example, one common living situation that is not covered under the jurisdiction of the RTB is where a “head-tenant” rents out bedrooms to their roommates. The CRT can handle monetary claims up to $5,000.
- Small Claims Court. For disputes that fall outside the jurisdiction of the RTB, but also exceed the limit at the CRT, Small Claims Court can handle claims between $5,001 and $35,000. In addition, if you are awarded monetary compensation through the RTB but your landlord refuses to pay, you will have to apply to Small Claims Court to enforce your monetary order.
- BC Supreme Court. Tenants and landlords are generally not allowed to bypass the RTB and ask the BC Supreme Court to adjudicate rental disputes. The RTB is considered an expert tribunal, which means the court shows a high level of deference in allowing it to resolve residential tenancy law matters. The BC Supreme Court only handles monetary claims over the RTB’s limit of $35,000. (There is one exception to this rule: if you are claiming 12 months’ rent as compensation under section 51(2) or 51.3 of the RTA, you can apply to the RTB even if the total compensation exceeds $35,000.)
- BC Human Rights Tribunal: The BC Human Rights Tribunal is responsible for accepting, screening, mediating, and adjudicating human rights complaints. If you have faced discrimination under section 10 of the BC Human Rights Code, you can contact the BC Human Rights Tribunal for assistance.
- Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner for BC (OIPC BC): The OIPC BC provides independent oversight and enforcement of BC’s access and privacy laws. They also offer a series of guidance documents, including one titled, Private Sector Landlords and Tenants. If you have any concerns about your landlord’s collection of personal information, you can contact the OIPC BC for assistance.
Problems between tenants and landlords can often be settled without the need for a dispute resolution hearing. Even after an application has been submitted, you may want to keep the lines of communication open with your landlord, to see if the matter can be resolved without having to involve an arbitrator.
Here are some general rules to follow when trying to negotiate a settlement with your landlord:
- When the opposing party provides a settlement offer, you have three options:
- accept the offer outright;
- reject the offer outright; or
- make a counter-offer – thus rejecting the original offer.
- If you reject an offer – whether explicitly or implicitly – you cannot decide to later change your mind and accept that offer, unless the opposing party once again extends the offer to you.
- An offer can be withdrawn at any point before it is accepted. Conversely, an offer can be accepted at any point before it is withdrawn, rejected, or expired,
- Consider whether you want your negotiations to be on a “without prejudice” basis. This will prevent your landlord from taking your genuine negotiation attempts and using them against you at dispute resolution or court. If this is a concern for you, it may be prudent to write “WITHOUT PREJUDICE” at the top of any written communication in which you are negotiating.
- Be aware that a verbal agreement can be considered legally binding. However, if you and your landlord reach an agreement, do your best to put it in writing with signatures and a date.
- Some settlement agreements specify that the parties cannot rely on anything that was promised in the process of negotiation but not written into the agreement. Before signing an agreement, make sure it accurately reflects what you negotiated.
The Residential Tenancy Act says that arbitrators can, “assist the parties, or offer the parties an opportunity, to settle their dispute.” While this can sometimes be useful, you are under no obligation to negotiate a settlement during your hearing. If you feel that an arbitrator is trying to unreasonably pressure you into settling, respectfully decline and request that they instead adjudicate the matter based on the law and evidence presented.
An arbitrator can record a settlement in the form of a decision. If you negotiate a settlement during a hearing, it may be prudent to ask the arbitrator to read back the terms of the settlement as they understand them, to ensure that the recorded decision matches what you agreed to. See section 63 of the Residential Tenancy Act for more information.
Pros and Cons
- Certainty: Dispute resolution can be unpredictable. By negotiating a settlement, you will know and have control over the terms of that settlement, and therefore the outcome, rather than leaving the matter up to the discretion of an arbitrator.
- Flexibility: Arbitrators can only produce certain types of orders and decisions, whereas negotiated settlements can include remedies that are unavailable or rarely awarded through dispute resolution.
- Security: Dispute resolution is often an all-or-nothing endeavour that results in a clear winner and clear loser. If you are unsure about your chances, it might be safer to negotiate a settlement.
- Time: Negotiating a settlement can be a quicker process than participating in a dispute resolution hearing. For example, you might have to wait several months for a monetary order application. Are you willing to wait half a year for a chance to convince an arbitrator to award you $1,000, or would you rather negotiate an $800 settlement immediately?
- Landlord Relations: Dispute resolution can be an adversarial process. If the plan is to continue living in the same rental unit, think about how dispute resolution could affect your relationship with your landlord. Depending on the nature and severity of your dispute, it might be worth trying to negotiate a settlement before applying for dispute resolution.
- Validation: By reaching a settlement, you give up your “day in court”. For some, dispute resolution can be more about having their story heard, and having an impartial decision-maker rule one way or the other, rather than the actual result.
- Compromise: Negotiation is about finding middle ground. To reach a settlement, you will almost certainly have to give up something that you could have potentially won at dispute resolution. Before beginning settlement negotiations, consider the range of outcomes you would realistically accept.
- Non-disclosure: There might be a term in the settlement agreement that will prevent you from disclosing the details of the settlement.
Compliance and Enforcement Unit
The Residential Tenancy Branch (RTB) has a Compliance and Enforcement Unit (CEU) that can intervene in situations involving serious and repeated non-compliance of the Residential Tenancy Act and/or dispute resolution orders. The CEU has the authority to conduct investigations, issue official warnings and, if necessary, levy administrative penalties of up to $5,000 per day.
Almost all applications submitted to the RTB are adjudicated through the normal dispute resolution process, so you should only make a complaint to the CEU when faced with urgent situations involving egregious landlord behaviour. For example, if your landlord has changed the locks and/or thrown your possessions on the street, the CEU might be able to provide assistance.
The Residential Tenancy Branch (RTB) has the power to order tenants and landlords to pay monetary penalties in situations where it can be shown on a balance of probabilities that someone has:
- contravened a provision of the Residential Tenancy Act (RTA) or Residential Tenancy Regulation;
- failed to comply with a RTB decision or order; or
- given false or misleading information in a dispute resolution proceeding or an investigation.
See part 5.1 of the RTA and RTB Policy Guideline 41 for more information.
To review the list published administrative penalties, visit the RTB’s webpage, Enforcement Process.
Office of the Ombudsperson
You can file a complaint with the Office of the Ombudsperson if you think that the Residential Tenancy Branch has treated you unfairly. The Ombudsperson investigates provincial government ministries and agencies to ensure fairness. Filing a complaint will not change the outcome of your hearing, but may help future tenants avoid unfair treatment.
Key Resource: The Office of the Ombudsperson – How to make a complaint
Key Resource: Community Legal Assistance Society – Residential Tenancy Branch Ombudsperson Complaint Kit